St. Mary's Tops Off Tourney Run with Title, Record-Tying Win

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 19, 2021

EAST LANSING – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior Tommy Allman stole the show on the mound in Saturday’s Division 2 Final.  

His talented teammates did the same on the base paths.

Allman pitched six solid innings, and the Eaglets set a new Finals record for stolen bases in a decisive 9-0 win over Stevensville Lakeshore at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.

Top-ranked St. Mary’s (43-1) won its second Division 2 championship in a row and the program’s fifth Finals title overall. The 43 wins tied for the MHSAA record with four other teams: 2010 Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, 1997 Midland Dow, 1995 Stevensville Lakeshore and 1985 Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher.

“It was a good outing, and I was dialed in,” said Allman, who’s headed next to Jacksonville University. “I trusted my team behind me, and everything was working; the off-speed, curveball and slider.

“This is the best way to end it, with a state championship. The whole year we battled, and we pulled it off. I’m proud of my team.”

Allman surrendered only two hits in 6 1/3 innings of work. He struck out seven and didn’t allow a walk.

Relief pitcher Jake Keaser recorded the final two outs.

Orchard Lake St. Mary's baseball“It was a heck of a performance from Tommy; that was awesome,” St. Mary’s coach Matt Petry said. “The plan was to split the game among three guys, but Tommy was throwing so well that we didn’t do that. I made the decision to take him out (in the seventh), and he got a great ovation.”

The Eaglets finished with 12 stolen bases. The total eclipsed the previous Finals record of nine, set by Colon in the 1989 Class D Final against Gaylord St. Mary’s.

Alex Mooney and Ryan Mooney both tied the Finals individual record with three steals each.

“We work out all year trying to stay athletic, and I feel like it really helps,” said Alex Mooney, who scored twice and had two RBI. 

“From the first inning we knew we were getting good jumps and their pitchers were not doing the best job of keeping us on. We got our timing down, and we knew we could swipe bags and we did.” 

Nolan Schubart broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with a two-RBI double.

“Nolan is a stud, and I had all the confidence in the world that he was going to get a hit there,” Alex Mooney said. “It was a huge hit for us, and it really got us going and started that big inning for us.”

Ryan McKay followed with another double to drive in a pair and make it 4-0.

The Eaglets finished with six runs in the inning, then added another three in the sixth.

“This was the ultimate goal,” said Petry, whose starting lineup was loaded with Division I college talent.

“We have three goals each season: Win the Catholic League regular season, the Catholic League tournament championship and the state championship. We always had this day in the back of our mind, and we were able to close it out.”

Freshman Noah Chase started on the mound and went 3 innings for the Lancers.

Lakeshore, which committed three errors and had only two hits, finished the season at 28-12 overall. The loss was its first in a Final after winning back-to-back Division 2 titles in 2017 and 2018 and a Class B crown in 1990.  

“Going into the fourth, we felt really good about ourselves and the game plan was working,” Lancers coach Mark Nate said. “I’m proud of our kids for the way they fought early, and then their true talent came out and that's the bottom line.

“That team is a very, very good baseball team, and they’re deserving of winning it all.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Orchard Lake St. Mary's Alex Mooney (2) hones in on a pitch during Saturday's Division 2 Final. (Middle) Lakeshore's Andrew Lies (2) stretches for first base as St. Mary's Ike Irish takes a throw.

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)