Mitch Jebb and his teammates on the Saginaw Swan Valley baseball team had plenty of fun a year ago as they made their run to the MHSAA Division 2 Final.
The young Vikings surprised plenty of people with their runner-up finish, and a crucial part of that was how loose the team played. Even with a larger target now on their back, don’t expect them to tighten up.
“If you come to one of our games, we’re always loose,” said Jebb, a junior shortstop who earned all-state first-team honors as a sophomore. “We’re just out there having fun, and why would you play baseball if you’re not having fun? That’s how we look at things – play your game, but have fun doing it. This year, we’re probably more loose than we were last year.”
Swan Valley is still plenty young, with a roster comprised mostly of juniors and sophomores, but another deep postseason run wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The Vikings were ranked No. 6 in Division 2 in the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason rankings, and they opened the season Tuesday with a pair of mercy-rule victories (13-0 and 11-0, both in five innings) at Chesaning.
“I think we surprised quite a few people because we were so young and they had never heard of us before,” Swan Valley coach Craig Leddy said. “They were just playing and winning, and they were loose. That’s not going to happen this year. People have us on the radar.”
The runner-up finish is likely the biggest reason the Vikings are on the radar, but it also doesn’t hurt to have three players on the roster who have committed to Big Ten baseball programs – none of whom are seniors.
Jebb and classmate Brian Ross, a 6-foot-8 pitcher, have committed to Michigan State, while sophomore Avery Goldensoph, a 6-foot-2 pitcher, is committed to Michigan. Goldensoph, a first-team all-state selection as a freshman, opened the season by throwing a no-hitter against Chesaning.
“I knew the group coming, and we have some more kids coming next year as sophomores, so I’m excited about what we have,” said Leddy, who was a longtime assistant before taking over the Swan Valley program a year ago. “This is a special group that’s played a lot of travel ball, and that’s huge.”
There’s plenty of quality depth to go along with those stars, both in the lineup and the pitching rotation. Junior infielder Victor Mancini had 46 RBI through the team’s first 42 games a year ago, while junior catcher Easton Goldensoph had nine doubles and 26 RBI. Senior pitcher Conner Sika was the team leader in earned-run average, coming in at 0.51 while striking out 53 and allowing 26 hits and nine walks in 54 2/3 innings. He was superb on opening night, allowing just one hit in his shutout victory against Chesaning.
“I think we can do it this year,” Avery Goldensoph said of making another deep run. “We’ve got me, Brian and Conner Sika who pitched (in the opening series), he’s really good. Our lineup put up 13 runs and 11 runs, that’s a great start.”
With a tough Tri-Valley Conference Central schedule ahead, the games figure to get more difficult. But the Vikings view that challenge as a good way to prepare for the postseason, and invite the daily pressure playing in that league brings.
Because even as they try to avoid it, the pressure of greater expectations is a reality they have to face.
“I think we have a really good team, in my opinion,” Ross said. “Last year we were kind of going after everybody, and now we’re being looked at like they want us. So I would say it’s a little more pressure, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
The best way to handle any pressure that may seep in? By going back to what worked so well a year ago – staying loose. That starts with the coaching staff.
“We’re a little more relaxed; we’re not screaming and hollering,” Leddy said about his staff, which includes assistants Mark Jebb and David Finzel, as well as pitching coaches Chris and Nick Sarmiento. “I remember what it was like when I was a young kid; the last thing you wanted was a coach kicking you in the (behind) all the time. You want someone encouraging you to be a better person and a better ballplayer. I’m blessed to have some great coaches on staff that know a lot about baseball and care about the kids.”
The attitude of the coaches has certainly gotten through to the players.
“What happens, happens, right?” Mitch Jebb said. “If we win, we win. The goal is to win, but it’s not like Coach is saying, ‘You better win a state championship.’ We’re all playing the game we love, and it’s fun. It’s fun playing. If we can win, we want to win – you always want to win. But the overall picture is to go out there and play your game and have fun.”
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) Swan Valley’s Victor Mancini drives a pitch during last season’s Division 2 championship game against Stevensville Lakeshore. (Middle) Shortstop Mitch Jebb fires a throw to first.
Standish-Sterling’s run to the 2022 Division 3 Semifinals was driven in part by a record-setting offense, including a pair of senior standouts who posted single-season and career highlights.
The Panthers made the team record book in four categories, topped by a record 28 triples over 42 games. They also were added for 371 RBI (fourth all-time), 425 runs (12th) and 414 hits.
Cole Prout tied the MHSAA record for runs scored in one season with 84 and set the record with 27 career triples over three seasons (with 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). His 13 triples in 2022 tied for third on that list, while Chase Raymond’s 10 tied for 11th. Prout also tied for 12th all-time with 182 career runs, while Raymond is eighth on the single-season RBI list with 77 over 42 games in 2022 and earned a career RBI entry with 140.
