By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half
“If the weatherman is in a co-operative mood, Michigan’s high school athletes, both boys and girls, will wind up another competitive school year Saturday,” wrote Detroit’s premier high school sports scribe, Hal Schram, 40 years ago just prior to the staging of the 1978 MHSAA softball and baseball state finals weekend.
“Let’s hope we get them in on schedule”, said Bob James, director of athletics for the Warren Consolidated Schools and a member of the MHSAA Representative Council. “I’ve been in high school sports for 35 years, and can’t remember a spring with more postponements and cancellations.”
Despite highest hopes, weather would, again, be a factor on the final weekend of the prep season. Games were scheduled for eight locations around the Lower Peninsula, with rain postponing Class B and Class C contests in softball and Class B and Class D in baseball.
In the 1979 yearbook, Impressions, published by East Detroit High School, staff celebrated school’s past half-decade of accomplishment and history:
“Girls have been playing softball at East Detroit now for almost 50 years, although it was called the girls baseball team until the mid-sixties. The teams have always done very well, many of them went undefeated, but none of them ever did as well as the 1978 squad.”
Roxanne “Rocky” Szczesniak, who would later earn All-American honors at Wayne State University, tossed a four-hitter and smashed a three-run homer as the Shamrocks eliminated defending Class A champion Portage Central, 6-3, in the day’s opening Semifinal, played at East Detroit’s Memorial Park. It was only the second defeat in 52 games for Portage Central, coached by Tom Monroe.
Waterford Township slipped past Flint Carman, 1-0, in 10 innings in the day’s second Semifinal, then capitalized on six errors by East Detroit in the title game to grab the Class A softball championship, 4-0. In the first inning, Mari Latozas doubled home a run to open the scoring for the Skippers. Waterford then added unearned runs in the third and fifth to seal the win. Coached by Joe Alsup, the Skippers finished the year at 25-3. He would post a 197-39 record in nine seasons at the school before it closed following the 1982-83 school year. Twenty years later, Alsup’s Waterford Kettering team earned the 1998 Class A softball crown. Today, he ranks fourth in all-time softball coaching victories in Michigan.
In Class B, Fenton cruised to their first of three straight titles with an 8-5 win over South Haven at Belknap Park in Grand Rapids on Monday, June 19, the game rescheduled because of the weather. Pitcher Barb Barclay posted her 24th win without a loss and boosted Fenton’s season mark to 28-1. Barclay was instrumental in the win at the plate as well with a triple and a single, while scoring three runs for the Tigers. With two outs in the third inning, Fenton rallied with four straight hits to open up a 2-1 lead. South Haven again jumped in front, 4-2, in the fifth, but Fenton bounced right back, again rallying with two down to open up a 7-4 lead.
“This was our biggest challenge of the season,” said Fenton coach Dave Lazar. “For a young team, South Haven is pretty good. They’re scrappers.”
It was South Haven’s second consecutive trip to the Finals. In 1977, the Rams lost to Grosse Ile, 5-3. South Haven would return to the Finals for a third straight time in 1979, again falling to Fenton.
Earlene Seeley, who would later play college ball at Ferris State, reached first base on a bunt, stole second, then scored on an error to give Shepherd a 1-0 lead over New Lothrop before rain forced delay at Brookwood Park in Clare on Saturday. Pitcher Deb McAvoy, who had hurled three and a third innings of no-hit ball, completed the first no-hitter in MHSAA title game history as Shepherd grabbed a 2-0 victory in the Class C championship on Monday. It would be six more years before a second no-hitter was tossed in the Softball Finals. Since McAvoy’s gem, 14 additional no-nos have been thrown in the MHSAA softball title game.
At Robinson Park in Ionia, Laingsburg swept to a 6-1 win over Central Lake for the Class D softball title. Junior Robbin Sawyer, who upped her record to 17-0 on the season, tossed a two-hitter in the Wolfpack’s 15-2 Semifinal win over Owendale-Gagetown and then held Central Lake to a single hit in the title game. Sue Hurst went 3 for 3 at the plate in the championship game, including singling home a run before scoring on the front end of a double steal, all in the first inning. Carrie Kooster tripled twice in the Semifinal, driving in six runs to lead the Wolves.
