BASEBALL FINALS ROUNDUP: Portage Northern completes dominating postseason run; OLSM, Homer, Petersburg Summerfield all win titles
EAST LANSING — You have to look awfully close to find many holes in Portage Northern's lineup. That's because there might not be any.
Spearheaded by a take-no-prisoners offense, the Huskies swept to a Division 1 baseball state title with Saturday's 10-4 win over Rockford at Michigan State's McLane Stadium.
While Portage Northern may possess the best one-two pitching combination in the state, it was a diverse offense which earned the Huskies their first state championship. Eight different players scored runs while six players drove in runs. Such numbers don't come as a particular surprise to senior outfielder/pitcher Tyler Helgeson, who contributed a monstrous three-run homer, two singles and two runs scored.
The Huskies (39-7), who won 23 of their last 24 games, scored four runs in the first inning, led 5-0 after two and never took their foot off the gas. Portage Northern entered the semifinals batting .373 as a team with four .400 hitters and plus -300 hitters at virtually every spot.
"We can all hit, it's a great lineup," said Helgeson, who will play next year at Eastern Michigan. "If one guy has an off day, everyone else has his back. It's hard on other teams when (the lineup) goes one through nine."
Portage Northern wound up outscoring eight tournament opponents by a combined 69-14 and caps an impressive final three weeks of the season. The Huskies beat East Grand Rapids, the state's winningest team in the regular season, in the season's next-to-last contest, knocked off Brownstown Woodhaven in a Super Regional matchup of No. 1 and 2-ranked teams in the state and never let OK Red champ Rockford (27-10) off the mat in the finals.
"We don't have any weak spots," said senior first baseman/pitcher Cam French, who chipped in three hits, two RBI and a run. "Everyone came up clutch today. We were solid. We got some key hits in the first and Tyler had the big home run."
While the hitters were superb, Portage Northern has arguably the best one-two pitching duo in the state. Sophomore Xander Morris threw a seven-hitter against the Rams while French tossed a three-hitter in a 2-0 semfinal win over Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. Neither pitcher issued a walk. Morris and French finished a combined 21-0 this season with an ERA under two runs per game.
Portage Northern pitchers held opponents to three runs or less 29 times this season.
"He's unflappable," Huskies coach Chris Andrews said of Morris, whose career intention includes becoming Navy SEAL. "The kid just throws strikes: he has a wipeout curve."
"I saw a couple movies," Morris said of becoming a SEAL. "I'm doing what I want and I think the mental training I've had will help. I still want to play baseball, but I want to go to the Naval Academy."
Zach Schamp homered for Rockford, which entered the game having won 12 of its last 13 games.
Orchard Lake St.Mary's 8, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 1
Orchard Lake St. Mary's scored two runs in each of the first three innings to win its second state championship in five years. It was the program's fourth finals appearance since 2007.
Freshman Brock Porter, who had three wins in relief this season, scattered five hits over six innings for the win. He struck out seven and walked three.
The win caps a season in which the Eaglets, ranked No. 2 in the final Division 2 poll, were just 5-5 in mid-April before catching fire. They finish 34-9-2.
"It's good to put it together. (Early) we would get good pitching and not swing the bats, then we'd swing the bats and not pitch," Eaglets coach Matt Petry said. "But we put it together and wound up winning every type of game. We just had some learning curves earlier."
Harrison Poeszat had a first inning RBI single while Alex Mooney drove in two runs with a single in the second inning.Nolan Schubart had an RBI triple in the sixth. Mooney finished 3-for-4 with a run and two RBI.
GRCC, which hurt itself by stranding eight runners, fell behind 7-0 after five innings. Kyle Tepper drove in the only run with a sacrifice fly.
Homer 4, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 0
Pitching has carried the Homer baseball team all season and that strength didn't let the Trojans down in Saturday's state final. Zach Butters and T.J. VanderKuyl combined for a five-hitter as Homer (33-3) won its first state championship since 2004.
Homer got all the offense it needed with four first inning runs. Two came on a double by Kyle Compton while Jacob Wilson singled in two more.
Butters, a senior righthander, went 6.2 innings while VanderKuyl retired the last two hitters. The win marked the 28th time in 36 games Homer pitchers surrendered two runs or less. The win followed Wilson and Butters, who combined for a 21-2 record this season, combining to beat No. 1-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia 3-2 in the semifinals.
"We've had eight postseason games where we've given up two runs or less, which is an unbelievable performance," Homer coach Scott Salow said. "Who would have thought four runs in the first would hold up. It was a gutsy performance and the kids have been doing that all year."
Butters said much of reason for the mound success is preparation.
"We had a game plan to stay away (from hitters). We know they like to pull the ball," said Butters, who finishes 11-1 and an ERA or under one run per game. "My off-speed pitches were great and the defense made all the plays behind me."
Petersburg Summerfield 9, Saginaw Nouvel 0
Petersburg Summerfield wouldn't let Cinderella stand in the way of winning a state championship. The Bulldogs ended one of the great underdog stories in state history with its win over Saginaw Nouvel in the Division 4 final.
Nouvel was bidding to become just the second team in state history to enter the tournament with a losing record yet win a championship. Only Marshall in 2007 has accomplished that feat. Nouvel finishes with a 15-17-1 record.
Petersburg Summerfield (28-4) broke open a close game with a four-run sixth inning that included a three-run triple by Derek Clark and a sacrifice fly by Brock Olmstead. Olmstead had given the team a 1-0 first inning lead with an RBI single.
The Bulldogs sealed the game in the seventh on a triple by Mark Keller and RBI singles from Devin Albain and Bryce Smith.
Clark, a junior lefthander, threw a four-hitter for the win.
The loss ends a remarkable three-week stretch for Nouvel. After sweeping a doubleheader with Coleman to open the season, Nouvel never won back-to-back games again until sweeping three games in the district, including beating No. 19 Bay City All-Saints. Nouvel then beat No. 11 Marlette 3-2 in the regional, No. 8 Beal City 16-2 in the Super Regional and fifth-ranked Decatur 4-2 in the semifinal.
Petersburg Summerburg coach Travis Pant admitted Nouvel's recent history left him uneasy..
"It did. They had nothing to lose and it's always scary to play a team like that," he said. "But we had the best guy in D4 on the mound. We knew if we could hop on them early we'd be okay with him on the mound."
Clark, who finishes 13-0, had given up only two earned runs in 63 innings entering the game.
"He's a competitor, he likes big games," Pant said.