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Kuster powers Brother Rice to sixth straight A-B crown

By Al Willman
Special to The Detroit News

Utica – When a team wins six straight league titles, it’s sometimes a challenge to find something new about it.

But for Brother Rice (23-8-1)  3-1 winners over Detroit Catholic Central in the Catholic League A-B Division championship game Friday at Jimmy John's Field – the feat is a first in league history dating back to 1978 when Brother Rice won its first of six league championships before starting another run in 2012.

The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday night, but rainy conditions made the field unplayable.

“I’ll tell you what my recipe is,” Brother Rice coach Bob Riker said. “It’s really simple. First of all, you’ve got to have the players, and the players have to buy in to what you’re doing. The best thing that I’ve done is I have surrounded myself with the best set of helpers and assistant coaches you can ask for.

“That’s the recipe. You get good guys around you and you don’t have to do everything. I never worry about what my guys are doing with (my assistants). They’re actually probably better role models than I am. As a parent, I would be really proud to have my kids around them.”

The win was not without some late-inning dramatics, though.

Ahead 3-0 in the top of the seventh, Brother Rice senior left-hander Alex Kuster got into some trouble.

He struck out C.C. senior first baseman Nick Sykes for the first out. Kuster then walked junior catcher Matt Stinebiser, who took second on a wild pitch. Senior right fielder Matt Harding then sacrificed Stinebiser to third before senior second baseman Joe Merucci scored Stinebiser with a triple to put C.C. on the board.

Kuster then threw a ball away on a pickoff throw to first, allowing Cody Kanclerz – who reached on a throwing error from third baseman Chris Faust – to get to third base with two outs.

“We played pretty good defense behind (Kuster),” Riker said, jokingly. “Except, obviously, for his bonehead throw and Faust’s bonehead throw. But Faust’s throw was pretty hard because it was to his right. The physical issues, I don’t have an issue with. It’s the mental ones, but my guys don’t make too many mental mistakes.”

Kuster got the third out, sealing his complete-game win by scattering two hits, striking out seven and walking two.

“I don’t know,” Kuster said, laughing. “I wanted to make it a little interesting, I guess.”

Kuster singled to lead off the bottom of the second and was replaced on the bases by courtesy runner Riley McNulty. Two batters later, McNulty scored on a double from Kevin Tyranski to make it 1-0.

“I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been hitting well all year,” said Kuster, who went 2-for-3 and was the only player on either team with more than one hit. “It’s good to just keep it going. Obviously, I love helping myself out in the batter’s box. It doesn’t matter who scores the runs, honestly, as long as they get scored.”

Kuster was dialed in, scattering one hit through his first five innings.

“The thing about Alex is that he’s a quiet kid,” Riker said. “He’s like a 4.3 student. He’s going to play Division I at Ohio (University). He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s easy to be alongside. He’s a great teammate. The thing that makes me most proud about him as a coach this year is his ability to lead. He’s who you want your kids to follow.”

C.C. right-hander Johnny Lobbia settled in after the leadoff single came around to score in the second, throwing back-to-back 1-2-3 innings. With the exception of two runs in the bottom of the sixth, he was solid – allowing three runs on five hits, with one strikeout and three walks.

“Our guy threw a great game,” C.C. coach Dan Michaels said. “Their guy threw maybe a little bit better. How do you decide? Great job by both guys.”

He wasn’t happy about C.C. (13-20-1) leaving four runners in scoring position, though.

“We were right in the game,” Michaels said. “So a key hit here, a key hit there makes a difference. That hurts a little bit.”

Despite a nearly 20-minute seventh inning, the game clocked in at a brisk 1 hour, 8 minutes.

“It’s just a game that was well played,” Riker said. “It was quick. People were hustling on and off the field, and it was a good pitching performance. When you’re playing a team like C.C. that’s well-coached, that makes it difficult. (You’re) never breathing easy that whole seven innings.”

Al Willman is a freelance writer.

Twitter: @AlWillmanSports