Reigning D1 Champ Posts Record Result

June 14, 2014

By Andy Sneddon
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Same school, same uniforms.

But an almost entirely different cast.

And a piece of MHSAA baseball history.

Sophomore right-hander Jason Clark pitched seven masterful innings Saturday as Bay City Western topped Grosse Pointe South, 6-2, to win the Division 1 championship at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

The Warriors (38-7) became the first team in the 43-year history of the MHSAA Tournament to repeat as the champion in the largest division (Division 1 or Class A).

“It was a storybook season, and it had a storybook ending,” Western coach Tim McDonald said. “I’m not going to pretend that we were the most talented team in the state or that we were maybe even close to it. But that was a flawless performance (in the Final) from one-through-nine.

“You dream of coming out and playing like that in a big game, but you never know with high school kids.”

Unless, perhaps, those kids happen to play baseball and wear the brown and gold of Bay City Western.

The Warriors returned just two starters from last year’s team and started four sophomores in Saturday’s Final.

One of those 10th-graders was Clark, who took a perfect game into the fifth inning, then allowed three straight hits that produced both South runs to cut Western’s lead to 6-2.

“I’ve been doing that all year,” said Clark, the Warriors’ leadoff hitter who finished with three hits and scored two runs. “If I have a bad inning, I stay focused and try to speed up my momentum and it usually helps me. It’s just, stay focused, and not let myself get sidetracked by the hits.”

Those three hits – singles by Ronald Williams and James Fishback sandwiched around a Brett Bigham triple – were the only base runners South had on the day.

And after that hiccup, Clark retired the final nine Blue Devils batters he faced, finishing the game with five strikeouts. The Warriors played error-free defense behind him.

“Jason Clark is just a pup. He’s 15 years old; he was on a Pony League field this time last year,” McDonald said. “I think the seniors and some of the veterans were good about keeping him calm; (there was a) lot of positive energy. That was an unbelievable big-game performance.”

The same, frankly, could be said about all the Warriors.

“We’ve played our best in the biggest games this year,” McDonald said. “I don’t think they felt pressure because of last year, I just think there’s pressure because it’s a one-and-done tournament. If you slip up, you can get knocked off, and these guys never ever even flinched. They deserve it. There’s more talented teams, but you can’t play any better than they did.

“For seven tournament games that was as good a display of baseball that you’re going to see, in every facet of the game.”

Senior Justin Gorr drilled a two-run double in the first inning to put the Warriors up, 2-0, and Hunter David delivered a two-out double to score Gorr and make it 3-0.

As it turned out, that’s all Clark would need, though Western provided plenty of insurance with 11 hits including a two-RBI single from Seth Freed.

Freed and catcher Carson Eby are Western’s lone returning starters from last season.

“It’s a whole new team, whole new look, new pitchers,” Gorr said. “We didn’t have any returning pitchers from last year.

“Last year everyone expected us to win the state championship. This year everyone was looking down on us thinking we couldn’t do it. And to know that all the haters were out there and to win a state championship is an amazing feeling.”

And a different one, McDonald said.

“I treasured last year’s championship for a long time, and every time I see the guys from last year there’s a bond that’ll never be broken,” he said. “Now this year’s group gets to enjoy that. I’m never ever going to say one was better than the other – they’re different, but (winning is) so hard to do. You’ve got to have breaks and a little bit of luck and do all the things that championship teams do, and we did it.”

South (27-18) was seeking its first MHSAA title since 2001.

The Blue Devils started the season 1-5 and were 7-12 at one point. They finished 7-8 (third place) in their league, the Macomb Area Conference Red, but got hot at the right time and upset top-ranked Sterling Heights Stevenson in a Quarterfinal game.

“We came such a long way,” said Dan Griesbaum, who finished his 31st season as South’s coach. “I’m so proud of this team. To do what they did from the beginning to the end of the season; they just kept getting better and better and better. We lost to a very good team today. They deserved it, they played better than we did today, and that’s what the state tournament is all about.

“For us to get here and get this far and do what we did is amazing, very satisfying.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bay City Western players celebrate their MHSAA Division 1 championship at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Warriors' Scott Badour and Grosse Pointe South catcher Roland Williams watch Badour's drive; he had one hit in four at-bats.

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.)