Hopman Takes Swing at School, State Records

May 28, 2019

By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half

Zach Hopman has heard of Drew Henson, of course.

You can’t play for Brighton and not see Henson’s list of accomplishments during a stellar baseball career at Brighton a generation ago.

But Hopman, a left-handed hitter who plays right field and pitches for the Bulldogs, didn’t know until after he hit four home runs during a doubleheader May 21 that he was within shouting distance of Henson’s Brighton school record for home runs in a season.

The four homers Hopman hit on a cold, blustery day during a sweep of Ann Arbor Pioneer gave him 18 for the season, putting him within reach of the Brighton mark of 23, set during Henson’s junior year in 1997.

Only six players in state history have hit more homers in one season. Zach Fish of Richland Gull Lake set the record with 24 in 2011.

“The ball jumped off his bat in a way it doesn’t for a lot of guys,” Brighton coach Charlie Christner said. “It just takes off, and he’s been driving a lot of baseballs this season, and not just to right, but to all fields. It used to be that it was all pull, but this year he’s hitting gap to gap and driving the ball to right field.”

Hopman had six homers last season for the Bulldogs, but noticed an uptick in his power during summer ball.

He spent the winter working out with teammate Jack Krause when not participating in team offseason workouts.

“We would hit with the team twice a week,” Hopman said. “Jack and I would go every weekend, twice a weekend, to go hit at the Legacy Center. Sometimes when we got dismissed from school early, we would go and hit.”

That part of the routine has paid off, to be sure, but Hopman says he’s improved his approach at the plate, too.

“I think I’m seeing the ball a lot better,” he said. ‘I’m more selective with my pitches. That was a problem last year. I had trouble reading pitchers out of the pitcher’s hand. I think my swing is the same, but I haven’t really watched it to make a comparison.”

Hopman, who hits third for the Bulldogs, is part of the best hitting team (averaging .360 as a squad) in Christner’s seven seasons as Brighton coach.

“The guys in front of him have been getting on base,” he said. “Brendan Harrity and Jack Krause have been getting on a lot. And the guys behind him at 4-5-6 are all hitting at least .375. So you can do what you want to do to Zach (pitching-wise) but the guys behind him have picked it up, too.”

Hopman’s average has been around .500 all season, and his power numbers also have gotten him attention.

In that doubleheader against Pioneer, Hopman was 7-for-8 with the four homers and a triple. But a single proved memorable, too.

“My bat broke on one of my singles,” he said, grinning. “The knob fell off, and my hand was stinging for a solid inning.”

He’s not so bad on the mound, either. He pitched two innings of relief that Monday, with all six outs coming via strikeouts.

Hopman’s baseball roots run deep at Brighton. His older brothers, Carson and Trevor, both played for Brighton.

“They’ve been really supportive,” Zach said. “They come with me to hit at the high school on weekends, and they come to my games. It’s really nice that they’re here.”

His approach at the plate has been straightforward.
“I try to think middle,” he said. “A line drive up the middle. I don’t think about home runs, because then I’ll have a bad swing. I’m not trying to pull the ball any more. I don’t want to get into the home-run mentality.”

In other words, if the record comes, it comes.

And if it doesn’t, it still has been a senior season to remember for Zach Hopman.

PHOTOS: Brighton’s Zach Hopman has sharpened his swing to make a run at his school’s home run record set by Drew Henson. (Photos by Tim Robinson.)

Lumen Christi Rallies Late, Watervliet Quickly Comes Back in McLane Openers

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

June 13, 2024

EAST LANSING — Jackson Lumen Christi head coach Phil Clifford said halfway through this season his team adopted a mantra of “Find a way.”

But even this seemed a little extreme.

Lumen Christi was down to its last strike in Thursday’s opening Division 3 Semifinal against Charlevoix, and trailed by two runs. 

Over the next handful of minutes, however, Lumen Christi indeed found a way, rallying to earn a 3-2 victory and a trip to Saturday’s championship game where the Titans will attempt to win their first title since 2015. 

The home team, Lumen Christi saw No. 8 hitter Timmy Crowley (hit by pitch) and No. 9 hitter Jack Fitzpatrick (single) get on base to start the seventh inning. 

Charlevoix starter Bryce Johnson retired the next two batters, but then Lumen Christi junior Brodie Gregory hit a ground ball on a two-strike count that took a hop past the shortstop near second base to score Crowley and make it 2-1. 

Lumen Christi then tied the game at 2-2 when junior Kash Kalahar hit a grounder that eluded the third baseman and scored Fitzpatrick.

