Veteran Grosse Pointe South baseball coach Dan Griesbaum wanted it known Saturday afternoon at Michigan State University he took offense to an opposing coach calling his team soft earlier in the season.
Griesbaum was beaming after South defeated Woodhaven and Michigan commit Colin Czajkowski, 8-1, at McLane Stadium in East Lansing to win its first Division 1 championship since 2001.
“I heard a comment from an opposing coach that Grosse Pointe kids are soft and the Grosse Pointe coach is the softest coach in the state,” Griesbaum said prior to taking the stage to accept the state championship trophy. “They can say what they want about me, but don’t call my team soft because they’re not.
“They are not soft. They just bulldog it. They are confident. Their postseason run is like nothing I’ve seen in 35 years, nothing like I’ve seen. We’ve had eight trips to the Final Four, this is our second title and we were runner-up once, but I’ve never seen a group play with more confidence than this one.
“Really, I’m overwhelmed. I have to praise God because he put me in this situation. I thought at some point I’d play professionally, but it didn’t happen and God put me here and it’s been an unbelievable 35 years. We had a 10-0 start, best in school history. We got 33 wins, best in school history. We went through some bumps, the injuries with our No. 1 and No. 2 (pitchers) out for about four weeks each, but this team just overcame it. Everybody did their job with those guys out.”
Soft? South’s players could be described as just the opposite since they showed their toughness to put themselves in position to earn the state championship.
Senior pitcher Cam Shook, who will kick at Navy, missed a month due to a dislocated kneecap in his (right) kicking leg, but worked hard in his rehab stint. He came in relief and pitched four innings in a 6-5 comeback win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the regional title game, then started and pitched well in a 9-1 state quarterfinal win over Macomb Area Conference Red Division champion Macomb Dakota, which beat South twice during the regular season.
The other half of South’s dominant 1-2 pitching punch also missed a month when senior left-hander Nate Budziak broke the thumb on his pitching hand while sliding home against rival Grosse Pointe North.
Budziak tossed a three-hitter in a 10-0 semifinal win over Midland Thursday at Michigan State.
And don’t forget the recruiting job Griesbaum did bringing 6-foot-3, 250-pound Anthony Dermanulian back into the program after the big first baseman stepped away from the sport his sophomore year after playing JV ball to concentrate on football.
Dermanulian was the hero in the title game, hitting a bases-clearing double to give South a 4-1 lead in the third after Czajkowski walked Graham with two out to load the bases in a 1-1 game.
“I thanked him I don’t know how many times for coming back,” Griesbaum said. “I told him we need some power. We didn’t have any power numbers last year at all. I told him that we need somebody that was going to hit the ball out of the park and he came back and was second on our team in RBI to Davis Graham.”
Graham did what his brother Douglas wasn’t able to do — earn a state championship. Douglas Graham helped South get to the title game in 2014, a 6-2 loss to Bay City Western.
“It’s insane,” Graham said. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 8 years old in Little League. Our whole team came through during the playoffs.
“I really thought it was my time to shine (coming up in the third before getting intentionally walked), but it is what it is and thank God my buddy (Dermanulian) came through. I had all the confidence in the world in him. We really missed him last year.”
Griesbaum showed the ability that has helped South win more than 800 games the last 35 years — playing small ball to add runs.
South scored two runs in the fourth to push the lead to 6-1 without getting the ball out of the infield and used three bunts, including a safety squeeze by Giovanni Lutfy.
“I wasn’t going to be satisfied with 4-1, no way with that team. They’re just too good so we were going to fight and claw for every run,” Griesbaum said. “There’s no way I wasn’t going to play a little small ball because I wanted to move them up and get them in scoring position.”
'Future is bright' for Woodhaven
Czajkowski, a junior left-hander, hit home runs in each of Woodhaven’s games at Michigan State, the semifinal win over Birmingham Brother Rice and another in the opening inning of the title game against South.
If Woodhaven didn’t give South additional outs in the third and fourth innings, Czajkowski could have been the winning pitcher.
Czajkowski got the ground ball he needed in the third that would have ended South’s inning, but the third baseman couldn’t make the play and kept the inning alive, which ultimately led to Dermanulian’s three-run double.
Woodhaven made another error in the fourth inning.
“I’m very proud of them, the effort that they put into it and the ride they all took us on was amazing,” said Corey Farner, who coached Woodhaven to its first district title, regional title and state championship game appearance in program history. “I told them win or lose I’m going to love them no matter what and we just need to go out and play hard. Some of the bounces didn’t go our way. We didn’t play particularly well so we didn’t deserve to win.
“This is the step in the process. We’ve had a really successful run the last four years record-wise. This year this group was pretty special and we have a lot of young kids on this team, so the future is bright and I think this is just another step in the process to get to where we want to be and that’s ultimately state champions.”
Woodhaven won a school record 34 games and has Czajkowski returning, along with center fielder Kyle Ray, first baseman Avery Carnicom, left fielder Nolan Chilcutt and third baseman Zach Biggs.
Richard returns entire roster
Riverview Gabriel Richard will have the opportunity to do next year what Stevensville Lakeshore did this season — repeat as state champions.
Junior pitcher Matthew Silka was an inning from becoming the first player in state championship game history to pitch a no-hitter before giving up a leadoff single in the seventh inning.
Still, Silka pitched a one-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory over defending Division 3 champ Madison Heights Bishop Foley to hand Gabriel Richard its first state title in program history.
Gabriel Richard returns its entire team, highlighted by the pitching staff, which includes Silka, Frank Klamerus and Cole Atkinson.
Gabriel Richard (29-3) battled back from a 2-0 deficit to score five in the bottom of the sixth for a 5-2 semifinal win over Schoolcraft on Friday.
"It's amazing, just knowing that we've had all this success this year with all juniors and a couple of sophomores," Silka said. "We have a whole year of seniors next year and it's going to be even better. It shows that our program is really good."
Gabriel Richard fifth-year coach Mike Magier said, "That (junior) class, as soon as they came in ninth grade we had three or four guys come on varsity and knew it was a good class. We're going to enjoy this one and hopefully next year we'll do the same."