Preview: Hopefuls Head to McLane

June 11, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Michigan State University’s McLane Baseball Stadium will host its first MHSAA Baseball Finals this weekend, and in doing so welcome two reigning champions and two more teams that finished runners-up a year ago.

Bay City Western is back in the Division 1 Semifinals after claiming its first championship in 2013, while Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett is the reigning Division 4 champ but playing this time in Division 3.

But don’t assume Division 4 belongs now to last season runner-up Beal City; semifinalists Maple City Glen Lake and New Lothrop also are back for the second straight season. Reigning Division 2 runner-up Richmond also is back after making its first championship game a year ago.

For the first time as well, Semifinal play will begin Thursday and continue Friday with all four Finals on Saturday. Below is this weekend's schedule, followed by a look at each contender. 

Semifinals – Thursday
Division 1
Battle Creek Lakeview (32-5) vs. Grosse Pointe South (26-17) - 11:30 a.m.
Clarkston (20-12) vs. Bay City Western (36-7) - 5 p.m.

Division 2
DeWitt (23-10) vs. Richmond (34-3) - 9 a.m.
Mount Pleasant (30-8-1) vs. Richland Gull Lake (30-9) - 2:30 p.m.

Semifinals – Friday
Division 3
Gladstone (29-4) vs. Decatur (23-6) - 2:30 p.m.
Reese (28-7-1) vs. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (23-8) - 5 p.m.

Division 4
Beal City (35-3) vs. Kalamazoo Christian (18-17) - 9 a.m.
New Lothrop (32-6) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (31-2-1) - 11:30 a.m.

Finals – Saturday
Division 1 - 11:30 am
Division 2 - 9 am
Division 3 - 5 pm
Division 4 - 2:30 pm

Tickets cost $7 per round or $15 for an all-tournament ticket that includes admission to baseball games. Radio broadcasts of all games can be heard online at All games will be streamed live online at MHSAA.TV and viewable on subscription basis.

All statistics below are through at least the regular season, with most through teams' Regionals or Quarterfinals. (Click for links to brackets and scores.) 

Division 1

Record/rank: 36-7, No. 4
Coach: Tim McDonald, 22nd season (600-205-7) 
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley Association North
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2013. 
Players to watch: Justin Gorr, sr. P/1B (.427, 12 2B, 42 RBI); Carson Eby, jr. C/IF (.395, 10 2B, 41 RBI); Jason Clark, soph. P/2B (9-2, 1.22 ERA, .318, 42 R); Scott Badour, sr. P/OF (9-2, 0.71 ERA).
Outlook: A senior-heavy team won Western’s first MHSAA title a year ago, but the Warriors are back in the Semifinals despite graduating four who earned all-state recognition. The pitching has been stellar (19 shutouts), especially during the tournament – Western has given up only one run in five playoff games, to Midland in the District opener. Juniors Tony Robbins and Aaron Rodriguez and sophomore Brandon Wise join Clark and Badour with at least four wins each and ERAs of 2.12 or lower.

Record/rank: 32-5, unranked
Coach: Jeff Sovern, 10th season (245-94) 
League finish: First in Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference East
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Travis Snyder, soph. C (.420, 32 RBI); Nick Jones, soph. 3B/C (.405, 34 R, 29 RBI); Jacob Herbers, jr. P/1B (.411, 40 R, 11 2B, 8-0, 1.02 ERA); Jake Bivens, sr. SS (.409, 42 R, 10 2B, 29 RBI).
Outlook: Lakeview will add to a solid baseball tradition with its first Semifinal appearance since the last championship run in 2006. And only three starters are seniors – although Bivens is a big-time contributor and made the all-state first team in 2013. The young Spartans have shown plenty of poise  during a tournament run that has included one and two-run wins over traditional powers Grand Ledge and Howell, respectively, and a 9-5 Quarterfinal victory over No. 5 Saline.

Record/rank: 20-12, unranked
Co-coaches: Phil Price, 16th season (325-175) 
League finish: Third in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Class A champion 1976.
Players to watch: David Steward, sr. P; Ryan Rea, sr. P; Nathan Witt, sr. P (Stats not submitted.). Outlook: Clarkston is making its third Semifinals appearance and first since 2002 and is giving up an average of only two runs per game during the tournament. Witt has signed with Michigan State University and could get the chance to throw in his future home park.

Record/rank: 26-17, unranked
Coach: Dan Griesbaum, 31st season (707-359-1) 
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2001.
Players to watch: Andrew Eaton, sr. 1B/P; Richard Kish, sr. P/IF; James Menchl, sr. P/IF (Stats not submitted.).
Outlook: Grosse Pointe South has won seven straight District championships but is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2005. The Blue Devils upset top-ranked Sterling Heights Stevenson 2-0 in the Quarterfinal to advance, and have allowed only two runs during the MHSAA tournament – both to Detroit U-D Jesuit in the Regional Final.