That brought up freshman Benny Gaston, who hit a grounder in the hole between first and second base to score Gregory and give Lumen Christi what had seemed only moments before an improbable win.

“We’ve had a lot of close games throughout the Catholic League and the state tournament, and they just seem to find a way,” Clifford said. “They never give up, and they always believe they can do it.” 

Gaston ended up with the lone RBI of the day for Lumen Christi (30-10).

“I went to bed last night going through every situation in my head,” Gaston said. “Just trying to find a way for my team. Just do anything for my team to win.”

It was the cruelest of defeats for Charlevoix (27-11-1), which was that close to making its first trip to a championship game. Johnson ended up allowing just five hits and no earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. 

“That’s part of the game,” Rayders coach Steve Spegl said. “There’s got to be a winner, and there’s got to be a loser. We fought hard for 6 2/3 innings and just had a couple slip through. One of our sayings is that ‘we never lose, but we learn.’ We learned a lot today.” 

Charlevoix took a 1-0 lead during the second inning on an RBI double by junior Hunter Lemerand, and then went up 2-0 in the fourth on an RBI single by Johnson. 

Charlevoix had the bases loaded with no outs, but Lumen Christi starter Gabe King pitched out of jam without surrendering more runs. 

Lumen Christi had runners on first and third with one out in the fourth, but the inning ended on a lineout to third that turned into a double play. 

The Titans put the leadoff man on the fifth, but that inning ended on another double play, this time on a flyout to right when the runner took off and couldn’t get back to first in time after the ball was caught. 

In the sixth inning, Lumen Christi put their first two batters on base, but a 5-3 double play and a strikeout by Johnson once again got Charlevoix back to the dugout with no damage done. 

But those halted rallies ended up not mattering, as Lumen Christi lived up to its mantra and found a way in the seventh.

Click for the full box score.

Watervliet 7, Detroit Edison 2 

Watervliet senior pitcher Wyatt Epple probably felt like he was on the ropes in Thursday’s second Division 3 Semifinal. In the bottom of the first inning, Edison took a 1-0 lead on three straight singles – senior Jordan Jones driving in the run – and had two runners on base with nobody out. 

“They pounded the ball that first inning,” Epple said. “I didn’t know what the rest was going to look like.”

Watervliet’s Owen Epple (5) and Edison catcher Zaire Clement follow the ball during their Semifinal.As it turned out, the rest of the game turned out to be a remarkable recovery.

After pitching out of that first inning jam allowing no further runs, Epple was in control the rest of the way for Watervliet in a 7-2 victory.

Epple allowed no runs and just two hits for 5 2/3 innings after the first before allowing back-to-back singles with two outs in the seventh inning. 

By then, the game was all but decided.

“Trusting my fastball I think was the biggest thing,” Epple said. “In the first inning, they were hitting the off-speed pretty well. I trusted the fastball a little more in the next inning and the innings after. It worked.”

Edison head coach Mark Brown lamented the lost opportunity in the first inning.

“I thought in the first inning, we had a really good opportunity to get ahead in the game and put some pressure on them,” he said. “We let them off the hook. As the game progressed, they gained confidence. We didn’t hit the baseball in situations, and they did.”

Watervliet (30-7) advanced to the championship game for the first time in school history.

“Our message the past couple of weeks is to have a loose focus,” Watervliet head coach Josh Tremblay said. “We can’t get uptight or overwhelmed with what is going on. Just have fun and do what we do.” 

Watervliet struck for three in the top of the third inning, first tying the game at 1-1 on an RBI double down the left-field line by junior Owen Epple. The Panthers took a 2-1 lead on an RBI sacrifice fly by senior Alex Hicks, and then went up 3-1 on an RBI double by sophomore Caleb Jewell. 

Edison loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning, but Epple induced a flyout to end the threat. Watervliet then loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth and took a 4-1 lead on a sacrifice fly by Hicks. Jewell plated another on an RBI single to left to make it 5-1 Panthers. 

The Panthers added insurance during the seventh inning on a third RBI sacrifice fly by Hicks that made it 6-1. Epple scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-1 Panthers. 

Edison (25-12) added a run in the seventh on another RBI single by Jones.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Lumen Christi’s Benny Gaston smashes the game-winning hit during the seventh inning of Thursday’s first Division 3 Semifinal. (Middle) Watervliet’s Owen Epple (5) and Edison catcher Zaire Clement follow the ball during their Semifinal.