Dave Zelmanski’s first days on the job as head baseball coach at Warren DeLaSalle were memorable, taking the team down to Viera, Fla., at the Space Coast Stadium Complex to prepare the players for the season.
The weather in Michigan wasn’t cooperating and Zelmanski made sure the kids had a chance to enjoy some sunshine on the beach while also attending Easter mass on the Atlantic Ocean.
“I said I have three goals for my team when I got the job,” said Zelmanski, a 1974 graduate of DeLaSalle. “No. 1, I want to make a difference in their lives. No. 2, I want to create moments and memories for my boys, and No. 3, we want to win our last game. I know that trip to Florida was pretty special, definitely created some memories.
“We worked out and played at the beautiful Space Coast Complex which is owned by a former alumni of DeLaSalle, so he rolled out the red carpet for us and we worked out every day in the 9,000-seat stadium that was formerly the spring training home of the Washington Nationals. We had a sunrise mass on Easter with five thousand people on the beach.
“It was a great trip, a trip that the kids will never forget, the parents will never forget and that makes me proud.”
Zelmanski inherits a ton of talent from former coach Matt Cook, who guided DeLaSalle — the No. 1 team in The Detroit News rankings — the last seven years, leading it to the Division 1 state championship in 2016 and to a regional semifinal appearance last season, finishing 27-10.
The bulk of DeLaSalle’s pitching staff is back, including Toledo-bound right-hander Kyle Jones, Western Michigan-bound right-hander Easton Sikorski and senior right-hander Nino Puckett, who earned victories in the district, regional and state semifinal games his sophomore year, then got the save with a double-play to end the title game with a 7-6 win over Saline.
“It’s a special group with 16 kids returning from last year,” Zelmanski said. “We have eight or nine guys who will play in college at either the DI, DII or DIII level.”
Senior shortstop Bryce Bush is at the top of the list. He hit .544 with 16 home runs last season and will play next year at Mississippi State.
DeLaSalle also returns three-year starting center fielder Jacob Badalamenti. who can do some damage at the plate as well as take away hits in the outfield with his glove. He helped DeLaSalle win the Division 2 state football championship this past fall and will play football at Bowling Green.
Three-year catcher Mac Graybill will be busy behind the plate, working with Jones, Sikorski and Puckett.
2. DETROIT COUNTRY DAY (26-9; DIVISION 2)
Country Day is loaded with players capable of competing at the next level, led by Vanderbilt-bound first baseman John Malcom, junior catcher Aaron Dolney (Nebraska) and sophomore shortstop Parker Pilat (Wake Forest).
Malcom hit .480 last season; Pilat batted .460; and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Dolney is a power hitter who also throws in the low 90s as one of the team’s top pitchers.
Country Day coach Steve Lepkowski also will be looking for big things out of junior left-handed pitcher Mason Kolean, junior Jon Campbell (.380) and freshman catcher Anthony Migliaccio who already has an offer from Vanderbilt.
3. GROSSE POINTE LIGGETT (33-5; DIVISION 1)
Liggett returns seven starters from last year’s state semifinal team.
Coach Dan Cimini will miss senior center fielder Will Morrison (Western Michigan), who hit .400 and was 40-of-40 on stolen bases last season. Morrison is out for the season with an Achilles tendon rupture.
Still, Liggett has senior second baseman Noah Miller (.441, five home runs, 37 RBIs), along with junior shortstop Billy Kopicki (.377, 27 RBIs), junior pitcher Alec Azar and senior pitcher/outfielder Anthony George (.413, 21 stolen bases). Miller will play at Wayne State and Kopicki at Miami (Ohio).
George was 6-1 last season and is 2-0 this year, including a 5-1 win over Catholic League champion Birmingham Brother Rice and a no-hitter with nine strikeouts Tuesday against defending Division 3 state champion Madison Heights Bishop Foley. Azar beat Grosse Pointe North, U-D Jesuit and Sterling Heights Stevenson during last year’s postseason run.
4. SALINE (39-3; DIVISION 1)
Saline had a dominant team last season, ranked No. 12 nationally while earning its first state championship with a 5-2 win over Northville.
Dave Sontag, the former longtime head coach at Monroe Jefferson, steps in for Scott Theisen, who guided Saline’s program the previous 25 years, winning 639 games and making five state championship-game appearances in the last 10 years.
