Semifinal Comebacks Set Up Decider Between 1st-Time Title Hopefuls

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 15, 2023

EAST LANSING – Clutch pitching, squandered chances and plenty of extra baseball was the theme of Thursday’s second Division 1 Semifinal between Novi and Mattawan. 

In a battle of two teams both seeking a first championship, it was Novi that ultimately prevailed in 10 innings, 4-1, at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.

Novi was down to its last strike in the seventh inning, but finally broke through against Mattawan junior starter Brendan Garza to advance to the season’s final day for the first time since 1973.

With runners on first and second and two outs following a walk and hit batter, Novi senior Alex Czapski lined a single up the middle with two strikes to tie the game at 1-1, just as Garza was on the verge of tossing a one-hit shutout. 

“Earlier in the game I was thinking off-speed,” Czapski said. “He was giving it to me, and I wasn’t hitting it. Overall, I wasn’t hitting it great, but I got a lucky poke on that. He was a great pitcher.”

Each team had a chance in the ninth inning, starting when Novi put runners at first and second base with nobody out. But the rally fizzled after an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt attempt and two strikeouts.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mattawan put a runner on third with one out following a leadoff double by sophomore Tyson Stratton and a sacrifice bunt, but couldn’t get the winning run across after a short flyout and strikeout. The flyout was a soft line drive to right, but the baserunner was partially up the line when the ball was caught and didn’t have enough time to go back to the base, tag up and try to run home. 

Novi’s Alex Czapski drives a pitch against Mattawan.In the top of the 10th inning, Novi took a 2-1 lead on a Mattawan throwing error. Novi put runners on first and second with nobody out after a hit and a walk, and on a sacrifice bunt attempt a throw went into left field allowing a run to score. With two outs, junior Andrew Kummer hit a ball that got past the shortstop and into left field, scoring two runs to give Novi a 4-1 lead. 

Novi sophomore reliever Uli Fernsler capped off three scoreless innings by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth to finish the game. 

Now, Novi will go for its first Finals title in head coach Rick Green’s 23rd year at the helm.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Green said. “I’m so thrilled and happy for these guys. It’s all about these guys and the guys in the past as well.”

Novi on the mound started senior Andrew Abler, who allowed five hits and a run over seven innings.

Up until Czapki’s tying single in the seventh, the story of the game was Garza, who was dominant throughout until the walk and hit batter in the seventh opened the door. 

Garza also accounted for Mattawan’s lone run, singling it home in the first inning. 

Mattawan, which stranded runners on second and third base in both the fifth and sixth innings, finished 25-12-1.

“We had two or three chances to win the game and didn’t capitalize,” Mattawan head coach Brett Vaughn said. “It was exactly what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be a pitcher’s duel, and that’s exactly what it was right until the end.”

Click for the full box score.

Brownstown Woodhaven 6, Macomb Dakota 4

Woodhaven has been following a pattern of clutch two-out hitting and improbable comebacks of late. 

In a Division 1 Quarterfinal win over Grosse Pointe South, the Warriors rallied from a 7-3 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning, scoring six runs with two outs en route to a 9-7 victory.

It was more of the same for Woodhaven in its Semifinal win over Dakota.

The Warriors trailed 4-0 in the fourth inning, but rallied for six runs — all with two outs — to earn a 6-4 victory and their second appearance in a Division 1 championship game since 2018. 

Woodhaven (32-11) has won 21 of its last 23 games. 

Woodhaven’s Evan Langlois (3) applies a tag during his team’s Semifinal win over Macomb Dakota.“We’ve been through a lot this season,” Woodhaven head coach Corey Farner said. “Almost every single situation you can think of, we’ve been through it. We were down big in the Quarterfinal. We just don’t quit. They don’t have that in them.”

A bulk of the rally for Woodhaven came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Warriors mounted a five-run rally with two outs. 

With runners on second and third base, senior Tyler Harris doubled to left-center to cut the deficit to 4-2 Dakota. 

Senior Michael Budai, junior Jacob Wright and senior Nick Phillips each added RBI singles with two outs to give the Warriors a 5-4 lead.

Woodhaven then added another run in the fifth inning when an RBI single with two outs by Budai gave the Warriors a 6-4 advantage. 

Once given a lead, Woodhaven ace Evan Langlois settled in and didn’t give Dakota any great opportunities to get back into the game, allowing just one runner to get into scoring position over the last three innings after Dakota scored four runs in the top of the third to go up 4-0.

