Sophomore Hurls Hartland into D1 Final

June 11, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – It would not be an overstatement to say that Kyle Kletzka was the surprise star of the game Friday morning at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

Kletzka, a 5-foot-9 sophomore pitcher who was on the Hartland junior varsity eight weeks ago, hurled a four-hit shutout against Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills as the Eagles scored a 5-0 victory in the first of two MHSAA Division 1 Baseball Semifinals.

Unranked Hartland (27-16-1) will play unranked Portage Northern (30-7-1) at 9 a.m. Saturday in the championship game at McLane Stadium.

Kletzka, a right-hander, did not learn about the Semifinal starting assignment until Wednesday night.

“Coach just straight up told me, ‘You’re on the mound tomorrow,’ ” said Kletzka, who struck out four and walked two. “At first I was a little nervous, but I slept on it, and I was ready to go.”

He certainly was ready to go. Kletzka struck out the first two batters of the game, and that helped ease whatever nerves he might have been feeling.

“It was big time,” he said. “As soon as I got those two strikeouts, it was all over. I wanted the win so bad. Coming in, I had a little bit of doubt, but after those strikeouts, I didn’t have any doubts.”

Hartland coach Brian Morrison agreed that those initial strikeouts were “big time.”

“It settled everybody down,” Morrison said. “There were a bunch of nerves, and he calmed the entire team down. The plan was not for him to go seven, but once he got going he looked comfortable, so we let him go.

“We had confidence that he would go out there and throw strikes, and he did that, and they hit them at us and we made the plays.”

Kletzka never got into serious trouble. Twice he allowed a runner to get to second base, but he got out of it both times with nobody scoring.

“My slider was working the most for me,” Kletzka said. “It’s my go-to pitch normally. I can’t even explain the feeling. It’s amazing.”

Hartland took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. After walks to Alex Vydick and Max Cadman, designated hitter Gary Turnbull punched a single over first base, scoring Vydick, and Cadman scored on a throwing error on the play.

The Eagles added two more in the third inning when Turnbull was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and a sacrifice fly by freshman Max Hendricks brought in another. Hartland’s final run came in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Hendricks, who had two RBI, as did Turnbull.

Sophomore second baseman Hunter Delanoy was the only Hartland player with more than one hit as he had two singles, while John Baker, who had a single and a walk, was the only player to score twice.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” said Cadman, the catcher who was one of just two seniors to start the game. “It still hasn’t hit me that this team is going to the state final. I love this team and I love to play with them.”

Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills (33-5), ranked eighth in the final Division I coaches poll, had four hits and two errors behind pitcher Bennett Norry, who struck out five and walked four in six innings. Jarod Nickel and Noah Gloe each doubled for the Knights.

“We didn’t take great at-bats, and we made too many mistakes in the field,” Kenowa Hills coach Joe Acker said. “We were hoping to jump on them early, and it just didn’t happen. But take nothing away from their kid. He threw well. He threw strikes. The kid was good.”

Morrison said it was not a slam-dunk decision to go with Kletzka as the starter.

“I just had a gut feeling,” he said. “There were a few guys who I have confidence could have handled this game, but we thought if we had to go to multiple guys, we liked the order with him first.”

Morrison is not facing a tough decision about the starter for the championship game Saturday. He will go with his ace, junior right-hander Baker. 

“If somebody is going to beat us with him on the hill, they’re going to have to beat us,” he said.

Click for the box score.             

Portage Northern 8, Grosse Pointe South 0

Portage Northern senior pitcher Blake Therrian knew what to do with an early six-run lead Friday in the second Division 1 Semifinal.

“It’s huge for us. Getting runs puts me in a position to just make my pitches and do what I do,” Therrian said. “I don’t have to force pitches.”

Portage Northern had a 5-0 lead before it picked up its first hit, as Grosse Pointe South made five errors in the first two innings.

“Them not making the routine plays kind of gave us the momentum,” Portage Northern coach Chris Andrews said. “When we get ahead, the pitchers are just great at pounding the strike zone and pitching backwards, and our defense came through again.

“Blake can pitch backwards. He can throw his off-speed in fastball counts, and he was able to do that. That is tough on good hitters.”

Portage Northern scored six runs in the first two innings on just one hit. The Huskies scored two in the first without a hit as they had a walk, a batter hit by a pitch and took advantage of two errors by Grosse Pointe South. Both errors came on the first two balls in play in the bottom of the first.

In the second inning, Portage Northern scored four as Grosse Pointe South committed three more errors, issued two walks and hit another batter. 

The lone hit in the first two innings by Portage Northern was a run-scoring single by senior first baseman Collin Hall.

“You can’t make five errors in two innings and expect to have a good outcome,” Grosse Pointe South coach Dan Griesbaum said. “But it doesn’t take away from the year we had. We had a tremendous year, and one game doesn’t spoil it.” 

Brady Young had two hits and scored two runs for Portage Northern, while Max Schuemann and Tommy Henry each scored three runs.

Henry, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, will start the championship game Saturday against Hartland. 

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Andrews said. “Tommy has been lights-out for us, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Grosse Pointe South (32-12), which out-hit Portage Northern 8-6, did not have a player with more than one. 

