Pitcher Saves Best for Team's 1st Final

June 15, 2013

By Andy Sneddon
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – Connor Foley saved his absolute best for last, much to the delight of longtime Bay City Western coach Tim McDonald.

Foley put on a gutsy mound performance Saturday in pitching the Warriors to a 1-0 win over Birmingham Brother Rice in the MHSAA Division 1 Final at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek.

“Best game I’ve pitched in my life, and I couldn’t have picked a better day to do it,” said Foley, who went the distance in limiting a formidable Rice lineup to six hits while striking out four and walking one. “Every single pitch – if I wanted it on the outside corner, it was going there; if I wanted it on the inside corner, it was there.”

It was the first MHSAA baseball championship for the Warriors and the first for McDonald, who is 564-198-7 in 21 years at the school. He was recently inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“We wanted to get him his first ring,” Foley said. “He just got inducted into the hall of fame, so we wanted to give him something else to be happy about.”

Western got the game’s only run when senior Grant Bridgewater drew a two-out walk in the top of the sixth inning. Bridgewater, Western’s catcher, gave way to courtesy runner David Fegan, a sophomore, and Fegan was balked by Rice’s Dalton Greyerbiehl to second – the first of two costly Rice miscues in the late innings. On the pitch after the balk, senior Brendan Harrison smacked a solid single to center, and Fegan slid home well ahead of the throw.

The confident Foley did the rest. And, as is the case with any good pitcher, he got some help from his defense.

“Once I got that run, I knew,” he said, “I knew we were getting it.”

Foley allowed a one-out single in the sixth, but the courtesy runner was doubled off of first after a long flyout to center fielder Briton Ott to end the inning.

“Throw to contact,” Foley said of his pitching philosophy. “I’ve got a great ‘D’. I knew to throw to contact and they’d take care of it. Before the game I was telling the guys we’d probably need four or five runs because, you know, I’m pitching. But all we needed was one today. Inexplicable.”

The Warriors also had their ace in the hole, literally, with University of Michigan-bound lefthander Brett Adcock – who pitched the Warriors to a 2-1 Semifinal win over Sterling Heights Stevenson on Friday – warming up in the bullpen.

After Foley surrendered a two-out single to Bobby Cross in the bottom of the seventh, McDonald went to the mound to speak with his pitcher, but he didn’t replace him. The next hitter popped out to end the game.

“(Rice) had a left-handed hitter coming up in a couple batters, but to be honest, I don’t think I could have pulled the plug on Connor,” McDonald said. “He didn’t throw a lot of pitches. He deserved to close out a state championship.

“Adcock gets a lot of attention, (and) he deserves all of it, but Connor Foley’s been equal to the task. He’s a great complement to Brett and anybody who knows Connor will tell you you know exactly what you’re going to get. He is a gutsy kid, he’s confident and he’s got a little swagger to him, maybe, but it’s all about him wanting the ball. He wants the big game.”

And for Western, there were plenty of them this year. Saturday’s win was its 35th consecutive. Rice finished 32-8-1.

“I told the guys last night, if we had to play (Rice) in a seven-game series, we might not win,” McDonald said. “But we just had to play them once and beat them once and I’m beyond proud.

“I’ve been proud of every team I’ve coached and I’ve coached some incredible teams. But this team separated themselves. They set the bar. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to coach, but I’m not sure if we’ll ever do the things we did this year. … Maybe people can put it into perspective for me, but I don’t know what else to say about what we’ve done.”

Click for a full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Bay City Western sophomore David Fegan slides into home for the Warriors' deciding run in a 1-0 win Saturday at Bailey Park. (Middle) Senior Connor Foley threw a complete game in earning the win on the mound for Bay City Western. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)