Saline will be led by Kentucky-bound left-handed pitcher Cole Daniels (8-0, 0.25 ERA), who hit .360 with six home runs and 43 RBIS, along with senior right-hander/second baseman Paul Kiyabu (0.85 ERA).
Senior right fielder Ethan Collick (Central Michigan), senior catcher Dan Weidmayer and senior infielder Jacob Ohren-hoeft are other key contributors.
5. GROSSE POINTE NORTH (28-10; DIVISION 1)
North returns four of five pitchers from its MAC White championship team. The pitching staff will be anchored by 6-5 junior right-hander Chad Lorkowski, who is 19-1 his first two seasons, including 9-1 last year with a 1.60 ERA. He also hit over .400 from the cleanup spot.
North coach Frank Sumbera also will be looking for strong outings from senior Tyler Hill (7-2), junior left-hander Nik David and senior Antonio Moceri.
Senior center fielder Pete Ciaravino is the catalyst in North’s lineup, hitting .390 from the leadoff spot a year ago.
6. BRIGHTON (28-7; DIVISION 1)
Senior left-hander Cameron Tullar gives Brighton an outstanding ace, displaying a fastball in the upper 80s, along with a solid breaking ball.
Tullar was 5-3 last season with a 1.21 ERA and is expected to get drafted this June. He also hit .302 with five home runs and 38 RBIs.
Senior outfielder/pitcher Rudy Ramirez (Wayne State), senior first baseman Andrew Giltin (.350, three homers, 25 RBIs) and senior shortstop Kyle Hook (.350, three homers) are other key contributors. Ramirez hit .385 last season.
7. NORTHVILLE (30-11; DIVISION 1)
Northville advanced to the state championship for the first time in school history last season, falling to Saline in the title game.
Northville could make another long postseason run with senior pitchers Jonathan Michalak and Ben Schmidt returning, and senior third baseman Jake Moody should be a key contributor in the lineup. Moody will kick at Michigan next season.
8. BIRMINGHAM BROTHER RICE (28-9; DIVISION 1)
Brother Rice has dominated the Catholic League, entering the season as the six-time defending league champs.
And, Brother Rice has the talent to keep the streak alive with senior center fielder Reese Trahey (.390, 17 stolen bases), senior outfielder Caleb Jackson, junior third baseman Jack Orlowski (.390) and senior catcher Gabe Sotres (.362, 38 RBIs) leading the way. They hit 1-2-3-4 in the order last season to help Brother Rice reach the regional final.
Trahey and Sotres will be playing at Michigan State next year.
9. ORCHARD LAKE ST. MARY’S (18-21; DIVISION 1)
Matt Petry’s team won the Division 2 state championship in 2015, then competed in Division 1 for the first time last season, losing to Northville in a regional semifinal.
St. Mary’s will be led by senior third baseman Carter Macias (Army) who was a starter his freshman year on the state-title team. Macias hit a team-leading .400 last season.
Petry, who started four freshmen and four sophomores at different times last season, also has junior shortstop Dillon Kark (Michigan State) and sophomore left-hander Logan Wood (Michigan) in the lineup, along with senior center fielder Blake Bean, senior right-hander Alex Borowski and freshman second baseman Alex Mooney who already has an offer from Duke.
Kark hit .394 with 17 doubles and Wood struck out 68 in 56.2 innings.
10 (TIE). DETROIT WESTERN (28-10; DIVISION 1)
Western showcases one of the premier pitchers to come out of the PSL in Tennessee-bound senior right-hander William English who has a 90-plus mph fastball.
English, who also covers a lot of ground while playing as an outfielder, will be joined by senior right-handed pitcher Malik Abdul, a transfer from Detroit Renaissance.
Junior shortstop Christian Gutierrez, junior first baseman Emmanuel Clark and sophomore third baseman Enrique Gutierrez are other key contributors for Western, which lost to Liggett in the regional final.
10 (TIE). ROCHESTER (30-12; DIVISION 1)
Eric Mageria returns a strong pitching staff from last year’s state quarterfinal team.
The trio of senior Luke Kastran (6-1, 1.75 ERA), junior Owen Malinowski (3-1, 1.44) and junior Nick Stepke is expected to put Rochester in position to have another strong season.
The lineup will be led by sophomore center fielder Noah Stout, who already owns an offer from Clemson, Stepke (.345) and senior infielder/pitcher Drew Loftus (.325, 28 runs scored). Stout hit .400 with 25 RBIs as a freshman.