A little rain wasn’t about to spoil Woodhaven’s celebration following its 1-0 state quarterfinal win over Grand Ledge Tuesday evening at Chelsea.
After all, Woodhaven’s baseball team had never won a district title before this season.
Yes, Woodhaven is having a historical season, defeating defending state champion Saline, 3-2, in the regional championship game, then ending a scoreless game in the quarterfinal against Grand Ledge with Kyle Ray’s walk-off single with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
And, Woodhaven (33-5) has a legitimate shot at coming away with the Division 1 state championship trophy Saturday afternoon at McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.
Woodhaven showcases a pitching staff with 6-foot-3 junior left-hander Colin Czajkowski, a Michigan commit, pitching the shutout against Grand Ledge and available for the title game if Woodhaven can get by Birmingham Brother Rice in Thursday’s 5 p.m. semifinal at MSU.
And, Western Michigan-bound Drew Szczepaniak, a 6-4 senior left-hander, will be on the mound against Brother Rice, which won the state title 10 years ago but has yet to play at MSU which has been the home of the State Finals since 2014.
“This year, it seemed real special,” said Woodhaven fourth-year coach Corey Farner. “We’ve been able to win a lot of games the last four years, but this year it seemed like there was something a little different at the beginning of the year and team chemistry is what I chalked it up to and I’m a firm believer in it, and that it goes a long way.
“Obviously, the two big-lefties that we have with Drew Szczepaniak and Colin Czajkowski, they throw hard and that’s a great thing to have, but really all the way through our rotation and our relief pitchers, they just pound the zone and they do a good job, and you can’t win 33 games without having good pitching all the way around.”
Szczepaniak is 9-1 with a 1.06 ERA, striking out 113 in 64 innings, while Czajkowski is 6-0 with a 0.90 ERA.
“This is something that I can’t even describe, this team has had my back all year and Kyle Ray’s been clutch, this kid has been one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around,” said Czajkowski after tossing the shutout in the quarterfinal win.
“My defense played really well behind me and I felt that even though we only scored one run we kept the pressure on them by throwing strikes. I was able to throw all three pitches for strikes, but my curveball and my fastball really helped me. I’ve been clocked at 88 this year and today I felt like I was throwing just as hard, if not harder.”
Woodhaven’s hitting attack is led by catcher Justin Charron who is hitting .463 and Ray — the leadoff hitter — at .380.
“Our leadoff hitter, Kyle Ray, who was the hero today, has been hitting like crazy all year,” Farner said. “Kyle plays everywhere for us, played all nine positions and plays good at every spot. He’s a catcher by trade, but we have a senior (Charron) at that spot right now.”
“Avery Carnicom won us a game in the regional, he had a big two-out, three-run double that set us apart from Saline so it’s a different guy every game and it’s awesome to see.”
Ray was mobbed by his teammates after the winning hit, then hugged his mother before taking a few minutes for an interview, then posing for a team picture.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere, just trying to come up big for this team,” beamed Ray.
G.P. South returns to MSU
Grosse Pointe South coach Dan Griesbaum pointed out that his program hasn’t won a MAC Red championship since 2010.
But, Griesbaum’s South team sure knows the way to MSU, earning its third State Finals trip in the last six years.
And, South (31-12) had to defeat MAC Red champion Macomb Dakota in the Division 1 state quarterfinal at Wayne State to punch its ticket to today’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal against Midland.
South avenged a pair of losses to Dakota with the 9-1 quarterfinal victory.
“The MAC Red is one of the top conferences in the state and that competition gets us prepared for this,” said Griesbaum who is in his 35th year at South, becoming the eighth coach in state history to win 800 or more games earlier this season.
“My assistants have been with me for a long time and they’ve all played college ball, Division 1. John Hackett, my pitching coach, has been with me 25 years, Matt Reno has been with me 20 years, my son Dan, since he graduated from Central (Michigan) in ’05 and Matt Leverenz who is our JV assistant, came up to help us this year. It’s a great staff that I have. They make my job so much easier. I can run things by them and I trust their judgment tremendously.”
Senior right-hander Cam Shook returned from a knee injury earlier this month to spark South’s run. He came in relief against No. 2 Grosse Pointe Liggett to get the win in the district title game. He then started and worked six innings in the quarterfinal win over Dakota.
South won the Division 1 state championship in 2001, three years after Midland won the state title.
South advanced to MSU in 2014, losing to Bay City Western in the state title game, 6-2. South also lost in the state semifinals three years ago.
South senior catcher Davis Graham is looking forward to the State Finals. He watched his older brother, Douglas Graham, play at MSU for South in ’14 and ’15.
“It’s going to be cool to finally get there after watching my older brother get there,” said Graham, who is hitting .390 and will play his college ball at Wayne State.
“Davis is a bulldog,” said Griesbaum of Graham. “Davis has put more time in than any other player I’ve ever had. He knows the game. He’s confident as a hitter.”
All semifinals and finals at MSU
Grosse Pointe South vs. Midland, 2:30
Woodhaven vs. Birmingham Brother Rice, 5
Final: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s vs. Stevensville Lakeshore, 9 a.m.
Saginaw Swan Valley vs. DeWitt, 11:30 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Gladstone vs. Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 2:30
Riverview Gabriel Richard vs. Schoolcraft, 5
Final: Saturday, 5
Gaylord St. Mary vs. Beal City, 9 a.m.
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, 11:30 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.