West Rides Hot Start after Record Finish

April 21, 2017

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Traverse City West has the blueprint.

Now the Titans are hoping to build off their success from last spring when they won a school-record 41 games and reached the MHSAA Division 1 Baseball Semifinals.

So far, so good. The Titans are off to a 6-1 start.

“We always keep the same goals, the same expectations,” coach Matt Bocian said. “Winning the conference, winning the District, those are the expectations. And then you set your goals a little higher (after that). Once you get a little taste of something (like a Semifinal appearance), maybe you want a little more. We try to keep them hungry.”

West returns just two everyday starters from a year ago – centerfielder Gavin Garmhausen and pitcher-third baseman Ryan Hayes – but several other underclassmen saw significant action.

“We feel good with the team we have – and where we’re at,” senior catcher-first baseman Carson Rosa said. “We have good talent. We just have to come to practice every day wanting to get better. Without that attitude, we’re going to flat line and we’re not going to be as good as we want to be.”

Rosa provided the biggest hit in the first couple weeks when he singled in Garmhausen in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Flushing 4-3 in the opener of a doubleheader Monday at Central Michigan University. West won the nightcap 14-1.

Earlier, the Titans beat Coldwater 4-2, Hamilton 7-1, White Cloud 12-2 and Morley-Stanwood 12-1. The lone loss came in the Coldwater tournament to Fremont, Ind., 9-6.

“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re going to get better and better,” Hayes said.

Hayes was one of the standouts last season. He was 10-1 with a 0.90 ERA on the mound. At the plate, Hayes hit .418, one of four players to bat over .400.

As a team, the Titans scored 427 runs in 44 games, which is 10th on the MHSAA’s all-time runs list. West also pounded out 431 hits, also 10th all-time. The 41 wins rank sixth in MHSAA history.

“It was crazy,” Garmhausen said of last season’s offensive fireworks.

The centerfielder did his part, hitting .368 with 41 RBI, 44 hits and 47 runs.

The run to the Semifinals, where the Titans lost to eventual champion Warren DeLaSalle 3-1, was the longest in school history.

“We came from behind in every (tournament) game,” Garmhausen said. “It proved to us that we could do big things up here.”

Garmhausen has picked up where he left off. He’s currently hitting near .500.

Hayes, meanwhile, has pitched in two games. He went five innings, allowing no earned runs, three hits and striking out 10 in the win over Hamilton. He also went the first six innings in Monday’s triumph over Flushing, surrendering two earned runs and striking out nine.

Sophomore Brendan Pierce earned the win in the nightcap to improve to 2-0. Mike Laracey, Dan Ayling and Colin Campbell are all 1-0.

“I always tell my teams pitching and defense will win you games,” Bocian said. “Then you see if you can scrape across a few runs. That was our motto last year. It just so happened we had some kids (explode at the plate), and others followed.”

Garmhausen, Hayes, Laracey, Rosa, Ayling, A.J. Ruskowski, Sam DeKuiper and Tristan Reeves have wielded the hots bats this season.

Three of those players – Garmhausen, Hayes and Rosa – have particularly interesting backstories.

Garmhausen’s father, Brad, was a three-sport star at Frankfort in the early 1980s, earning all-state recognition in football, basketball and baseball. He coached Gavin in Little League.

His advice to his son?

“Keep working, keep a positive attitude and things will go your way,” Gavin said.

Gavin, 18, plays two sports. He was on the West varsity hockey team four years and was named to the Traverse City Record-Eagle Dream Team for his play this past winter.

Garmhausen is in his third year on the varsity baseball team. He bats leadoff and plays centerfield.

He describes himself as “a hard worker, a leader, a guy that wants to win, a guy that wants to set an example for his teammates.”

His coach agrees with that assessment.

“He loves the sport,” Bocian said. “He wants to succeed as much as anybody. He has a lot of tools. He’s put a lot of time into getting where he’s at – and it shows.”

Garmhausen plans to play baseball at Bradenton Inspiration Academy in Florida next school year before enrolling in college.

Hayes, a 6-foot-7 junior, is a bona fide three-sport star. He’s one of the state’s top football recruits in the 2018 class. Hayes holds 11 scholarship offers, including from University of Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. A tight end-defensive end for the Titans, Hayes is being recruited as an offensive tackle.

The junior was the most valuable player in the Big North Conference in basketball. He led the Titans to the Class A Regional Finals – the best boys basketball tournament run in school history.

