Hot Hitting Again Bolsters Plentiful Pitching as Novi Clinches 1st Title

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 17, 2023

EAST LANSING – When Novi head baseball coach Rick Green presided over his team for the official start of practice in March, there were two immediate observations.

One, in his words, “there is a lot of work to do” – but that’s normal talk that just about every coach probably spoke at that moment.

Second and most importantly, there was something else about his team that stood out as he began his 23rd season at the helm.

“I knew we had the pitching staff as long as we are healthy,” Green said. “We were deep in the pitching staff.”

The entire state saw that firsthand during this MHSAA Tournament.

For the first time, Novi is a state champion in baseball following an 8-3 win over Brownstown Woodhaven in the Division 1 championship game at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium. 

Over seven tournament games, Novi allowed just 14 runs, and Green added that another facet of his team emerged over the last three weeks.

The Wildcats raise their trophy during the awards presentation.“Our pitching staff carried us most of the way, and then hitting came through in the playoffs,” he said.

It certainly wasn’t an easy road for Novi (32-8), which knocked off the likes of Catholic League finalist Detroit Catholic Central, No. 3-ranked Northville, No. 7 Battle Creek Lakeview, No. 16 Hartland and a 30-win Woodhaven team en route to the title. 

Before this dream run, Novi hadn’t made it to the Semifinal round since doing so in 1973, when the Wildcats finished runner-up in Class C. 

Senior Alex Czapski was able to speak about the historical significance for the program better than any of his teammates after the game, given he had older brothers who graduated in 2014 and 2017 and the farthest any of them got was the Regional round. 

Czapski, whose tying single with two outs in the seventh inning of a Semifinal against Mattawan kept Novi alive before his team went on to win that game in 10 innings, literally has grown up around the program. 

“We have just been playing for this team for a long time,” Czapski said. “We had pitching depth, and we had hitting that tended to get hot. The thing we know about this team that makes us stand out is we have a brotherhood. Our team chemistry is something I don’t think I’ve seen out of a Novi team.”

Novi was in control throughout the Final, collecting 15 hits and putting constant traffic on the bases. 

The Wildcats opened the scoring in the top of the third inning, taking a 2-0 lead on a 2-run single by junior Thad Lawler with the bases loaded and two outs.

Novi tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning, with juniors Brendon Bennett and Andrew Kummer and senior catcher Brett Reed each providing RBI singles to give their team a 5-0 lead. 

Novi's Uli Fernsler makes his move toward the plate. Woodhaven (32-12) got on the board in the bottom of the fourth, cutting Novi’s lead to 5-1 when senior Nick Phillips singled with pinch-runner Dawson Terry on second base. Terry scored when a throw to home got past the catcher.

After a scoreless fifth inning, Novi all but put the game away by scoring three runs. One scored on a wild pitch, and then Reed hit a 2-run single to left-center to give the Wildcats an 8-1 lead.

Woodhaven did make things a bit interesting in the bottom of the seventh, scoring two runs and putting runners on first and third with one out. But Reed threw out a runner trying to steal second, and Novi sophomore Uli Fernsler then finished a complete-game performance with a strikeout to start the celebration on the field. 

Fernsler allowed three runs and eight hits, walked none and struck out eight. Woodhaven, meanwhile, had to use four pitchers and struggled to contain Novi’s offense.

The Warriors were making their second trip to the championship game after falling 8-1 to Grosse Pointe South in 2018. 

“(Fernsler) pitched a really good game, and we were the opposite,” Woodhaven head coach Corey Farner said. “We didn’t hit our spots at all and had a hard time getting outs. You can’t put 19 runners on base and expect to win. That was the difference in the game. They pitched a really good game, and we didn’t.”

Bennett had three hits and an RBI, junior Caleb Walker had three hits and Reed had two hits and three RBI to lead Novi in its historic victory.   

“This is so special,” Green said. “I’m so happy for our kids, and I’m so happy for all of our past players.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) A Novi hitter drives a pitch during Saturday's first championship game at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Wildcats raise their trophy during the awards presentation. (Below) Novi's Uli Fernsler makes his move toward the plate. (Photos by Olivia Napier/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Record-Setter Prout Helps Pace Standish-Sterling's 2022 Semifinals Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 27, 2023

Standish-Sterling’s run to the 2022 Division 3 Semifinals was driven in part by a record-setting offense, including a pair of senior standouts who posted single-season and career highlights.

The Panthers made the team record book in four categories, topped by a record 28 triples over 42 games. They also were added for 371 RBI (fourth all-time), 425 runs (12th) and 414 hits.

Cole Prout tied the MHSAA record for runs scored in one season with 84 and set the record with 27 career triples over three seasons (with 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). His 13 triples in 2022 tied for third on that list, while Chase Raymond’s 10 tied for 11th. Prout also tied for 12th all-time with 182 career runs, while Raymond is eighth on the single-season RBI list with 77 over 42 games in 2022 and earned a career RBI entry with 140.

