Brownstown — Woodhaven reached the baseball state finals for the first time in school history last season, advancing to the Division 1 championship game, losing to Grosse Pointe South.
This year, Woodhaven (34-6 in 2018) returns five starters, including Michigan-bound pitcher/outfielder Colin Czajkowski and pitcher/infielder Kyle Ray (.380, 4-1, 0.00 ERA) to try and make a return trip and take care of unfinished business.
Woodhaven is The News No. 1 team in the Metro Detroit area, and arguably the state.
Czajkowski hit .402 last season, slugging a home run in the semifinal win over Birmingham Brother Rice, then a solo shot in the 8-1 title-game loss to Grosse Pointe South. He was 6-1 with a 1.20 ERA.
Ray, a four-year starter, will play at Wayne State. Senior first baseman Avery Carnicon (.310), third baseman/outfielder Nolan Chilcutt (.280) and catcher Carson MacDonell also return.
Woodhaven also showcases an outstanding defensive player in junior second baseman Nate Overton.
“I think we’re going to hit well this season,” Woodhaven fifth-year Coach Corey Farner said. “Pitching-wise, we’ll be good top end with Colin Czajkowski and Ryan Szczepaniak, a sophomore who is Drew Szczepaniak’s brother. Drew was our No. 1 last year who is now at Western Michigan.
“We should have some good pitching, but I think defensively will be our strong suit and I think we’ll hit pretty well too.”
Farner has had success since taking over as head coach, going 27-8 in 2015, 31-6 in ’16, 29-6 in ’17, then its record-setting 34 victories last season.
“It’s been a good run,” Farner said. “I think we have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs. We have a tough district and the our regional is no walk in the park with Saline in it.
"We want to get back to McLane Stadium (at Michigan State).”
2. Detroit Country Day (23-10, Division 2)
Country Day returns seven starters from a team that lost to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in a district final.
Country Day has more than a handful of Division I players, including Nebraska-bound catcher/pitcher Aaron Dolney, an athletic 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who hit .425 last season with six homers and 42 RBIs while also going 8-1 on the mound with a 1.50 ERA.
Other key players include junior shortstop Parker Pilat (Wake Forest), who hit .340; sophomore center fielder Saborn Campbell, a Stanford commit who hit .420 as a freshman and stole eight bases in the first eight games this season; and senior Jon Campbell (Boston College) — Saborn’s older brother — who is an outfielder/pitcher who has played second base while filling in for an injured Anthony Toma (Bowling Green). Sophomore switch-hitter Anthony Migliaccio, a catcher/pitcher/outfielder, is a Vanderbilt commit.
Toma is a team captain who is expected to return to the lineup later this month. Senior left-hander Mason Kolean will be teammates with Toma at Bowling Green next season.
3. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (28-13, Division 2)
Matt Petry hopes Michigan State-bound Dillon Kark returns to full health to be the closer after OLSM dropped five games early in the season when it held leads during the sixth inning or later.
No doubt, OLSM has the talent, led by Kark (.390, six home runs); sophomore middle infielder Alex Mooney, a Duke commit who hit .325; junior left-hander Logan Wood, a Michigan commit; and junior left-hander Anthony Fett.
Wood was 9-2 with a 2.10 ERA, striking out 118 in 77.1 innings. Fett was 5-2 with a 3.18 ERA.
“Dillon Kark was 4-and-1 before he got hurt, then had labrum surgery last June,” Petry said of Kark, who throws in the upper 80s. “He’ll be our closer if he’s able. In a game last season he struck out all 18 guys in a win over Divine Child so he’s the real deal.”
Other key contributors are Kalamazoo College-bound catcher Harrison Poeszat, freshman Nolan Schubart (outfielder), Jack Crighton (third base) and pitcher Brock Porter. Schubart, a Michigan commit, 6-5 and 200 pounds at age 14, hit three homers in the first 12 games this season.
4. Grosse Pointe Liggett (26-5, Division 3)
Liggett returns to Division 3 this season after competing in Division 1 the previous two years, losing in the state semifinals in 2017 to eventual state champion Saline, then dropping a 6-5 game in the district title game last season to eventual state champion Grosse Pointe South.
Liggett returns standout pitcher Alec Azar (12-2, 1.40 ERA), shortstop Billy Kopicky (Miami of Ohio), 6-4 pitcher Logan King (Spring Arbor), third baseman Kellen Banaszeski, junior center fielder Nick Post (.360) and junior catcher Patrick Ilitch, who is grandson of the late Mike Ilitch.
Kopicky, who hit from the leadoff spot, hit .410 with 30 stolen bases last season while only committing four errors. King hit .370 with five homers last season and was 6-2 on the mound, while Banaszeski, an outstanding defensive player, hit .390.
“I like our team,” said long-time head coach Dan Cimini, who guided Liggett to Division 3 state titles in 2014 and ’16 and Division 4 state championships in 2011 and ’13. “We have really good pitching and good defense and we can swing the bats pretty good too.”