Prout plays now at Central Michigan, and Raymond is playing at Saginaw Valley State.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA baseball record book:
Alden Stefanovski played a major role in Whitmore Lake reaching the 2022 Division 4 Semifinals. The senior also made the record book with 20 doubles over 33 games, the first from his school to earn a listing. He was joined in 2023 in the records by senior Alex Di Dio, who hit nine triples over 29 games and also three home runs in one game April 13 against Adrian Madison. Di Dio also was added for 13 triples and a .460 average for his three-season career, and he’s continuing at Kalamazoo College.
Trenton senior Jason Marshall was nearly unstoppable on the base paths during the 2022 season – and perfect stealing on them. He made the record book with 49 steals in 49 attempts, and also for seven triples over 35 games. He’s playing football at Eastern Michigan.
Trent Hagenbach finished his Saginaw Valley Lutheran career in 2022 tied for 11th on the career triples list with 16 despite not having a 2020 season and hitting all of them over the final two. He also made the records for his seven as a junior and nine as a senior.
Dansville had 10 pitchers contribute to its 388 strikeouts over 38 games during the 2022 season, a total which placed the Aggies second all-time. Tucker Mosley paced the team with 137 strikeouts.
Parchment’s Aaron Jasiak finished his three-season varsity career with seven record book entries, including one of the most impressive winning streaks all-time. He won all 26 pitching starts over his career, which didn’t start until his sophomore season because of the COVID-related cancelation of 2020. His winning streak is the seventh longest in MHSAA history, and his 0.87 ERA ranks 11th. He also made career lists with 163 runs scored, 112 stolen bases and a .460 batting average over 103 games, and his 60 steals over 38 games this spring rank 10th. He’s continuing at Hillsdale College.
Bay City Western finished 42-2 in winning the Division 1 championship in 2013, ranking sixth for most wins in a baseball season. The Warriors also tied the record with 21 shutouts, and their 1.02 ERA ranks fifth all-time.
Grandville Calvin Christian senior Blake Pettijohn struck out 20 batters in a 7-0 win over Belding on May 11, which tied for seventh-most for a seven-inning game. He’s continuing at Hope College.
Grant’s Oakley Obenauf made the single-season stolen bases list in the spring with 45 over 29 games – and was a major contributor as his team made the single-game list multiple times. He had a combined eight steals over two games as Grant swiped 13 and 11 bases during halves of a doubleheader May 11. Obenauf is a senior this school year.
Paw Paw reached the team record book this past spring after being hit by 50 pitches over 30 games. Seven players were hit by at least five pitches, with the team leader totaling 10.
Lansing Eastern earned its first record book entries from a pair of graduating seniors this spring. Dominic Wilson capped his three-season varsity career with 134 stolen bases, which rank 10th. He swiped a career-high 51 as a senior. Teammate Matthew Stevenson made the career batting average list at .472 despite getting only eight at bats as a sophomore because of an injury.
Benzie Central’s Wyatt Noffsinger enjoyed a memorable run to nearly finish off his high school career, throwing consecutive no-hitters against Buckley on May 24 and then Manton on June 3.
Okemos then-junior Caleb Bonemer earned his first record book entry with three home runs June 3 against Grand Ledge as his team clinched a Division 1 District title. Bonemer has committed to sign with Virginia.
After 45 years, Flint Southwestern’s Ruben Luna and Risto Nicevski were added for their accomplishments on the 1978 Class A championship team. Luna made the wins list with a record of 14-0 and the ERA list with a 0.71, and Nicevski made the ERA list with a 0.72. Both went on to play at Michigan State.
East Lansing’s Sam Busch enjoyed a career day on April 12, 2019, when he hit three home runs in consecutive at bats against Ionia. A junior that season, he’s now playing at Michigan State.
Powers North Central’s Adrian Mercier enjoyed a record-worthy junior season this spring. He hit .619 over 32 games, ranking 10th all-time for a single season.
Whitehall senior Cayden Ritchie chased and nearly caught the single-season stolen base record in 2021, when he tied for second with 72 steals over 36 games. He also made the single-game steals list five times, twice with a high of six.
Aidan Liedeke capped his Brighton Charyl Stockwell career in the spring with some of the most impressive strikeout numbers in state history. Already listed for averaging 15.41 strikeouts per game as a junior in 2022, he averaged 14.92 Ks per game this spring to finish his three-season career at 15 strikeouts per game. He posted a 0.88 ERA in the spring as well to finish with a career 1.52. He’s playing at Kalamazoo College.
Killian Bies finished his Marshall three-season career in the spring among leaders all-time for getting hit by pitches. He already had tied for sixth as a sophomore in 2021 with 22 HBPs, and with 14 more both his junior and senior seasons he finished with 50 to rank fifth on that list. He’s continuing at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Standish-Sterling's Cole Prout (8) readies for a pitch during his team's 2022 Division 3 Semifinal.