Boasting an outstanding pitching staff, coach Marv Rettenmund’s Flint Southwestern squad rolled through the regular season, then battled its way through the tournament before downing East Kentwood, 7-1, to win the first, and only, Class A baseball title in Flint-area history.
"Sometimes, you have pretty good players, and when you have them, you'd better cash in," Rettenmund told the Flint Journal 30 years later.
Blessed with a “1-2 punch of senior left-hander Ruben Luna (14-0 with a 0.82 earned-run average) and senior right-hander Risto Nicevski (9-1, 0.72),” Southwestern dropped only three of 35 games, (all by a single run) before rolling to 16 straight victories. Tournament play was “capped by five close games,” including a scare in the Semifinal, before the championship matchup.
Luna and Nicevski combined for a one-hitter in the title contest, played at Memorial Field in Wyandotte. Earlier in the day, Luna fanned 12 batters in a three-hit, 1-0 shutout of Plymouth Canton. Third baseman Bob Cardenas singled home designated hitter Al Weatherford in the fifth inning for the game’s only run.
"That was one of the toughest teams we played," said Rettenmund. Plymouth Canton’s Russ Mandle led off the seventh inning with a booming double between the gap in left and centerfield, but was gunned down when trying to stretch it to a triple. “We made a perfect relay — (left fielder Dale) Bennis to (shortstop Matt) Diment to Cardenas.
"That was a once-in-a-lifetime ballclub."
Tom O’Dowd allowed a single hit in Jackson Lumen Christi’s 10-6 victory over Spring Lake in Class B, played at Aquinas College’s Kimble Field in Wyoming. The game, rescheduled to Monday after Saturday’s rain, saw six errors mar Spring Lake’s dreams of a title. Three of Lumen Christi’s first four batters reached base or advanced on errors, and all scored as the Titans jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Dave Schonhard notched the game’s only RBI, doubling in a pair of runs in the second inning to increase the lead to five. O’Dowd, selected in the 12th round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the spring, claimed 14 strikeouts, but dealt with control problems, walking 13. Trailing 10-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Lakers took advantage, gaining four walks and notching their only hit to pull within four before O’Dowd was relieved and the side was retired.
“We ran into a heckuva pitcher,” said Spring Lake coach Don Rohn following the game. “He throws the ball well. He’s probably the fastest right-hander we’ve seen all season.”
The win capped a stellar school year for the Titans, who won the Class B football crown in the fall and the Tier II hockey title in the winter.
Delayed by heavy rain, Bay City All Saints pounded out 13 hits including three singles by Ed Pawlaczyk, to down Addison, 8-0, in Class C championship play at Marshall High School. Dave Shooltz allowed seven hits in five innings for the win. Randy Morse, who went the distance in the team’s 2-0 Semifinal triumph over Allen Park Cabrini, earned the save. It was the first of seven final game appearances by All Saints and their first of four state baseball titles. The seven visits to the championship game has been equaled by Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and exceeded by Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, with eight. Blissfield leads the list with nine trips to championship games, and tops all schools for baseball state titles with seven.
With two outs in the top of the 10th inning, Saranac’s Steve Metternick doubled in two runs to break a 1-1 deadlock as the Redskins topped Frankfort 4-1 in the Class D title showdown. The game, played at Alumni Field on the campus of Central Michigan University, had been interrupted on Saturday at the top of the third, with Saranac leading 1-0. Southpaw Craig Coulson earned the win for the Cinderella squad, going all the way. The sophomore hurler allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked four on the afternoon. Saranac ended the season with 16 victories against 11 defeats.
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Shepherd’s softball team poses with its 1978 Class C championship trophy. (Middle top) East Detroit’s Rocky Szczesniak unloads a pitch for the eventual Class A champ. (Middle below) Ruben Luna prepares to deliver for Flint Southwestern. (Below) Saranac’s “Cinderella” Class D champion celebrates.
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.