Lakeshore, St. Mary's Aces Sharp in Semifinals Show

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 18, 2021

EAST LANSING – Zach Warren knew he didn’t have many pitches left.

Fortunately for the Stevensville Lakeshore sophomore, he had just enough to finish off a dominating pitching performance.

Warren tossed a no-hitter in Friday’s second Division 2 Semifinal as the Lancers blanked Gladwin 8-0 at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.

“When my coach came out before my last batter I think I had five pitches left, so I had to finish the batter,” Warren said. “I was just trying to get him out. I just wanted to end the game, finish my game.”

The Lancers (27-11) advanced to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Final, where it will face reigning champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Lakeshore won back-to-back Division 2 championships in 2017 and 2018.

The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Warren struck out five and walked three in seven scoreless innings Friday. It was the first no-hitter of his career. 

“This feels really good because it advances my team to the championship game, and hopefully we will come out with a win,” Warren said. “I just wanted to get the job done and help my team get the win.”

Lancers’ coach Mark Nate said Warren was approaching his pitch count of 105 after an error and walk put runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Warren got a ground out to shortstop Jack Carlisle to cap the no-hitter.   

“That was his last pitch right there; that was his last batter,” Nate said. “If he would’ve gotten on there, I would’ve had to pull him. 

“He had his breaking ball going early, he attacked the strike zone early and I’m just proud of him. His work ethic all year and his endurance really helped. He’s quite a ball player, and it's special to have a sophomore as your ace."

Warren, who improved to 9-1 this season, silenced the Gladwin offense with a combination of pitches. 

“I think every pitch was working until the fifth inning, and I started to gas a little bit and then I got a little wild,” Warren said. “But I battled and got through it. I was mixing everything up and keeping them off balance so they didn’t know what was coming.”
The Lancers’ bats staked Warren to an early lead. They scored six runs on eight hits over the first three innings to grab the early advantage.

Lakeshore also took advantage of five Gladwin errors.

“I think it really relaxed everybody in the dugout with the early runs,” Nate said. “In games like this you have to break the ice and get that run in, and we did that in the second inning.  Once we got those runs, it got a lot looser in the dugout and I think Zach calmed down on the mound knowing that we had a lead.”

Leadoff hitter Trevor Griffiths went 4-for-4 with two runs scored, while Michael Nate had two hits and three RBIs. The Lancers finished with 12 hits.

Gladwin, which was making its first trip to the Semifinals, finished the season with a 25-10-1 record. The Flying G’s had won their first Regional since 2014.

Click for the full box score.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 5, New Boston Huron 1

Junior Brock Porter, a Clemson commit, struck out 12 and scattered six hits as top-ranked St. Mary’s defeated New Boston Huron 5-1 in Friday’s first Division 2 Semifinal.

“He gives us a chance to win every time he takes it, and he had the experience from his freshman year,” Eaglets coach Mike Petry said. “It was a different role for him this year as the No. 1, and you have to win that first game to get to (Saturday). 

“He took the ball and did exactly what we needed him to. He saved the bullpen, and now we have everybody but him tomorrow.”

Orchard Lake St. Mary's baseballPorter didn’t allow a run during his first six innings of work and remained unbeaten on the season at 12-0. His lone run allowed came with two outs in the seventh inning.

“My change-up was big for me, and I could throw it anytime, anywhere,” Porter said. “I was confident in that pitch, as well as my fastball. My slider was a swing-and-miss pitch for me.

“I have the best defense behind me and I have the best bats ahead of me, so I go out there and have fun and enjoy every single minute of it.” 

The fourth-ranked Chiefs had base runners in five of the seven innings, but couldn’t manufacture any quality scoring chances against Porter.

“He’s a tough guy to string multiple hits together against if he’s not walking guys, which he doesn't do, and we are making the plays behind him,” Petry said. “You're forcing the other team to string multiple hits together and get some extra-base hits, which he doesn't give up a whole lot of.”
Huron coach Phillip Yancey knew what to expect from the crafty and hard-throwing Porter.  

“We knew he was coming, and we geared up for about 100 mph this week,” Yancey said. “I don't believe in pitching machines, but we cranked it up to about 100 and we took batting practice. I think the boys put the ball in play.” 

Jasen Oliver gave the Eaglets an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning with an RBI double.  

St. Mary’s (42-1) added another run in the third inning when a safety squeeze bunt by Jack Crighton scored Alex Mooney from third base.

The Eaglets broke it open in the sixth inning with three insurance runs. Oliver delivered again with a two-run single as the lead swelled to 4-0. Jake Dresselhouse tacked on an RBI single to make it 5-0.

“The way Huron battled at the end, it was big to get those three runs in the bottom of the sixth,” Petry said. “That’s something we’ve preached in this playoff run. Finding a way to add at least one every inning because things can go awry pretty quickly in a playoff game, so you have to find a way to add, add, add.” 

The Chiefs finally got to Porter in the seventh when Gavin Moczydlowski’s third hit of the game, down the right field line, scored Shane Mitchell.  

New Boston senior starter Chase Molnar suffered his first loss of the season, but pitched well against a potent line-up before being roughed up in the sixth. He allowed five runs on eight hits and struck out three, but had given up only four hits through the first five innings while keeping it a two-run game to that point.

The Chiefs (26-8) were making their first appearance in the Semifinals.  

“The boys were up to the challenge, and this was big for our community.” Yancey said. “We had a great run."

Oliver finished with two hits and three RBI for the Eaglets, while Ryan McKay had two hits and two runs scored.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Stevensville Lakeshore’s Zach Warren makes his move toward the plate during his no-hitter Friday at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Ryan McKay (3) slides in to score for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)