Division 2

Record/rank: 23-10, unranked
Coach: Alan Shankel, fifth season (108-58) 
League finish: Third in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1993), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Sam Smith, sr. 1B/P (.441, 27 RBI, 5-2); John-Michael Moody, sr. C (.386, 32 RBI); Keaton Sackett, jr. SS (.394, 36 R, 13 SB); Justin Stygles, sr. RF (.352, 33 R, 35 RBI, 12 2B). 
Outlook: DeWitt started this season hot, cooled off for a bit, but warmed back up in time to make the Semifinals for the first time since 2003 and eliminate No. 3 Portland along the way. Moody was an all-state second-teamer last season and is one of 10 seniors who helped the Panthers to their first Regional title since 2009. DeWitt can rely on a number of contributors including seven pitchers with at least one win this spring.

Record/rank: 30-8-1, unranked
Coach: Luke Epple, 21st season (613-166) 
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley Association North
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2007), two runner-up finishes.  
Players to watch: Zach Heeke, soph. 3B (.410, 34 R, 32 RBI, 12 2B, 22 SB); Hunter Buczkowski, soph. P (7-2, 1.23 ERA, 92 K); Dean Marais, sr. LF (.362, 34 RBI); Aaron Leasher, sr. CF/P (8-3, 1.27 ERA, 114 K, .329).
Outlook: Mount Pleasant’s run over the last decade is incredible – eight District titles, seven Regional championships, now six trips to the Semifinals and an MHSAA title in 2007 and runner-up finish in 2008. Unranked this time around, the Oilers eliminated No. 5 Bay City John Glenn along the way and has given up only four runs total in six tournament games.

Record/rank: 30-9, No. 4
Coach: Bill Blakely, 22nd season (489-246) 
League finish: Second in Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference East
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Nick Miller, sr. CF/P (43 R, 12 SB, 11 2B, 4-1, 1.75 ERA); Drew Blakely, soph. C/P (.478, 35 RBI); Walter Graf, sr. P/2B (8-2, 1.95 ERA, .396, 48 R, 24 RBI, 12 2B, 17 SB); Jarod Burton, jr. 1B (.356, 29 R, 16 2B, 49 RBI).
Outlook: Gull Lake has been on the verge of playing in its first championship game, with this its third Semifinal in 11 seasons after also making it this far just three seasons ago. The Blue Devils have won nine District and nine league titles as well over the last 11 seasons. Sophomore Caleb Scoles (6-0, 1.66 ERA) will provide another key arm if Gull Lake is in need this weekend.

Record/rank: 34-3, No. 10
Coach: Scott Evans, third season (91-19) 
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference 
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2013. 
Players to watch: Evan Kratt, jr. C (.449, 29 R, 29 RBI); Austin Harvey, sr. 3B (.475, 51 R, 11 2B, 33 RBI, 45 SB); Ryan Boyd, sr. SS (.367, 39 R, 35 RBI, 35 SB); Zach Leach, sr. P/RF (10-1, 1.22 ERA, .538, 52 R, 45 RBI, 28 SB); Dillon McInerney, jr. P/1B (12-0, 1.00, .348, 10 2B, 37 RBI); Dustin Leach, sr. CF (.441, 44 R, 42 SB).
Outlook: Richmond has won 31 straight since opening 2-3 and after last season’s longest-ever tournament run. Six starters are back from last season’s championship game lineup, and Zach Leach and Boyd were all-state second-teamers. The Blue Devils are a catcher’s nightmare – their 204 stolen bases entering the week rank third in MHSAA history for one season, and Richmond has been caught only 11 times.  

Division 3

Record/rank: 23-6, No. 7
Coach: Ben Botti, 20th season (427-191-1) 
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference South
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), one runner-up finish. 
Players to watch: Cody Huston, jr. 3B/P (7-0, 1.20 ERA, .333); Cole Southworth, jr. C (.387); Joby Kawaski, jr. P/1B (.418, 44 R, 22 RBI, 15 SB, 7-0, 2.16, 92 K); Matthew Botti, jr. P/SS (.403, 24 R, 29 RBI, 10 2B, 3-1, 1.62 ERA), Carter Smith, soph. 2B (.372, 31 R, 16 SB).
Outlook: Decatur will look to add a Division 3 title to the four it’s earned in Division 4 over the last 15 seasons under Ben Botti. The Raiders made the Quarterfinals for the third straight season and haven’t missed a beat since moving into their new division this spring, eliminating No. 9 Watervliet during this tournament run. The experience will no doubt prove valuable, as the team has only five seniors – and starts only one.

Record/rank: 29-4, No. 3
Coach: Don Lauscher, second season (47-14) 
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Justin Jurek, jr. DH (.381, 42 R, 37 RBI); Jake Peterson, jr. RF/P (.351, 30 R, 7-0, 2.87 ERA); Sam Pouliot, sr. IF/P/C (7-1, 1.17 ERA); Hunter Garling, soph. C (.486, 35 R, 12 2B, 27 RBI, 3-2, 1.18 ERA).
Outlook: There are only about 20 baseball programs in the Upper Peninsula during a given season, and Gladstone brought its back last season after not having a team since 1959. The Braves caught up quickly and have only one in-state loss this season, to much larger Marquette. The program was able to take off in part because the community has a strong summer American Legion tradition, but this team is still young with only four seniors and the rest picking up valuable experience.

