May 20, 2013 at 6:01 am

Tom Markowski

Detroit Western still pushing for pinnacle in baseball

Senior infielder Jose Morales says he wants to prove that a team from Detroit can win a state baseball championship. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Detroit-- Hector Gutierrez and Jose Morales came within an eyelash of making history two years ago. These two seniors at Detroit Western are poised to make certain there will be no excuses needed this season.

Western will go for its sixth consecutive Detroit Public School League title against Detroit King at 7 tonight at Comerica Park.

But that's not the goal. The goal is to become the first PSL team to reach a state final since 1972, when Western lost to Royal Oak Kimball, 3-1, in the Class A final.

No PSL team has even advanced to the semifinals since. Western came close. In a 2011 quarterfinal, Western led Temperance Bedford, 2-1, in the seventh inning before losing 3-2.

Gutierrez and Morales, along with six others, started as sophomores on that team. They see no reason why they can't take that next step.

"We know we have the talent," said Morales, a middle infielder. "We want to prove we can win coming from Detroit."

Gutierrez said it's about pride. They say they represent not only Western but their Hispanic community, their families and their coaches.

"That's the main thing," Gutierrez, a shortstop/pitcher, said. "To show kids in Detroit can win.

"We want to start a tradition. So the young kids can come and say, they made it, we can make it, too."

Western coach Juan Sanchez said before the season this could be his best team, better than the one that lost to Bedford. And through 27 games he hasn't changed his mind.

Western is 21-6 after winning the Warren Mott Invitational on Saturday. Western defeated Sterling Heights, 9-3; Warren Woods-Tower, 5-4; and Mott, 3-1.

Western has defeated a number of the area's top teams this season, including Grosse Pointe South, Livonia Stevenson, Port Huron Northern and Warren Cousino. Western lost to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 4-1, and afterward Liggett coach Dan Cimini said Western was one of the best Division 1 teams he's seen.

It's a must for Sanchez and his assistant, Mike Vasquez, to schedule as many teams as possible outside of the PSL to give their players an opportunity to see how they stack up with the best.

"When Mike and I took over 12 years ago," Sanchez said, "I told him, 'If we're going to do this, let's do it right. Let's take it to the top.'

"That's the goal. We bring it up every day in practice."

Two-sport star shines

Travis Harvey had a goal and an assist in leading Livonia Stevenson to the Division 2 hockey title with a 5-4 victory over Hartland this past March. He was named to the Dream Team by the coaches association.

Last baseball season, Harvey had eight home runs and 55 RBIs and was named to the Dream Team by the coaches association.

Harvey, a third baseman, is batting .395 this season and, for the first time, has been used as a pitcher by coach Rick Berryman .

"He's quite an athlete," Berryman said. "Last summer, we worked with him as a pitcher in the offseason and he's throwing well. We just kind of stumbled across his ability on the mound.

"I love putting him out (on the mound) because he hates to lose."

Stevenson (20-9) won six straight games last week, including three within the KLAA Central Division to finish in first at 13-3, a game ahead of Northville. Stevenson will host Canton today in the Kensington Conference title game at 4 p.m. The winner will host the KLAA title game on Wednesday.

Nothing fancy

Coach Phil Price said he doesn't have any superstars at Clarkston, just a bunch of good players who are sound fundamentally and play hard.

"We're nothing special," he said. "We hit and run, steal some bases. We're doing the right things at the right time. We have to play good defense and pitch well if we expect to win."

Clarkston (18-4) is doing just that. With three OAA Red Division games remaining, Clarkston is 7-4, a half game out of first place behind Lake Orion. Lake Orion has two games remaining. Clarkston plays a doubleheader against Rochester today, then a single game with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek on Wednesday.

Left-hander Ryan Ray (4-1) is the ace of the staff and is likely to get the start when Clarkston plays Oxford in a Division 1 district semifinal on June 1.

A military approach

Justin Newcomb is the head coach at Warren Cousino and his team is 20-7 overall and won the MAC Gold Division title with a 10-0 record.

Newcomb said he thought his team would be good this season but wasn't sure. That's because he wasn't around to watch them.

Newcomb, a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve officer corps, was on military leave last year. He missed the last half of the 2011 season, too, for the same reason.

An '04 Cousino graduate, Newcomb said he's excited about his career choice and is incorporating some of what he's learned in the military with his coaching philosophies.

"The kids are responding," he said. "Things like accountability and responsibility, they've been very receptive."

Cousino could be a sleeper when the state tournament starts May 28. Last week, Cousino defeated Lake Orion, one of the state's top teams, 1-0. Senior right-hander Rob Cleary (.486 batting average) went all seven innings, allowed three hits and struck out eight.

Measuring the miles

Regionals in track and field were held last Friday and Saturday and one of the state's top sprinters, Kendall Baisden of Detroit Country Day, qualified in four events at the Division 2 meet at Bloomfield Hills Lahser.

Baisden, who will attend UCLA in the fall, won the 200- and 400-meter dashes, and ran on the winning 400 and 800 relay teams. Last season, she set the Division 2 record in the 400 (54.58), and ran on the winning 400 and 800 relay teams.

Her time in the 400 on Friday was 59.72 and in the 200 it was 25.58. Her best time in the 200 is 23.57.

"I was taking it easy," she said. "I was trying to conserve energy.

"It was a compacted schedule. We started at 10 (a.m.) and we were done by 3. My goals are to win the (200 and 400), and set the overall record in the 400."

Baisden's best time in the 400 is 52.59. The all-class/division state record is 54.29, set by Latipha Cross of Southfield in '11.

DeLaSalle loses its best

A.J. Turner surprised many when it was learned early Saturday that he will transfer from Warren DeLaSalle to New Hampton School, a prep school in New Hampshire. Turner was considered a candidate for the 2014 Mr. Basketball award but is now expected to repeat his junior year and have two seasons in which to prepare for college.

This has happened before in Michigan, and many times in other parts of the country. Alex Legion transferred from Detroit Country Day to Oak Hill Academy (Va). SirDominic Pointer transferred from Roseville High to Quality Education Academy (N.C.). Pointer now plays at St. John's.

And last season, Charles Tucker transferred from Lansing Eastern to Montrose Christian, a prep school in Maryland.

DeLaSalle coach Greg Esler said he was disappointed in Turner's decision to leave but added that the culture of high school sports has changed over the years.

Pitcher/shortstop Hector Gutierrez says the team “wants to start a ... (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
More Tom Markowski