Oilers Add to Decade of Dominance

June 14, 2014

By Andy Sneddon
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Aaron Leasher didn’t need a whole lot of run support.

Still, it was a nice luxury to have as the senior left-hander tossed a four-hitter Saturday in leading Mount Pleasant to a 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Final at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

It was the Oilers’ third MHSAA championship and first since 2007, and it goes in the books as another highlight in an outstanding run that includes eight District championships and Seven regional titles over the past decade.

“We came in pretty focused, and we pretty much peaked in the tournament here,” said Luke Epple, who completed his 21st year as the Oilers’ coach and has led the program to a 615-166 record and all three of its championships. “I knew we were better than what a lot of people thought we were. We’re young, and just had to keep working at things and make the plays you can make and throw strikes, put the ball in play and keep pressure on them.

“We expect to do well in this tournament, but you’ve still got to execute. Some years past we’ve matched up very good, and we didn’t execute. This team, we really stressed that execution with everything – small ball, driving runs in with two outs, making the plays you should make. We came in focused, and that was what I was most proud of. They didn’t let the other things around them bother them. They wanted to win, and they played to win today.”

And there’s good reason to believe that Mount Pleasant could contend next year and beyond. Five underclassmen were in the Oilers’ starting lineup Saturday. One, sophomore Zach Heeke, gave his team a 1-0 lead with a first-inning sacrifice fly.

Mount Pleasant (32-8-1) tacked on three runs in the third, getting an RBI single from Hunter Buczkowski, a sacrifice fly from Joe Genia, and getting another run on a balk by Richmond starter Dillon McInerney.

Leasher went the distance, striking out seven (four on called third strikes) and walking three.

“I was struggling a little bit early on with trying to get the first pitch across, but in the later innings I started to get my first pitch (for a strike), and that’s where it went from there,” said Leasher, who got outstanding support from a defense that turned two inning-ending double plays behind him. “My defense stayed strong, and we got early run support, so that was great. It calms your nerves down and you just get settled in on the mound, and you can work on trying to throw to contact instead of trying to strike guys out.”

Robert Backus had two hits and two RBI to lead the Oilers as the plate, while Dean Marais also had two hits.

Zach Leach and McInerney had two hits apiece for Richmond, but the Blue Devils never put more than one runner on base in any inning until the sixth. And by then, they trailed 5-0 and Leasher was clearly in a groove. 

Richmond (35-3) lost in the MHSAA Final for the second straight year, and saw its winning streak end at 33 games.

“Every run they tack on, it takes away our small ball; (then) we have to play for a bigger inning,” said Scott Evans, who is 92-20 in three years as Richmond’s coach. “We just hit balls at people.”

Evans returned six starters from a team that fell, 3-0, to Grand Rapids Christian in last year’s Division 2 Final.

“I think we were 100 percent overwhelmed last year,” he said. “(This year) we went deep in all of our at-bats. We only had one strikeout on a ball that was out of the zone. I’m not disappointed in our effort at the plate.

“It’s a great group of kids. I’ll never forget them. They’re like my sons. It’s never been about me; it’s about those boys.”

And for the Oilers, it was all about pitching throughout the tournament as Leasher and Buczkowski, a sophomore right-hander, dominated. In Mount Pleasant’s seven tournament games, they combined to surrender six runs and post two shutouts.

The two runs scored by Richmond – both came in the seventh inning – were the most the Oilers had allowed in any of their tournament games.

“We have some other good pitchers, but these two, we had to go with them,” Epple said. “They were dominating all the way through. They dominated through the regular season. They’ve got a couple losses, but they were like 1-0 (scores) in eight innings.

“We knew if we could pick the ball up, move the runners, score some runs and make the play that you should make (that) we had a good chance to win. And they believed that.”

McInerney took the loss, his first of the season against 12 victories. He allowed four runs on seven hits, while walking one and striking out two over three innings. Jake Schmidt went the final three frames for Richmond, surrendering three runs on three hits, while walking one and striking out three.” 

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Mount Pleasant players rush the field to celebrate their third MHSAA baseball championship. (Middle) Oilers pitcher Aaron Leasher struck out seven batters in throwing the shutout.

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

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) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)