Unexpected Eagles Finish Repeat Run

June 15, 2013

By Andy Sneddon
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – There’s a big difference between a mere thrower and pitcher.

Austin Batka epitomized Saturday what it means to be the latter.

Batka took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a two-hitter as Grand Rapids Christian held on to beat Richmond, 3-0, in the MHSAA Division 2 championship game at C.O. Brown Stadium.

It was the second consecutive title for the Eagles, who took a markedly different path than in 2012.

Saturday’s win capped a remarkable run for Grand Rapids Christian, which was 6-12 at one point this season and entered the MHSAA tournament 12-15. The Eagles reeled off seven consecutive wins to finish 19-15. They went 36-5 a year ago, and were 30-8 in 2010, when they were the MHSAA runner-up.

“I don’t know if you think that way,” Christian coach Brent Gates said when asked if he was surprised his team found itself back in Battle Creek after the way it started the year. “I knew we had ability, but it was a young team so you really didn’t know what they were going to become.

“What we saw over the course of that (early-to-midseason) time is every practice, the three-hour practices – they wanted to be there, they wanted to get better, and you just saw it become a little bit smoother. We’ve got some good athletes on the team, and they put the work in to get here.”

Batka, a junior left-hander, tamed a Richmond (34-5) team making its first-ever appearance in Battle Creek.

He mixed his breaking ball in effectively enough to keep the Blue Devils on their heels and, more importantly, off the bases. He struck out eight and walked two and at one point set down 11 consecutive Blue Devils.

“I wasn’t necessarily overpowering,” said Batka, who completed a one-week, three-game stretch, including Regional and Quarterfinal victories, during which he allowed a combined five hits. “I’ve been finding my curveball, so I don’t have to throw my fastball as hard.”

Batka’s teammates gave him all the support he would need when cleanup man Tyler Sigler tripled leading off the second inning. He scored on Tyler Boyd’s bunt.

The Eagles used two walks, a hit batsman, a wild pitch, and a fielder’s choice to scratch out another run in the fifth inning. Batka then helped himself when he drove in the game’s third and final run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

Though Batka had a three-run cushion – and his no-hitter still intact – to start the seventh, he wasn’t out of the woods.

Ryan Boyd led off the bottom of the final frame with a looping liner to shallow center field to spoil the no-hit bid.

Batka said he didn’t realize the significance of that turn of events until Gates made his way to the mound.

“He told me ‘It doesn’t matter; it’s still going to be a complete game,’ Batka said, “and I looked up at the scoreboard and there’s the ‘1’ on the hit.”

A strikeout, an infield single, a fielder’s choice forceout, and an error left the bases loaded with two out. Batka got the final out on a chopper back to the mound.

“He’s thrown a lot of innings here in the last week,” Gates said. “He’s had three starts in less than a week. He’s a consistent 85-87 (mph) kid with a consistent curveball. He strikes out a lot of kids. Today, he just battled. … He didn’t have probably his best stuff, but he gutted through it. He knows how to pitch.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Christian baseball players pile onto the pitcher’s mound and each other after clinching their second straight MHSAA championship. (Middle) Eagles junior Austin Batka threw a complete game to earn the victory.  (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

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) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)