East Lansing — In baseball no one should take anything for granted.
Take the Division 1 tournament as an example. All season it looked as if either Sterling Heights Stevenson or Birmingham Brother Rice would win the state title. Many anticipated a state championship between these two teams. Stevenson was ranked No. 1 and Brother Rice No. 2 entering the tournament yet neither made it to the final four at Michigan State. Brother Rice was eliminated in the pre-district.
In their place we had Bay City Western and Grosse Pointe South in the final.
Western lost 10 seniors to graduation from a team that won the state title. Seven are playing in college. Two returning seniors, who were expected to contribute significantly this season, decided not to play, leaving four returning seniors. As a result, coach Tim McDonald used eight sophomores who had little if any varsity experience.
At South, coach Dan Griesbaum had a team that started slow and eventually became competitive in the Macomb Area Conference. But the possibility of competing for a state title was scoffed at.
“The state tournament is seldom about the best team winning,” Griesbaum said. “In the pre-district four of the top 10 teams were eliminated. Once it starts it’s all about the tournament.
‘Is it luck? Luck has a lot to do with it. Much has to do with the draw you get, an umpire’s call. Have I had better teams? No question. This team ranks with the 1996 and 2005 teams. Those were teams that were never supposed to be (in the semifinals). If someone said in April this team would get here I’d say no way. But it continued to get better. Because of that it does make (getting to the final) more satisfying.”
Western defeated South, 6-2, as one of its sophomores, Jason Clark, pitched a complete game and had three hits from the leadoff spot.
With so many players set to return next season, Western should be better, but be careful with that thought.
Finally a breakthrough
A further example on just how difficult it is to win a state title: Mount Pleasant, one of the top programs in the state, won its third title as it defeated Richmond, 7-2.
It just seems like Mount Pleasant has won more.
“I don’t even want to talk about all of the semifinals losses,” coach Luke Epple said.
Well, let’s talk anyway. Mount Pleasant last won a title in 2007. The next year it lost in the final to Dearborn Divine Child. In ’09 it lost in the semifinals. The next season it lost to Grand Rapids West Catholic 2-1 in eight innings in the semifinals.
In ’11 it lost to Grand Rapids Christian, 1-0, in the semifinals and last year it lost in the quarterfinals.
Epple just completed his 21st season as the program’s head coach. Before that his father, Joe, coached within the program for 34 years.
Youth is served
In addition to Western’s kiddie corps, a number of teams at MSU were laden with underclassmen.
Most notably, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett had a number of underclassmen play important roles in the program’s third title in the last four years.
Sophomore Matt Gushee threw a complete-game four-hitter in University Liggett’s 7-1 semifinal victory over Reese and freshman Gehrig Anglin tossed a complete-game two-hitter in his team’s 9-0 victory over Decatur in the Division 3 title game.
Naturally, Anglin said he was nervous at the start but was able to control his emotions as the game went on.
When asked if he was more nervous during the postgame interviews, Anglin took a deep breath and said yes.
“He’s a 14-year-old kid,” University Liggett coach Dan Cimini said.
Richland Gull Lake, a Division 2 semifinalist, had just three seniors and Decatur started just two seniors.
Thumbs up on new venue
As the new host for the baseball and softball finals Michigan State receives a B-plus.
Bailey Park in Battle Creek had been the host and served the teams, fans and media well with its accessibility from one venue to another, and the three fields it offered for each sport.
The softball facilities at Bailey Park were lacking and the move to MSU is an upgrade.
C.O. Brown Stadium, the main baseball venue at Bailey Park, was more than adequate but somewhat antiquated. McLane Stadium at MSU is more modern and more fan friendly. The campus setting is also more attractive.
The interview process was discombobulated at times but that can worked out.
A problem could arise from that fact that there are no stadium lights (C.O. Stadium has lights) and with just one venue for softball and baseball, weather and the possibility of games running long (extra innings) could force postponements.
Fortunately the weather was not a factor over the weekend.
Because of fewer sites the semifinals were held on two days, instead of one as they had in Battle Creek.
Bay City Western 6, Grosse Pointe South 2
Mount Pleasant 7, Richmond 2
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 9, Decatur 0
New Lothrop 5, Beal City 0
Bay City Western 4, Portage Central 2
Stevensville Lakeshore 4, Livonia Ladywood 3
Gladstone 2, Unionville-Sebewaing 1
Rogers City 3, Kalamazoo Christian 2
Northville 2, Utica Eisenhower 1
Richland Gull Lake 2, Birmingham Marian 1
Hudsonville Unity Christian 3, Detroit Country Day 1
Grandville Calvin Christian 2, Clarkston Everett/Waterford Lakes 1