New state baseball playoff tweak gives nod to schools short on pitching depth

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Pitchers like Carleton Airport High's Casey Jones would likely get four days rest before the finals.

High school baseball teams from across the state are busy this week with the hopes of advancing to the state finals at Michigan State University June 13-15.

District finals have finally been finished with a number of championship games played Monday due to the inclement weather, including Division 2 No. 1 Carleton Airport’s 2-1 victory over Ida.

The MHSAA made a change to eliminate state quarterfinal games on the Tuesday of the state finals, instead going to a format that includes regional games on Wednesday with winners moving on to Super Regional play Saturday.

By erasing the Tuesday quarterfinal game, teams will be able to use their No. 1 and No. 2 starters in the state finals since the pitchers won't be restricted by state-required pitch counts.

In 2017, the state mandated a pitch-count limit with required rest depending on the number of pitches thrown. Pitchers were not allowed to throw more than 105 pitches. If pitchers threw between 76 and 105 pitches, they were forced to rest three days with 51 to 75 pitches requiring two days of rest and 26 to 50 pitches forcing a one-day rest.

Now, the new rule allows teams to rest their pitchers at least four days before the state semifinals and finals.

No doubt, the new rule change is good for teams with little depth, but not so much for programs that built depth on the mound like Catholic League champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

“It’s certainly different and I guess why they’re doing it is to have more competitive games later in the tournament, especially the semifinals with getting rid of the quarterfinals,” St. Mary's longtime coach Matt Petry said. “I think it is advantageous for teams without depth where as teams with depth on the mound probably would have benefited from the former format.

"We have a solid four-man formation that we use through league play and a very good closer as well.”

Petry has a strong staff led by junior left-hander Logan Wood, a Michigan commit who is 9-0, including a 7-4 district final win over Detroit Country Day Monday, Akron-bound Anthony Fett, freshman Brock Porter and Mike Gall, along with closer Dillon Kark who has given up just one hit in 10 innings and is 6-for-6 in saves.

Division 2 No. 2 St. Mary's (29-9) will play Croswell-Lexington in a regional at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Wednesday at 4:30.

“I think part of the reason they want to do is to get the top pitchers to be able to throw a little more, but with the weather like it is, it kind of hampers it,” Airport coach John VanWasshenova said. “I know what they are trying to do, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. And, then there’s some districts where teams didn’t even show up and we play Divine Child Wednesday and they had a very easy district. It is what it is.”

Airport (31-1) had to play the final six innings of its district final game against Ida Monday and came away with a 2-1 win to move on to face Divine Child Wednesday at 4:30 at Airport.

Northwood-bound Casey Jones earned the victory against Ida. Karter Fitzpatrick (Wayne State) is the ace of the staff, going 10-0 with a 0.40 ERA. Luke Goins, Colin Sparks and TJ Potcova have also played well for Airport.

Defending Division 1 state champion Grosse Pointe South is thrilled to be still alive, coming up with an exciting 11-10 (9-inning) upset win over Grosse Pointe North in the district at North.

South lost the bulk of its state title team and lost a doubleheader to North during the regular season, but avenged the loss when South coach Dan Griesbaum put on a suicide squeeze with two strikes. Matthew Fabry executed it to perfection to score Weston Brundage for the walk-off win.

“The crazy thing is we’ve had bad luck, out-hit teams by a large margin and lost because we’ve made an error and couldn’t overcome it, allowing teams multiple runs afterwards,” Griesbaum said. “One thing that we’ve talked to the kids about is that this year hasn’t gone the way any of us would have liked, but that can all change in the second season. It doesn’t matter what anybody’s record is, where they are ranked or finished in their league because I’ve been doing this long enough and I’ve seen crazy things happen in this tournament." 

Well, South is playing well in the postseason with 14 hits against a North team which was 25-3 heading into district play. Fabry is hitting .474 this season and Brundage is hitting .600 over the last 10 games.

So, how does Griesbaum feel about the rule change, eliminating the Tuesday quarterfinal?

“One of the reasons they had this rule was because they wanted to have the Final Four set the Saturday before,” Griesbaum said. “It creates a lot less hassle. If you have the quarterfinal Tuesday and it rains, now what? You have to play Wednesday and go to Lansing on Thursday to play (in semifinal). And, they want the best pitching to be available for the semifinals and finals, that’s the biggest reason for sure.”