In Play with Tom Markowski

St. Francis goes 8 innings to defeat Schoolcraft and will face Bishop Foley in D3 final

Baseball   | Tom Markowski

St. Francis goes 8 innings to defeat Schoolcraft and will face Bishop Foley in D3 final

East Lansing – Gabe Callery figured the time was right to take his chances on his athleticism and baseball smarts.

Traverse City St. Francis and Schoolcraft were deadlocked at 2-2 in a Division 3 semifinal on Friday and Callery, the leadoff batter in coach Tom Passinault’s lineup, led off the eighth inning, which normally portends well for the Gladiators.

“We felt good about with him being our leadoff hitter,” Passinault said. “Gabe’s a daredevil runner. Sometimes he gets burned.”

Not this time. But Callery did provide some tense moments.

Callery walked, stole second in an unconventional way, and later scored on Cooper Peterson’s sacrifice fly.

Reliever Conner Sweet allowed a single and a walk in the bottom half of the inning but was able to get the final out on a fly to center.

The 3-2 victory sends St. Francis (38-3) to its first state final where it will play another Catholic school, Madison Heights Bishop Foley (24-12), on Saturday at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium at 2:30 p.m.

Bishop Foley, Division 3 champions in 2011, ’12 and ’13, defeated upstart Caro also by the score of 3-2.

Callery’s aggressive style nearly backfired. Attempting to gain a large secondary lead, Callery drew a throw from catcher Caleb Anspaugh. First baseman Marc Shaink quickly took a swipe at the bag and, alas, Callery wasn’t there. He had taken off for second and beat Shaink’s throw.

A sacrifice moved Callery to third and the next two batters reached base inconspicuously – one on catcher’s interference, the other via a walk. The real threat still stood and third and Peterson, although slightly fooled on the delivery from reliever Darren Kehoe, hit a soft line drive to Hunter Johnson in left field. Johnson, wisely, did not attempt a throw home.    

“I was caught a little off guard,” Callery said of Anspaugh’s throw to first. “Coach said to be aggressive. The idea was to get to third with one out.”

Both starting pitchers, Joe Muzljakovich of St. Francis and Blake Bales pitched well, well enough to win. Both went 6 2/3 innings before both were relieved because of their pitch count.

Schoolcraft (25-11) left the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh innings but it’s the fourth that the Eagles will bitterly remember most.

A crucial play occurred in the bottom of the fourth when pinch runner Austin Edwards was on first with no outs for Schoolcraft and the score tied at 2-2. Kehoe’s line drive was caught by shortstop Keaton Peck. Edwards anticipated the ball would get through the infield and was caught off base. Peck’s throw to first was wild and Edwards advanced to second, or so he thought. The umpires ruled he did not return to first and touch the base before advancing and was called out.

The next two batters singled but were left stranded as Muzljakovich got the third out on strikes.

“(Edwards) went back to the bag and then (the throw) went wild,” Schoolcraft coach Larry Phelps said. “It was a bad call. We can’t focus on what umpires call. We had opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.”

The first semifinal was a much closer game than many expected. Caro started the season 0-7, made a coaching change and gave the Ventures a tussle.

Caro (15-22) trailed 3-0 before scoring two runs in the sixth and had the tying run on first base. Bishop Foley made two errors in the inning and earlier had two of its runners picked off to end an inning, one off of second and the other off of third.

Second-year coach Greg Fettes, a Madison Heights Lamphere graduate who played at Kentucky, wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall play.

“I told my guys that the only team that’s going to beat us in this tournament is ourselves,” Fettes said. “You almost saw that in the sixth. We haven’t done that all year. We looked like a Little League team.”

Fettes wasn’t pleased with his players’ approach at the plate either.

“That’s what we do, swing, swing, swing,” he said. “Look at our playoff wins. I’ll have them ready to go (on Saturday).”

Bishop Foley scored 36 runs in its last three games.

Credit goes to Caro pitcher Deven Hodder for giving his team a chance. He allowed just five hits and he didn’t give up many hard hit balls.

Ethan Hoffman went the distance for Bishop Foley and was quite effective. He struck out 11 and didn’t issue a walk.