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.)

For Coach: Powers Completes 1st Title Run for 42-Year Leader Dutkowski

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 15, 2024

EAST LANSING — On behalf of this current Flint Powers Catholic baseball team, Saturday’s message was loud and clear to past players, alumni and school officials:

We finally did it for Tom. 

Tom would be longtime head coach Tom Dutkowski, who after 42 years and 872 wins finally got to coach in a state championship game Saturday. 

Not only did Powers get there for Dutkowski, but the Chargers delivered win No. 873 and his long-awaited first title as coach with an 11-0 defeat of Spring Lake in the Division 2 Final at McLane Stadium. 

“We just made Flint Powers history, and to be a part of that is amazing,” Powers senior Fischer Hendershot said. “We have a lot of alumni and a lot of alumni on the coaching staff. To do it for the coaching staff, everyone here, everyone in Powers, every alumni and everyone who cares about us is a great feeling.” 

The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch.After accepting the championship trophy and raising into the air triumphantly, Dutkowski reflected on the journey and long wait.

It was the third title for Powers baseball, joining the 1974 and 1980 championships. Dutkowski was an assistant on the 1980 team. 

“I played in ’73 here, and my joke for that was that I taught the ’74 guys everything they knew and then they won a state championship the next year,” Dutkowski said. “We won it in ’80 with just a gritty team. My third year as a head coach we got to the final four in Class A, and I figured this was going to happen every three years. And then it was a 39-year drought in terms of that.”

The game ended after five innings via the run differential rule and capped off a fairly dominant season for Powers — or at least as dominant as a baseball team can be for a season.

The Chargers finished 37-6 and outscored opponents by a combined 57-13 during the MHSAA Tournament.

The only close call during the playoffs came in Friday’s Semifinal, when Powers blew a 3-0 lead to Trenton before prevailing in the bottom of the eighth inning, 4-3, on a walk-off single by senior Gavin Darling. 

“These guys, they never flinched and they never wavered,” Dutkowski said. “They developed into being a great team, not just individual talent.”

Powers wasted no time against Spring Lake, taking a 2-0 lead with one out in the top of the first inning on a two-run double to the gap in left-center by Darling. After a ground out, Darling scored on a Spring Lake throwing error to give Powers a 3-0 lead. 

Powers added another run in the second inning on a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0. 

Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.In the third, Powers scored four runs to take an 8-0 lead on an RBI single by Hendershot, a walk with the bases loaded and a two-run single by freshman Connor Kelly. 

Powers then put three more runs on the board in the fourth inning to take an 11-0 lead. 

Hendershot was the winner on the mound, allowing two hits and striking out five in five innings of work. 

Spring Lake also was attempting to win its first Finals title, but had to settle for its third runner-up finish (to go with those from 1995 and 1978). 

The Lakers finished 32-10. 

“They are a good team, and this was their year,” Spring Lake head coach Bill Core said. “We just couldn’t keep them off of the bases, and our pitching wasn’t as sharp as it’s been. We gave them a couple of free passes, and they mixed in some good hitting. That’s a good team, and that’s why they’ve been ranked No. 1 in the state all year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic raises its championship trophy to complete the 2024 baseball season Saturday evening at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch. (Below) Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.