Prout plays now at Central Michigan, and Raymond is playing at Saginaw Valley State.

See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA baseball record book:

Alden Stefanovski played a major role in Whitmore Lake reaching the 2022 Division 4 Semifinals. The senior also made the record book with 20 doubles over 33 games, the first from his school to earn a listing. He was joined in 2023 in the records by senior Alex Di Dio, who hit nine triples over 29 games and also three home runs in one game April 13 against Adrian Madison. Di Dio also was added for 13 triples and a .460 average for his three-season career, and he’s continuing at Kalamazoo College.

Trenton senior Jason Marshall was nearly unstoppable on the base paths during the 2022 season – and perfect stealing on them. He made the record book with 49 steals in 49 attempts, and also for seven triples over 35 games. He’s playing football at Eastern Michigan.

Trent Hagenbach finished his Saginaw Valley Lutheran career in 2022 tied for 11th on the career triples list with 16 despite not having a 2020 season and hitting all of them over the final two. He also made the records for his seven as a junior and nine as a senior.

Dansville had 10 pitchers contribute to its 388 strikeouts over 38 games during the 2022 season, a total which placed the Aggies second all-time. Tucker Mosley paced the team with 137 strikeouts.

Parchment’s Aaron Jasiak finished his three-season varsity career with seven record book entries, including one of the most impressive winning streaks all-time. He won all 26 pitching starts over his career, which didn’t start until his sophomore season because of the COVID-related cancelation of 2020. His winning streak is the seventh longest in MHSAA history, and his 0.87 ERA ranks 11th. He also made career lists with 163 runs scored, 112 stolen bases and a .460 batting average over 103 games, and his 60 steals over 38 games this spring rank 10th. He’s continuing at Hillsdale College.

Bay City Western finished 42-2 in winning the Division 1 championship in 2013, ranking sixth for most wins in a baseball season. The Warriors also tied the record with 21 shutouts, and their 1.02 ERA ranks fifth all-time.

Grandville Calvin Christian senior Blake Pettijohn struck out 20 batters in a 7-0 win over Belding on May 11, which tied for seventh-most for a seven-inning game. He’s continuing at Hope College.

Grant’s Oakley Obenauf made the single-season stolen bases list in the spring with 45 over 29 games – and was a major contributor as his team made the single-game list multiple times. He had a combined eight steals over two games as Grant swiped 13 and 11 bases during halves of a doubleheader May 11. Obenauf is a senior this school year.

Paw Paw reached the team record book this past spring after being hit by 50 pitches over 30 games. Seven players were hit by at least five pitches, with the team leader totaling 10.

Lansing Eastern earned its first record book entries from a pair of graduating seniors this spring. Dominic Wilson capped his three-season varsity career with 134 stolen bases, which rank 10th. He swiped a career-high 51 as a senior. Teammate Matthew Stevenson made the career batting average list at .472 despite getting only eight at bats as a sophomore because of an injury.

Benzie Central’s Wyatt Noffsinger enjoyed a memorable run to nearly finish off his high school career, throwing consecutive no-hitters against Buckley on May 24 and then Manton on June 3.

Okemos then-junior Caleb Bonemer earned his first record book entry with three home runs June 3 against Grand Ledge as his team clinched a Division 1 District title. Bonemer has committed to sign with Virginia.

After 45 years, Flint Southwestern’s Ruben Luna and Risto Nicevski were added for their accomplishments on the 1978 Class A championship team. Luna made the wins list with a record of 14-0 and the ERA list with a 0.71, and Nicevski made the ERA list with a 0.72. Both went on to play at Michigan State.

East Lansing’s Sam Busch enjoyed a career day on April 12, 2019, when he hit three home runs in consecutive at bats against Ionia. A junior that season, he’s now playing at Michigan State.

Powers North Central’s Adrian Mercier enjoyed a record-worthy junior season this spring. He hit .619 over 32 games, ranking 10th all-time for a single season.

Whitehall senior Cayden Ritchie chased and nearly caught the single-season stolen base record in 2021, when he tied for second with 72 steals over 36 games. He also made the single-game steals list five times, twice with a high of six.  

Aidan Liedeke capped his Brighton Charyl Stockwell career in the spring with some of the most impressive strikeout numbers in state history. Already listed for averaging 15.41 strikeouts per game as a junior in 2022, he averaged 14.92 Ks per game this spring to finish his three-season career at 15 strikeouts per game. He posted a 0.88 ERA in the spring as well to finish with a career 1.52. He’s playing at Kalamazoo College.

Killian Bies finished his Marshall three-season career in the spring among leaders all-time for getting hit by pitches. He already had tied for sixth as a sophomore in 2021 with 22 HBPs, and with 14 more both his junior and senior seasons he finished with 50 to rank fifth on that list. He’s continuing at Cornerstone.

PHOTO Standish-Sterling's Cole Prout (8) readies for a pitch during his team's 2022 Division 3 Semifinal.