Richard Seeking Familiar Playoff Groove
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
May 30, 2019
RIVERVIEW – Success came sooner than expected last season when Riverview Gabriel Richard won the school’s first MHSAA baseball title.
Mike Magier, who was in his fifth season as coach at Richard last spring, did not have a senior on a team that defeated Detroit Catholic League rival Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 3-0, in the Division 3 Final. Many, including Magier, had pointed to the 2019 season as the one that would carry the Pioneers over the top.
“We knew we had a quality team last year,” Magier said. “We thought we could make a run (in the tournament). You have to have some breaks along the way to win (the championship). We did (point to this season). We had done that stepping stone type of thing. We felt we had our sites on this year.”
Expectations increase, often dramatically, when a team wins it all. Richard has 11 seniors this spring, seven who are in the starting lineup more times than not. But injuries, unlucky weather and a touch of senioritis – often unavoidable this time of year as seniors begin looking forward to life after high school – have taken their tolls on the Pioneers.
It’s not that Richard has played poorly this season. The Pioneers reached the Catholic League C-D title game May 24, losing to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 2-0. But this weekend will provide an opportunity to bring everything back together at a time when it matters most, as one must consider Richard (15-5) the favorite at the District hosted by Allen Park Cabrini on Saturday.
Richard will play Taylor Prep in the 10 a.m. semifinal, with the host team taking on Ecorse at noon. The championship game will follow at approximately 2 p.m.
“To be truthful, we haven’t played that well this year,” Magier said. “The weather has been a factor. There was a stretch where we didn’t play a game for eight consecutive days. We’re fortunate in that we have a turf football field and we’re able to practice on it. Some days I’ve received calls saying the field was under water, and we couldn’t practice.”
The Pioneers suffered a significant setback three weeks ago when Magier’s ace, senior right-hander Matthew Silka, suffered a broken right hand. Silka, who tossed a complete game one-hitter in the Division 3 championship game last season, was 3-0 with two saves when the injury occurred. It’s possible Silka will return for the Regional, should Richard advance.
“We think we can be competitive in the Districts,” Magier said. “But we’ll definitely need (Silka) in the Regionals.”
Another senior, Frank Klamerus, suffered a broken left hand two days before Silka went out. Klamerus, who plays third base, first and is one of Richard’s top pitchers, returned last week.
Richard’s best all-around player is Kevin Tuttle, a four-year varsity player who began his career as the starting centerfielder. He moved to the middle infield and is currently playing shortstop and catcher. Tuttle, who signed with Central Michigan University, is batting .465 with 13 RBI.
“He’s an all-around good hitter who can hit any type of pitch,” Magier said. “He plays good defense and shuts down the other team’s running game when he’s behind the plate.”
Another top senior is centerfielder Jacob Gosen, who covers a lot of ground in the outfield and has a strong arm. He hit .500 last season, and his average is hovering around .400 this season.
The two juniors who start are David Zubor, a left fielder who bats second, and right-hander Cole Atkinson, who’s 4-1 this season. Zubor struggled at the plate early but has since picked up his offense and is batting .300.
The cool, often wet playing conditions have made getting in a groove tough for his hitters, and Magier is hoping the weather improves now that the tournament is at hand.
“We’ve only had 20 games,” he said. “We haven’t been able to gear them up. Many of our nonleague have been cancelled.”
Richard played 25 games before the tournament started last season and finished 29-3. That team gave up just six runs over the seven tournament games, and Magier is counting on solid pitching again.
“For us to be successful (in the tournament), our bats have to come alive,” he said. “For some reason, whether it’s the weather or what, we’ve struggled at the plate this year. We just haven’t got into a groove. Our pitching has been solid, and our defense has been good. Our problem has been our hitting.”
A case in point is Tuttle. He bats third in the lineup, and despite his high average has driven home only 13 runs. The Pioneers will need to manufacture more production if they hope to return to East Lansing.
It’s been a steady climb for Magier’s program. The Pioneers lost to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in a District Final in 2015, 3-1. The following year they lost to University Liggett, 3-2, in a Regional Semifinal, and in 2017 Bishop Foley eliminated Richard, 8-0, in a Quarterfinal.
Regardless of what happens during the next few weeks, Richard’s program is on solid ground under Magier. The 1990 Melvindale graduate, who played baseball at Wayne State, has 18 on varsity, 10 on the junior varsity and 14 on the freshmen team. Last season Richard was unable to field a freshmen team. These are impressive numbers when one considers Richard has an enrollment of just more than 300 students, boys and girls combined.
“We’ve got a bunch of smart kids and they like to compete,” Magier said. “They’re coachable, and every kid plays at least two sports. More than half play three. I definitely like the idea of them playing multiple sports.”
Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Riverview Gabriel Richard’s Kevin Tuttle drives a single to centerfield during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal win over Schoolcraft. (Middle) Centerfielder Jacob Gosen shows off his range at McLane Stadium during the 2018 championship game.
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.
So, 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.
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.
“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.
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 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.)