He also comes from an athletic family. His older brother Connor, also a lineman, signed with University of Pittsburgh out of high school. His father, Mike, was an offensive lineman at Central Michigan University. His mother Sue (Nissen) Arthur starred in basketball at CMU. She’s the school’s second all-time leading scorer and was a freshman All-American and a three-time first-team Mid-American Conference honoree. Arthur was inducted into CMU’s Hall of Fame in 2001.

(Incidentally, at CMU, Arthur played with Traverse City’s Suzy Merchant, Molly (Piche’) Russell and Wendy (Merriman) Sherwin and Gaylord St. Mary’s Lori (McCluskey) Phillips. While Merchant is now the women’s basketball coach at MSU, Arthur, Sherwin and Phillips all reside in Traverse City and their children have gone on to success at three different schools.

Sherwin’s three sons – Ben, Sam and Jack – were linemen on Traverse City Central’s 9-2 football team last fall that won a second consecutive Big North Conference title. Their offensive line position coach? Their father, Greg, a former lineman at CMU. Ben, a senior, signed with Ferris State.

Phillips’ son, Noah, plays basketball at Grand Valley State. The 6-8 Phillips averaged 19.8 points and 7.2 rebounds his senior season at St. Francis. Juliana, a current senior at St. Francis, just earned all-state laurels in basketball, to go with similar honors in volleyball. She’ll attend St. Louis University on a volleyball scholarship in the fall.)

In another year, Ryan Hayes will be gearing up for college. He planned to make a decision where – and notify college football coaches – late this summer, but that timetable has been moved up.

For now, he’s enjoying baseball. And when asked if there’s a sport he doesn’t like, he laughs.

“Not really,” he said. “I like them all.”

Hayes has a fastball that’s been clocked at 89 miles per hour, he said, although he hasn’t thrown that hard in this cold, spring weather. Still, he has 19 strikeouts in 11 innings.,

“Ryan came in last year as a sophomore, not projected to be our No. 2 starter, and he ended up 10-1,” Bocian said. “When you look at his athleticism, and the opportunities he has as a player in all three of his sports, it’s mindboggling.”

Like Ben Sherwin, Carson Rosa signed to play football at Ferris State.

It’s where Rosa’s father, Mark, played baseball after a standout career at Clare High School. Mark Rosa was inducted into the Clare Hall of Fame in 2013.

Carson Rosa’s senior football season was interrupted by injury. The 6-5, 220-pound senior quarterback had led the Titans to impressive wins over Midland and Grand Haven to start what looked like a promising season. Then, in a week three showdown with Traverse City Central, he dislocated his right ankle and broke his fibula when he was hit attempting a pass and his cleat caught in the artificial turf.

Incredibly, he returned after six weeks to start West’s playoff game, also against Central.

“My doctor, Dr. (Tom) O’Hagan, planted the seed in my mind that it was going to be at least a six-week recovery,” Rosa said. “That meant I was going to strive for that six weeks. All I was focused on was school and rehab.”

Rosa wondered if college coaches would back off. Not all did.

“I got a couple texts,” he said. “They were like, ‘Sorry to hear about your injury. We’d still like to have you as part of our team in the future.’ That was nice to know because I wasn’t going to get a senior year to prove (myself).”

Ferris was one of the schools that kept in touch.

“They see me as an athlete who has the potential to play multiple positions, not just quarterback,” Rosa said. “I could be an H-back.”

Rosa also played three sports until this season. He gave up basketball since his ankle was still sore.

“I wanted to be 100 percent ready for baseball,” he said. “I love baseball. It was my sport until I started playing football in eighth grade. But I still love it and I did not want to sacrifice the season that we’re going to have because I knew we were returning some good talent – and I was going to get to play with my best friends.”

Rosa is off to a hot start. He belted a two-run homer in the Morley Stanwood tournament.

“He’s got all the tools to be successful,” Bocian said. “He’s a gamer. When it’s game time, that’s when Carson is at his best.”

Now, if the weather would just improve. West might still be a couple weeks away from hosting its first twinbill. In the meantime, the Titans are hitting the road. Their travels will take them to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on Saturday.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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) Traverse City West pitcher Ryan Hayes works on a hitter during last season’s Division 1 Semifinal loss to Warren DeLaSalle. (Middle) Gavin Garmhausen, also here against DeLaSalle, joins Hayes among returning starters this spring.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul 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 paulc[email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)