Little Brother Takes Turn as Semis Star

June 11, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half 

EAST LANSING – A year ago, Logan Buczkowski watched as his brother, Hunter, pitched Mount Pleasant to victory in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Semifinals.

On Friday, it was Logan’s turn to propel the Oilers into the championship game, and he did it with six shutout innings as Mount Pleasant downed Adrian 9-0 at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University. 

“It was exhilarating. I loved it. Every moment. Cherished it,” Logan, a sophomore right-hander and first-year varsity player, said. “I wanted to do better than he did; I wanted to do better than my older brother. I think it was a tie.”

Hunter Buczkowski will be on the mound at 11:30 a.m. Saturday when Mount Pleasant goes for back-to-back MHSAA championships in baseball for the first time in school history. 

“The Buczkowskis are workhorses,” Oilers coach Luke Epple said. “Logan threw well, and he has been throwing well. He threw strikes and was getting ahead of hitters and changing speeds.

“He was ahead of hitters, and they couldn’t read his soft-speed stuff versus his fastball. He had good stuff. He is throwing very well for a sophomore.” 

Logan, who throws what he calls a knuckle-drop, said his stuff was the complete opposite of his previous outing, when he had his fastball but struggled with the slow stuff. He pitched six innings and allowed three hits with three walks and six strikeouts Thursday.

“My knuckle-drop was working,” he said. “I couldn’t find my fastball at first, but my junk pitching came in well for me.” 

Logan also sparked the Mount Pleasant offense. Hitting fourth in the lineup, he was 2 for 3 with a walk as part of the Oilers’ 15-hit attack.

Mount Pleasant (27-12) scored in each of the first six innings. The Oilers had three runs in the third and two in the second, and had a single run in each of the other four innings. 

Speedy junior Kalebb Perry was 3 for 4 with two runs scored and an RBI, and two of his hits were triples to start an inning.

“I was just trying to hit the ball, to be honest,” he said. “I’ve been slumping lately. I’m just trying to get myself consistent and get my feet under myself so I can contribute to the team. 

“I had a run like this in basketball, but I’ve never played for a state title. My adrenalin is pumping right now.”

First baseman Maxwell Trucks added two hits, a run scored and an RBI for Mount Pleasant, while Hunter Buczkowski, playing center field, also had two hits, scored a run and drove in a run. 

Mount Pleasant goes into the championship game on quite a roll. The Oilers have recorded shutouts in six of their seven postseason games and have outscored their opponents by a combined 69-2 during that span.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better than my offense,” Logan Buczkowski said. “It felt really good to have a comfortable lead, and it really eases the pressure for me.” 

Epple made mention of the pressure, not only playing for an MHSAA championship but trying to repeat as well.

“These kids have played here before, but they might have some nerves,” he said. “I still get nervous before games, and I have been coaching a long time. These kids are more hungry than nervous. 

“We’ve won before, but we’ve never repeated, and that should be a huge goal for this squad.”

Adrian, which finished 26-10, used three pitchers against the Oilers, and none lasted three innings. Noah Solis, Ty Peck and Mitchell Dempsey each had a hit for the Maples. 

“We just didn’t have our game today for whatever reason,” Adrian coach Greg Jackson said. “Whether it was the moment, I don’t know, but I thought our kids were loose and had a great approach, and then the wheels fell off a little bit.

“Mount Pleasant has a very good baseball team, very sound. We’re hoping to be back here next year. Our kids got a taste of it, and hopefully they are hungry to get back here.” 

For Mount Pleasant, the time is now. The Oilers will face Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the championship game, and Epple believes Hunter Buczkowski will be up for the challenge as the starting pitcher. He pitched and won the Quarterfinal game on Tuesday.

“A couple more days of rest should help,” Epple said. “He threw about 95 pitches at the Quarterfinal, and he was throwing long toss about 300 feet today. He said he felt strong.”

Hunter also will have a little brother watching his every move. 

“I’m going to support him. Every moment,” Logan Buczkowski said with a big smile.

Click for the box score.           

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 9, Vicksburg 1

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s junior pitcher Drake Titus did not change his outlook after his team gave him a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. 

“Pitching with a lead is way better than pitching from behind or in a tie game, but I did not change anything,” he said. “I always try to come out and pound the zone, pound the zone, and let the guys put the ball in play and let the defense work.

“I have tremendous confidence and trust in our defense.” 

The five-run first inning put Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in control, and Vicksburg never recovered. Four singles, two walks and an error helped account for the five runs, and those were enough for Titus.

“He’s such a bulldog,” Orchard Lake St. Mary’s coach Matt Petry said. “He changes speed. He was getting ahead of most hitters, and he was throwing strikes. He makes the other team beat you, and he did an excellent job.” 

“The first districts and regionals we kind of struggled to score some runs early, but the last two games we’ve come out swinging up and down the lineup,” Petry added. “It’s great for us to get out to a lead like that, especially with a young team that hasn’t necessarily played in an environment like this.”

The youngest of that group would be 14-year-old freshman second baseman Carter Macias, who went 3 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI. 

“We talk about jitters, and the youngest kid out here – 14 years old – went 3 for 3 and was key in turning three double plays for us,” Petry said. “He did a great job for us.”

Third baseman Drew Boyd also had three hits and two RBI for the Eaglets, and Mason Vaughn added two hits and scored three runs. 

It will be the fourth appearance in the Division 2 Final for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, which won the title in 1998 and 2003 and was runner-up in 2007 and 2009. The Eaglets lost to Mount Pleasant in 2007.

Petry hinted that left-hander Greg Loukinen will start on the mound for the Eaglets but added it was not a final decision. 

“We have to see how everybody is feeling at practice, but I would assume so,” Petry said.

Vicksburg coach Brian Deal praised the pitching by Titus, who allowed one run on four hits with six strikeouts and one walk. 

“Fantastic fastball and curveball, and he had us on our heels all game long,” Deal said. “He shut us down right from the get-go, and we’re a team that scores some runs and swings the sticks a little bit.”

Vicksburg (27-8) set a school record for victories in a season and won its first Regional championship and Quarterfinal. 

“We’ve had a great run this season, and it’s been a lot of fun with these guys,” Deal said. “What you saw today was not what we’ve done all year long; it was sort of an anomaly for us.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mount Pleasant pitcher Logan Buczkowski follows through on a delivery home during Thursday’s Division 2 Semifinal. (Middle) Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Andrew Malick turns toward first while attempting a double play.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)