Brother Rice scores nine in the sixth, gets past Northville, 9-2, to advance to its first state semifinal since 2013
Detroit — If you’re going to win big, you have to be able to adjust on the fly.
Down 2-0, with just six outs to go in a Division 1 quarterfinal at Wayne State, Birmingham Brother Rice was planning on just trying to tie it up against Northville and see what happened from there.
But the Warriors quickly changed their plan, when it looked like they had a chance to do more than tie it up, and the revision worked perfectly, as they posted nine runs in the fateful sixth inning, rolling to a 9-2 win on Tuesday over last year’s state runner-up.
“It was just a great inning, unimaginable game. By far one of the best ones — the best one,” said Tito Flores, who drove in five runs in the sixth, with a game-tying double, and a bases-clearing triple. “It’s an unbelievable experience. We always have pressure going in (to the postseason), and everybody’s trying to beat us, throw their best. We’re just trying to play the game the right way, and we just keep on playing the right way, and we get big plays and big players to come to Brother Rice and win. … We’re having an amazing time. We’re hoping to roll this through, and win the whole thing on Saturday.”
Brother Rice (31-8) will face Brownstown Woodhaven in a semifinal at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium in East Lansing.
They might not be headed there, if not for a quick adjustment in the plan for the sixth inning, though.
“Coach (Bob) Riker talks about it a lot, and I’ll give all the credit to him. He says you’ve always got to lean on someone else, and that’s what I did in that moment, and I was able to capitalize on it. It’s funny how it was — I was going to bunt before tying the game, but with everything that happened, he told me to swing. Without a doubt, I’m thankful for coach Riker giving me the opportunity,” Flores said. “We were going to bunt, but we decided I should swing, and then see who the better matchup is.”
Riker had polled his team leaders, asking them if they wanted to try to tie it up, or swing away. They chose the former.
“I pulled up the top six guys, I pulled up Tito and Gabe (Sotres) and Jack (Brockhaus) and (Mac) Menard and (J.D.) Allen, and I said, ‘You guys are the leaders. It’s your team. What do you want to do?’ And Tito goes ‘I’m bunting.’ The rest of the guys came up, and I kind of walked over to him and said ‘(The heck with) that. You guys are the best hitters that we’ve got, and we’re going to win it right now.’ And he said, ‘OK,’” Riker said.
“It’s their team, but sometimes I have to interject. I’ll be honest with you, a little angel was in my ear that’s not in my dugout kind of said ‘Dude, you’ve gotta let them swing away.’ That wasn’t my call. You can print that, too.”
Josh Anschuetz led off the sixth with a single off Northville starter Tyler Troyer, then Sotres drew a walk, bringing up Flores, and sending Mustangs coach John Kostrzewa to the mound to change pitchers.
“Tyler (Troyer) did a tremendous job for us, mixing pitches. I felt like when they got the first two on, and had to walk the guy, it was probably time. Actually, we got a lot more out of him than I thought we would,” the Northville skipper said. “It’s a game of inches. There’s the one ball that fell, that one hurt, and a couple of balls that escaped our outfielders’ gloves and it’s just a matter of inches. But credit them for putting barrels on balls at crucial times. We were a pitch away from getting out of it, but it just didn’t happen.”
Flores’ double was just out of the reach of Northville center fielder Christian Williams, tying the game at 2-2. Even after two more walks, the Mustangs had a chance to get out of the inning, before Jake Reim dropped in a two-out, two-run single into shallow center. An error and a hit-batsman prolonged the inning, then Sotres brought in another run with an infield single. Flores cleared the loaded bases with a triple just over the outstretched glove of the outfielders again.
The Mustangs scored their runs in the fifth on three Rice errors, knocking Warriors starter Tyler Sarkisian out of the game.
Two batters after his exit, Brockhaus came on to get the Warriors out of the jam and pitched the final two innings for the win.
“Having played like we did Saturday, I had every pitcher ready to go,” Riker said. “That’s kind of fortunate for me. I know these guys (Northville) had to play an extra day, and pitch counts kind of run into their pitching staff.”
It’s the first trip to the semifinals since the Warriors lost in the 2013 title game at Bailey Park in Battle Creek. That’s a long hiatus for a program that’s averaged 30 wins a season over the last decade, and posted a .775 winning percentage.
“We’ve created a tradition at Rice, and we’ve created a program that guys want to be a part of. They never want to leave the field, they never want to leave the clubhouse. That builds a ton of camaraderie, so that’s what I would attribute it to,” Riker said of the postseason success of this year's team. “They play together. I’ve got great leadership, and they play together. They like to be around each other. The best team doesn’t always win, in sports. It’s the team that kind of gels together. We won the state title in ’92, and we didn’t even make the Catholic League playoffs. It’s the team that just kind of gets hot, and kind of rolls.”