East Lansing — A couple travel ball teammates went to the mound and put on a pitcher’s duel worthy of the Division 1 state semifinals on Thursday at Michigan State’s McLane Baseball Stadium.
In the end, Portage Northern’s Cam French was just a bit better than friend Tyler Sarkisian of Birmingham Brother Rice, as French’s complete-game shutout lifted Portage Northern to a 2-0 victory.
“Honestly, the plan was just come in like I have all season, just throwing strikes, filling up the zone and mixing up some of the pitches,” said French, who improved to 11-0 on the season. “With this big of a crowd, and people cheering you on, you just got to stay mentally focused and know what’s at hand. And I did that.”
French, who plays in the summer for the Midwest Athletics alongside Sarkisian, allowed three hits and no walks, striking out six in the gem.
Shortstop Nolan McCarthy delivered the big hit in the sixth inning with an RBI triple off the wall to score Eastern Michigan-Bound Tyler Helgeson, who reached on a bunt. McCarthy then scored on an error.
Meanwhile, McCarthy led the defense behind French, as his diving stab opened the third inning.
Portage Northern (38-7) will play Rockford (28-9) at 9 a.m. Saturday for the state title, its first in school history.
Sarkisian, who will pitch at the University of Chicago, allowed one earned run and struck out four over six innings for Brother Rice (25-13). After the game, he complimented French, who he exchanged friendly texts with before the game.
“He threw a hell of a game,” Sarkisian said. “Good for him. I hope they get it done Saturday.”
Sterling Hallman opened the seventh inning with a single for Brother Rice and reached second on a wild pitch. But French got three straight fly outs to center field to close the win.
Brother Rice coach Bob Riker noted his team only had two players reach second base on French, who will pitch at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill.
“He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes,” Riker said. “And when you can do that, you’re going to be very, very effective. And he worked the outer half with the breaking pitch. We just could never, never square him up.”
The loss ended the Rice career for nine seniors, including Michigan signee Tito Flores, who had two hits but was picked off second base in the first inning.
“It just sucks going out that way, but what can you do? It’s baseball,” Flores said, reflecting on his high school career. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than Brother Rice. A lot of these guys, we bleed black and orange. That’s a big thing for us.”
Riker called Flores a “culture changer” which won’t be needed in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines are preparing for an appearance in the College World Series.
“If you don’t hustle, you’ll feel terrible watching him play because that’s all he does,” Riker said. “Michigan got a good one.”
French said he’s also been watching Michigan, as Portage Northern alumnus Tommy Henry played hero on Sunday night with a stellar pitching performance against UCLA while battling the flu.
Henry pitched for Portage Northern in 2015, the school’s only trip to the state final, a 2-1 loss to Hartland in 10 innings.
“We feel good to be back here,” French said. “We’ve been waiting a long time.”
All games at McLane Stadium, Michigan State, East Lansing
Rockford 3, Macomb Dakota 2 (8 innings)
Portage Northern 3, Birmingham Brother Rice 0
Final: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's 10, Muskegon Oakridge 0
Grand Rapids Catholic Central 3, Trenton 2
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.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.