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hartland sophomore Kyle Kletzka unloads a pitch during his team’s Division 1 Semifinal win Thursday at McLane Stadium. (Middle) A Portage Northern runner slides into home past the tag by Grosse Pointe South catcher Logan Mico.

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now as WWII Vets, Great-Grandfathers

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 7, 2023

Walter “Stretch” Hansen and Harold Tate were good friends and high school basketball and baseball teammates at Hart High School, graduating in 1943.

West MichiganNo one could have guessed that less than two months after graduation (on July 2, 1943), the two friends would head to Fort Custer in Battle Creek, the first stop on their way overseas to fight for their country in World War II.

No one could have imagined how many twists and turns their lives would take over the next 80 years – from the battlefields in the South Pacific, then back to West Michigan where they both were married with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and now Harold even has a great-great-grandchild.

And, certainly, no one would have believed that the two young boys from Hart – who forged a friendship through high school sports long before the days of computers, microwave ovens and cell phones – would still be alive at the age of 98 for an emotional reunion last month, on May 22, seeing each other for the first time in 80 years and, to cap it off, the reunion took place in their hometown of Hart.

“It was such a great day,” Hansen said about the meeting, which was set up by Muskegon-area World War II historian Richard Mullally.

“We picked right up, talking about sports and the service and everything else.”

The conversation came easy for the two old friends, who played for Hart during a “golden era” at the school – particularly in basketball, as the Pirates won 11 West Michigan Conference basketball titles between 1940 and 1954.

Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. Perhaps the best team during that time period was Hansen and Tate’s as seniors in 1943. That team lost only once, to rival Scottville (31-25), but more than made up for it with an 80-10 trouncing of the Spartans in the final regular-season game.

Hart then crushed Scottville and Newaygo to win the District championship, only to have Michigan’s prep basketball season stopped abruptly at that point because of World War II.

That 1943 team featured four starters over 6-0, led by the duo of Hansen and Stan Kapulak (both 6-6), Joe Mack (6-2), Lyle Burmeister (6-1) and Stanley Riley (the lone starter under 6-foot at 5-11).

“The newspapers called us ‘The Hart Skyscrapers,’” said Hansen, who will be 99 on Nov. 6. “We were taller than most college teams at that time.”

Hansen and Tate’s friendship continued to blossom on the baseball field, only to have their lives turned upside down shortly after graduation 80 years ago, when all Hart senior boys who had been drafted headed to Battle Creek as a brief staging area on their way to the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific.

Hansen served in the Army Specialized Training Program and was part of the 52nd Signal Battalion and the 4025th Signal Battalion in the Pacific Theater.

“I had an all-expense paid tour of the South Pacific,” Hansen said with a chuckle. “The Philippines, New Guinea, Okinawa, Hawaii, all over the place.”

Tate did his service in the 24th Infantry Division and the 19th Infantry Regiment, and was stationed in Japan.

During their visit last month, Harold showed off the Japanese Samurai sword and Arisaka rifle which he had sent back from Japan to Hart. The week after their visit, both took part in Memorial Day parades – Hansen in the Lakeside parade in Muskegon and Tate in his 77th Memorial Day service in Hart.

Hansen, who still has a home on a small lake in Holton and lives at a senior care facility in Muskegon, played many years of semi-pro basketball and did some coaching. He worked at GTE and has five children and 10 grandchildren.

Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II.“I have been so blessed,” Hansen said, sorting through one of his many scrapbooks. “All five of my kids are great and I have grandkids that are just amazing, everything they are doing. I don’t even know all of their names, but it’s sure been fun watching them.”

Tate returned to Hart after his military service and has been there ever since, at first working as a carpenter with his father and then becoming a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, retiring 26 years ago at the age of 72. He has lived in the same home for 75 years and has three children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandkids and now one great-great-grandchild.

Tate laments the demise of his beloved American Legion post in Hart, a town with just over 2,000 residents, as the number of members has steadily declined.

One topic that brings a smile to both of their faces is the recent resurgence of the Hart High School athletic program, which drew media attention not too many years ago for all the wrong reasons – notably a football program which went 24 years without a winning record.

That string was snapped with a 6-3 mark and the school’s first earned playoff appearance last fall.

But that was just the start.

This winter, Hart’s boys basketball team finished the regular season 22-0, the girls basketball team made it to the Division 3 Semifinals at the Breslin Center, wrestling qualified for the Team Finals for the fourth-straight year and competitive cheer placed fourth in Division 4. This spring, the Hart girls track & field team won its second-straight Division 3 Finals team title, and the boys placed fourth.

“It’s a great place to call home, a great place to live, always has been,” said Hansen of his hometown, which got its name from its central position in the “heart” of Oceana County.

And who would have imagined that these two high school teammates could still come home again for a reunion at the age of 98?

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Members of the 1943 Hart High School varsity baseball team gather together, preparing for a team photo. Among those are Harold Gayle Tate (far left) and Walter "Stretch" Hansen, at 6-6 the tallest player in the back row. (Middle) Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. (Below) Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. (Top photo courtesy of Stretch Hansen. Middle and below photos courtesy of Richard Mullally.)