5. Grosse Pointe North (26-12, Division 1)
Dave Martin takes over as head coach and inherits a talented team left by legendary coach Frank Sumbera.
Chad Lorkowski, a 6-4 senior right-handed pitcher; senior catcher Dominic VanDoorne; senior outfielder Ryan Shanley; and senior shortstop Matt Mazzola are among seven returning starters.
“We have 12 seniors, our pitching has been lights out and we’re a great defensive team,” Martin said. "We had a team ERA of 0.46 during one series.”
Martin has made Lorkowski (4-4, 2.42 ERA) a closer so he can use him more than once a week. North’s staff also includes a trio of left-handed pitchers in sophomore Nick Good, Northwood-bound Jack Kensora and Nick David.
Shanley hit .427 with 26 RBI last season and Lorkowski, .307 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs. Kensora hit .358 with 26 RBIs.
6. Saline (26-9, Division 1)
2010 Mr. Basketball award winner Al Zeiher takes over as head coach at Saline, which won the Division 1 state championship in 2017. Zeiher, who led Saline to three consecutive state championship-game appearances from 2008-10 as a player, was an assistant coach last season.
Saline returns five starters from a team which lost to Woodhaven in the regional finals, including Penn State-bound pitcher Logan Evans (6-0, 1.10 ERA), Saginaw Valley State-bound left-hander Ryan Steinhauer, junior center fielder Alex Morrison (.356, 22 RBIs, 14 stolen bases), junior pitcher/infielder Lance Blaszak and sophomore left-hander Aidan Arbaugh, who is a Michigan State commit.
Senior first baseman Jackson O’Keefe and shortstop Noah Nelson (.333, 28 runs) are also key contributors.
7. Birmingham Brother Rice (31-9, Division 1)
Bob Riker, who enters his 22nd year as head coach and is just 22 wins away from 600 victories, returns the majority of his Catholic League championship team, which reached the Division 1 state semifinals last season.
Brother Rice has nine seniors, including third baseman Jack Orlowski (.407, 31 RBIs), second baseman Tito Flores (.395, 45 runs, 40 RBIs) and shortstop Josh Anschuetz. Sophomore Will Shannon will be catching Tyler Sarkisian (5-0, 3.20 ERA) and Jacob Klingensmith (1.60 ERA).
“We can pitch,” said Riker, “and I like our young group. We have three freshmen and three sophomore who all play,”
8. Romeo (25-7, Division 1)
The defending MAC White champions return five starters from last year’s team, led by Wayne State-bound Kaden Stively, a left-hander who was the ace of the staff with an 8-2 record and 1.79 ERA.
Outfielders Blake McRae (.429), a four-year starter; Eric Meldrum (Albion College); junior first baseman/pitcher Dominic Hann; and third baseman/pitcher Patrick Vinckier also are returning.
Junior first baseman/pitcher Dominic Hann, a Michigan State commit, and first baseman/outfielder Jeff Catron are other key contributors.
9. Lake Orion (26-6, Division 1)
Coach Andrew Schramek has a solid pitching staff returning from a year ago to help Lake Orion challenge for the OAA Red division title.
The staff is made up of right-hander Ben Ulrich (4-0, 1.20 ERA), left-hander Hunter Sites (7-2, 3.14) and left-hander/first baseman Josh Slayton (4-1, 3.10).
Other returning starters include outfielders Kobe Manzo (.421) and Drew Van Heck (.387, 36 RBIs), along with infielder Jake Rydquist (.394).
“I really like the makeup of this year’s team,” Schramek said. “We play very hard and have some impactful players that can put the team first. We have an outstanding league that we will work very hard to get to the top.”
T10. Riverview Gabriel Richard (28-3, Division 3)
The defending Division 3 state champions return the majority of its starters, including ace pitcher Matthew Silka (7-0, 0.80 ERA).
Gabriel Richard returns the bulk of its pitching staff that had a 1.30 ERA with Jacob Gosen (4-1, 1.08), Niko Maloney (4-1, 1.57), Frank Klamerus (4-0, 0.40) and junior Cole Atkinson (5-0, 1.40) joining Silka, who pitched a one-hit shutout in a 3-0 state title-game win over Bishop Foley.
Gosen hit .492. Catcher/infielder Kevin Tuttle (.420, 32 RBIs) and junior outfielder David Zubor (.405) also are returning starters.
T10. Howell (30-9, Division 1)
Eastern Michigan-bound pitcher Luke Russo (6-2, 2.00 ERA) returns, along with outfielders Isaac Miller (.350) and Jacob Purdy (.300).
Sophomore outfielder/pitcher Adam Mrackitsch and junior infielder Kyle McClure also are key contributors.
Other teams to watch
Brighton, Canton, Carleton Airport, Detroit Catholic Central, Northville, Plymouth, Salem, Sterling Heights Stevenson, U-D Jesuit, Utica Eisenhower.