“I felt I was dialed in pretty much the whole entire time,” said Langlois, a senior who struck out five, walked one and allowed five hits in a complete-game win. “That rally will affect anybody. I just tried to stay focused the whole entire time and do my thing.”

Three of the four Dakota runs scored in the third inning were unearned. After loading the bases with one out, the Cougars took a 1-0 lead on an RBI groundout by senior Brendan Borowicz before forming a two-out rally. Dakota took a 2-0 lead following a throwing error, and then the Cougars grabbed a 4-0 lead when a single to right by senior Will DeMasse plated two runs.

But that would be all the offense for Dakota (26-13-2), which also ended its 2019 season at the Semifinals. 

DeMasse had three hits to lead the way for the Cougars. 

“One bad inning,” Dakota head coach Angelo Plouffe said. “It sucks, but that’s baseball. You’ve got to make three outs in an inning. That’s what it takes. I’m proud of my kids.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Novi players, from left, Uli Fernsler, Brett Reed and Jonathan Aurilia celebrate their team’s Semifinal win Thursday at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Novi’s Alex Czapski drives a pitch against Mattawan. (Below) Woodhaven’s Evan Langlois (3) applies a tag during his team’s Semifinal win over Macomb Dakota.

For Coach: Powers Completes 1st Title Run for 42-Year Leader Dutkowski

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 15, 2024

EAST LANSING — On behalf of this current Flint Powers Catholic baseball team, Saturday’s message was loud and clear to past players, alumni and school officials:

We finally did it for Tom. 

Tom would be longtime head coach Tom Dutkowski, who after 42 years and 872 wins finally got to coach in a state championship game Saturday. 

Not only did Powers get there for Dutkowski, but the Chargers delivered win No. 873 and his long-awaited first title as coach with an 11-0 defeat of Spring Lake in the Division 2 Final at McLane Stadium. 

“We just made Flint Powers history, and to be a part of that is amazing,” Powers senior Fischer Hendershot said. “We have a lot of alumni and a lot of alumni on the coaching staff. To do it for the coaching staff, everyone here, everyone in Powers, every alumni and everyone who cares about us is a great feeling.” 

The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch.After accepting the championship trophy and raising into the air triumphantly, Dutkowski reflected on the journey and long wait.

It was the third title for Powers baseball, joining the 1974 and 1980 championships. Dutkowski was an assistant on the 1980 team. 

“I played in ’73 here, and my joke for that was that I taught the ’74 guys everything they knew and then they won a state championship the next year,” Dutkowski said. “We won it in ’80 with just a gritty team. My third year as a head coach we got to the final four in Class A, and I figured this was going to happen every three years. And then it was a 39-year drought in terms of that.”

The game ended after five innings via the run differential rule and capped off a fairly dominant season for Powers — or at least as dominant as a baseball team can be for a season.

The Chargers finished 37-6 and outscored opponents by a combined 57-13 during the MHSAA Tournament.

The only close call during the playoffs came in Friday’s Semifinal, when Powers blew a 3-0 lead to Trenton before prevailing in the bottom of the eighth inning, 4-3, on a walk-off single by senior Gavin Darling. 

“These guys, they never flinched and they never wavered,” Dutkowski said. “They developed into being a great team, not just individual talent.”

Powers wasted no time against Spring Lake, taking a 2-0 lead with one out in the top of the first inning on a two-run double to the gap in left-center by Darling. After a ground out, Darling scored on a Spring Lake throwing error to give Powers a 3-0 lead. 

Powers added another run in the second inning on a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0. 

Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.In the third, Powers scored four runs to take an 8-0 lead on an RBI single by Hendershot, a walk with the bases loaded and a two-run single by freshman Connor Kelly. 

Powers then put three more runs on the board in the fourth inning to take an 11-0 lead. 

Hendershot was the winner on the mound, allowing two hits and striking out five in five innings of work. 

Spring Lake also was attempting to win its first Finals title, but had to settle for its third runner-up finish (to go with those from 1995 and 1978). 

The Lakers finished 32-10. 

“They are a good team, and this was their year,” Spring Lake head coach Bill Core said. “We just couldn’t keep them off of the bases, and our pitching wasn’t as sharp as it’s been. We gave them a couple of free passes, and they mixed in some good hitting. That’s a good team, and that’s why they’ve been ranked No. 1 in the state all year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic raises its championship trophy to complete the 2024 baseball season Saturday evening at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch. (Below) Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.