Watervliet Baseball Cements 'Legendary' Status with School's 1st Finals Win

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

June 15, 2024

EAST LANSING — The terms “legendary” or “historic” often can be exaggerated, but that forever won’t be the case with the 2024 Watervliet baseball team. 

Going into Saturday’s Division 3 Baseball Final, Watervliet not only hadn’t won a baseball state championship, but longtime athletic director Ken Dietz said the school had never won a state championship in ANY sport. 

That isn’t the case anymore, as Watervliet took its community on a historic ride and punctuated it with a history-making 9-1 title-clinching triumph over Jackson Lumen Christi at McLane Stadium.

Whether it’s parades or festivals over the summer in the community, or for future reunions, the team will never be forgotten in the southwestern Michigan town. 

The championship also was the perfect gift for Dietz, who is retiring after nearly four decades of service.

The Panthers’ Wyatt Epple (10) and Lumen Christi catcher Kash Kalahar follow one of his drives.“The whole town turned up, and we appreciate all the support,” said Watervliet head coach Josh Tremblay. 

The seeds were sown for Watervliet after it lost in the Quarterfinals last year. With only two starters not returning from that team, the Panthers knew 2024 had the potential to be special.

“We lost a game we probably shouldn’t have last year, and we know it,” said Watervliet senior Alex Hicks. “We had a lot built up inside of us that we were going to take it this year. We knew we had the core, and we were ready to go.” 

The Panthers finished the job in East Lansing by doing what they did throughout the MHSAA Tournament – pitch well and play great defense. 

Watervliet (31-7) allowed just seven runs over the entire tournament and didn’t make an error in the Final, while Lumen Christi made five. 

After senior Wyatt Epple allowed just two runs in a Semifinal win over Detroit Edison, sophomore Caleb Jewell did even better in the title decider, allowing just one run, striking out six and walking none in a complete-game effort. 

“We knew we had a lot of guys returning with experience,” Tremblay said. “We had really high expectations. We knew our pitching and our defense was good. We got our bats hot at the right time, and we’re really hard to beat when we have all three working.”

Offensively, junior leadoff hitter Owen Epple led the way with two hits and three RBI, while No. 9 hitter and senior Chase Tremblay had two hits and two RBI. 

Sam Crago (12) slides into home safely for Watervliet.Lumen Christi, which was making its first trip to a championship game since 2015, finished 30-11. 

“It’s a special season for these guys,” Lumen Christi head coach Phil Clifford said. “We won the Catholic League and lost in the state finals. You can’t script it any better than that other than winning this game. I’m really proud of everyone.” 

Watervliet broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth inning with three runs. The Panthers took a 1-0 lead on an RBI single to right by senior and No 8 hitter Caden Burdick, and then Tremblay hit a sacrifice fly to right for a 2-0 lead. Epple then followed with an RBI single to center. 

Lumen Christi got on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning, cutting its deficit to 3-1 on an RBI single with two outs by junior Nathan Hinkley. 

In the sixth, the Panthers added a run on a sacrifice fly by Hicks for a 4-1 lead. It was the fourth RBI sacrifice fly of the weekend for Hicks. 

The Panthers then got precious insurance runs in the seventh, scoring five to take a 9-1 lead. The big blow was a two-run double by Epple that made it 8-1. 

Lumen Christi also helped Watervliet’s rally by committing three errors in the final inning.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Watervliet celebrates its first Finals championship in any sport Saturday at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Panthers’ Wyatt Epple (10) and Lumen Christi catcher Kash Kalahar follow one of his drives. (Below) Sam Crago (12) slides into home safely for Watervliet.

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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.