Record/rank: 23-8, unranked
Coach: Dan Cimini, 11th season (300-63) 
League finish: Second in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2013 in Division 4), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Nicholas Azar, jr. SS (.400, 30 RBI, 15 2B, 10 SB); Anthony Simon, sr. P/IF (.400, 11 SB); Gehrig Anglin, fr. P/IF (11-2, 1.16 ERA, .386); Adam Fiema, sr. P/CF (6-3, 2.14 ERA, .457, 27 R, 13 2B, 23 SB).
Outlook: University Liggett graduated three all-staters and moved to Division 3 this season after winning two of the last three Division 4 championships, but have been similarly impressive. Azar also was a Division 4 all-stater in 2013 and with Fiema is one of five senior starters. Despite entering unranked, University Liggett knocked out No. 1 Madison Heights Bishop Foley in the Regional Final and No. 10 Clinton on Tuesday.

Record/rank: 28-7-1, unranked
Coach: Dave Elliott, 19th season (418-197-4) 
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference West
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Frank McKenzie, sr. 2B (.329, 25 R, 24 RBI, 12 SB); Cody Peyok, sr. CF (.410, 33 R, 30 RBI, 10 2B, 19 SB, 8-2, 1.92); Matt Sahr, sr. P (.337, 26 R, 26 RBI, 15 SB, 9-1, 0.32, 79 K); Tony Bentley, sr. LF (.351, 32 R, 276 RBI, 11 2B, 15 SB).
Outlook: This is Reese’s second Semifinal appearance; the Rockets also advance this far in 1997 and reached the Quarterfinals in 2001. They’ve given up only two runs total in five tournament games and are riding a 16-game winning streak. Reese was swept by Pinconning 7-6 and 20-1 early this season before avenging those with a 5-1 Quarterfinal win Tuesday. The team has eight seniors, including the top six hitters in the starting lineup and two winningest pitchers.

Division 4

Record/rank: 35-3, No. 2
Coaches: Brad Antcliff, eighth season (259-42-3) 
League finish: First in Highland Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA championships (most recent 2010), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Ty Rollin, sr. SS/P; Chase Rollin, soph. RF (Stats not submitted.).
Outlook: Beal City finished runner-up in 2013 and is in the Semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons. Top pitcher Ty Rollin was an all-stater last season and is one of seven starters back from last season’s championship game lineup; he gave up only six hits as Beal City lost to University Liggett 3-2. The Aggies knocked out top-ranked Muskegon Catholic Central in the Regional Final to highlight this run.

Record/rank: 18-17, unranked
Coach: Steve Bennecke, second season (34-30) 
League finish: Sixth in Kalamazoo Valley Association
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Stephen Niewoonder, jr. P/1B/LF (.351, 22 R, 14 SB, 5-3); Alex Visser, fr. 2B (.385); Justin Richardson, sr. P/OF (7-3, 2.10 ERA); Greg Harris, jr. RF (.352, 10 SB).
Outlook: Kalamazoo Christian has won District titles in both seasons under Bennecke and made the Semifinals as recently as 2009, but has to be the surprise of this tournament after opening this season 5-10. The team has only four seniors and only two who start, but also two standout freshman starters among those gaining valuable experience for potential runs to come.

Record/rank: 31-2-1, No. 3
Coach: Kris Herman, 11th season (223-166-5) 
League finish: First in Northwest Conference
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Players to watch: Austin Odziana, jr. 1B (.422, 36 RBI, 10 2B); Thomas Waning, sr. P (12-1, 0.72 ERA,165 K, .360, 47 R, 10 2B); Travis Moore, soph. 3B (.494, 43 RBI, 12 2B); Trevor Apsey, sr. C (.518, 37 R, 38 RBI, 13 2B, 18 SB), Tristan Williams, sr. SS (.442, 48 R, 24 SB. 12 2B); Zach Cooper, soph. LF/P (13-0, 0.97 ERA, 79 K).
Outlook: Glen Lake has returned to the Semifinals for the second straight year while keyed by many of the same players as last season, including all-state first-teamer Odziana and second-teamer Apsey. Its only losses were to rivals Suttons Bay and Bellaire, and Glen Lake then beat both during the tournament while outscoring its postseason opponents by a total of 40-14.  

Record/rank: 32-6, No. 5
Coach: Keith Villano, fourth season (112-25-2) 
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Blue
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Quentin Taylor, soph. OF/P; Grant Steinborn, jr. 1B/P; Kyle Chappelle, sr. 3B (Stats not submitted.).
Outlook: New Lothrop has risen from Quarterfinalist in 2012 to Semifinalist in 2013 and hopes to take the next step this weekend into its first championship game. Steinborn was an all-state second-teamer last season and leads a staff that should give the Hornets a solid chance. New Lothrop eliminated No. 8 Potterville and No. 6 Sterling Heights Parkway Christian during this tournament run.

PHOTO: Maple City Glen Lake catcher Trevor Apsey waits for the throw home as Beal City’s Ryan Tilmann slides under just in time to score in a 2013 Division 4 Semifinal.