Bob Riker has had more than his share of star players during his 22-year career as head baseball coach at Birmingham Brother Rice.
Tito Flores is the latest to put himself in the spotlight.
Flores and Brother Rice will play a Division 1 semifinal against Portage Northern at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Michigan State. Brother Rice hasn’t won a state championship since 2008 and hasn’t been in the title game since 2013.
Flores, who will play next year at Michigan, is hitting a team-leading .368 from the leadoff spot with six home runs, 28 RBIs, 26 stolen bases and 44 runs scored.
After a 7-7 start, Brother Rice is now 25-12 and is currently on an eight-game winning streak. Flores had a double, single and two walks in a 5-4, 12-inning regional final win over Romeo, then had two hits and a walk in a 9-1 rout over Fenton in the Super Regionals to punch its ticket to MSU.
“We worked really hard for it, went through a lot of up and downs through the season, so it feels good to get back there,” Flores said. “We have a really good pitching staff and we have good senior leaders.
“I feel the biggest game was the Romeo game because we had Tyler Sarkisian on the mound, he’s our ace, and he came in like the fourth or fifth inning and really dialed it in and gave us seven strong innings. When you get to 12 innings, the team understands that you really have to lean on each other because you’re running out of gas. We were able to overcome a lot because if you look on paper we shouldn’t have won that game, we made errors, but we were still able to pull it out."
Flores joins a distinguished group of Brother Rice baseball stars such as infielder D.J. LeMahieu, outfielder Nick Plummer, infielder Doug Pickens and pitcher Matt Conway.
LeMahieu helped LSU win the 2009 national championship, then was a second-round pick of the Chicago Cubs before moving on to Colorado, where he won the National League batting championship in 2016. He's now with the New York Yankees.
Plummer was a first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015 and is now playing in high Single-A ball after battling through injuries earlier in his professional career.
Pickens was a key player in Michigan’s back-to-back Big Ten championship years of 2006 and 2007.
Conway was a member of Brother Rice’s last state championship in 2008, tossing a four-hit shutout in an 8-0 title game win over Saline before moving on to Wake Forest.
In addition, pitchers Karl Kauffmann and Mitchell Tyranski were teammates on Brother Rice several years ago. Kauffmann worked on the mound in Brother Rice’s 1-0 state title game loss to Bay City Western in 2013.
Kauffmann is now making a name for himself while pitching at Michigan, where he is 10-6 with a 2.59 ERA, helping the Wolverines make their first College World Series appearance in 35 years. Kauffmann was a second-round pick of the Colorado Rockies earlier this month. Tyranksi was picked later in the MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 12th round.
Flores is keeping tabs on his future team.
“They’ve been keeping me up late at night so thank God we’re out of school, so it’s nice to be able to watch them,” Flores said of Michigan. “There’s a lot of similarities between them and us. We didn’t start out as hot as we wanted to, and it was a headache, but now we’re heading up at the right time.
“I talked with (Michigan) Coach Bakich at the start of the season and they’ve been grinding really since September with early-morning workouts and that’s what I’m kind of leaning to this fall, so I’m super excited. What I like most about Coach Bakich is that he holds his players to high standards. He wants to make sure that they don’t lose track of their focus and what they came to Michigan to do.
“I wanted to go to Michigan, too, because of the tradition. I’m pretty close to Karl (Kauffmann), and when he was a senior at Brother Rice I was a freshman and I’ve talked to him a lot about what Michigan is about and he was just saying if you want to come with another brotherhood this is the place to come.”
Flores has a 3.7 GPA and plans to major in economics at Michigan.
But now Flores is focused on Portage Northern. And for good reason, since Portage Northern won a regional that included top-ranked Woodhaven, Saline and Grand Ledge.
“Portage Northern has a rich tradition. Tommy Henry pitched for them,” said Riker, noting that Portage Northern advanced to Division 1 state title game in 2015 with Henry, who now pitches for Michigan.
Dakota is Cinderella
Macomb Dakota — which finished fifth in the MAC Red and entered postseason play with a .500 record — is making its first appearance in the state semifinals.
Dakota (21-16-1) will play Rockford (27-9) in the 9 a.m. Thursday Division 1 semifinal.
Dakota is led by sophomore infielder Greg Guzik (.359), senior infielder John Sovey (.324), who is 5-3 with a 2.60 ERA, and senior pitcher Mike Biebuyck (5-4, 2.60).
Dakota lost to defending state champion Grosse Pointe South three times before pulling off the 11-3 upset win over South in the Super Regional.
Liggett chases another title
Grosse Pointe Liggett has made its seventh Final Four in the last nine years.
Liggett won Division 4 state championships in 2011 and 2013, won Division 3 state titles in 2014 and 2016, and lost to eventual state champion Saline in the Division 1 semifinal two years ago.
After moving up to Division 1 the past two seasons, including a district loss to eventual state champion Grosse Pointe South last year, Liggett will face Gladstone in a Division 3 semifinal at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
“We’re back again, seventh year in the last nine,” Liggett coach Dan Cimini said. “The two years we were in Division 1 we lost to the state champs. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from reporters who are calling us the dynasty of the decade in baseball in Michigan, which is kind of cool.”
Liggett (23-9) is led by senior shortstop Billy Kopicki (.411), Alec Azar (11-3, 1.46 ERA) and Logan King (6-2, 2.42 ERA), who is also hitting .365.
“We lost a lot of good pieces from last year, but we had our pitching staff back with Alec and Logan King,” Cimini said. “Billy Kopicki is our closer and he’s one of the best shortstops in the state.
“Our role players have really done a good job. Kellen Banaszewski is our second baseman, made just one error all year long, and Patrick Ilitch, grandson of Mike Ilitch, has done a great job of controlling our pitching staff. We’ve had timely hitting lately and this the time of the season when you want to have it.”
All games at McLane Stadium, Michigan State, East Lansing
Macomb Dakota vs. Rockford, 9 a.m.
Portage Northern vs. Birmingham Brother Rice, 11:30 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's vs. Muskegon Oakridge, 2:30 p.m.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central vs. Trenton. 5 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Pewamo-Westphalia vs. Homer, 9 a.m.
Grosse Pointe Woods vs. Gladstone, 11:30 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Petersburg Summerfield vs. Gaylord St. Mary, 2:30 p.m.
Saginaw Nouvel vs. Decatur, 5 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 5 p.m.