Strong pitching carries Stevensville Lakeshore to a second consecutive D2 title as Lancers defeat Swan Valley, 6-3
East Lansing — If the object of the game is to score just one more run than your opponent, starting out with a pitching staff that allows no runs is a good foundation to winning a title.
Or defending one.
Stevensville Lakeshore rode a lights-out pitching staff’ as Joel Brawley shut Saginaw Swan Valley down for the majority of Saturday’s Division 2 championship game, and the Lancers played small ball to win 6-3, and repeat as champions.
Going back to last season’s semifinal and final round, Lakeshore had a 27-inning scoreless streak end when Swan Valley scored in the fifth on Saturday.
“It feels unbelievable. There’s nothing like it, to go back-to-back. This team has worked so hard, and we felt like we really deserved it,” said Brawley, who was just one out from the complete-game win before running into his pitch limit. “Back-to-back, that’s something that’s just insane.”
He held Swan Valley (33-9-3) to just four hits through four innings, as the Lancers (27-14) kept applying pressure on the young Vikings, and piling on the unearned runs.
“I think we were just loose all the way around. I think we were loose Thursday, too. Never saw anybody cracking, never saw any tightness. Always smiling, always going, always believing,” Lakeshore coach Mark Nate said. “We always tell them, ‘Good teams get to the final four, great teams win them.’ That’s what we lived by last year, and we weren’t just happy to get here. Last year, we wanted to win it, and we did. This year, the whole talk for 365 days was ‘Compete, repeat.’ And I’m like, ‘We’ve got a LONG way to go.’ With the way we were playing in April, you’d never believe we were standing here now.”
A large part of the Lancers being the last team standing over the past two seasons was how their pitching staff has fared in Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.
Lakeshore’s scoreless streak dates back to the 2017 semifinals, when Connor Brawley gave up a first-inning run to Chelsea, then blanked the Bulldogs for the remaining six innings of a 7-1 win. Max Gaishin threw a six-hit shutout of Bay City John Glenn in the 2017 title game, a 1-0 Lakeshore win.
Brawley’s cousin, Connor Brawley, Logan Morrow and Oli Carmody combined for 10 shutout innings in the Lancers’ 3-0, 10-inning win over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Thursday’s semifinal, leaving the streak at 23 innings coming into Saturday’s title game.
On the hill for the Lancers to start the title game, Joel Brawley extended the streak to 25 with a pair of scoreless innings, picking off a runner at second base to end a potential Swan Valley threat in the second inning.
That could have loomed large as one inning later, the batter at the plate for the pickoff, Conner Sika, led off the third with a ringing double to left-center field. But another pickoff and two groundouts rendered it moot, extending the streak to 26 innings.
“That’s the thing, it’s just hard work in practice,” Joel Brawley said. “Every single day, we practice that. Definitely paid off today.”
The scoreless streak would come to an end in the fifth inning, as Sika singled, moved around to third on two infield singles, and scored on a throwing error.
“Our approach with that 105 pitches (limit) is (to) throw strikes, and attack. We’ve gotta make plays behind them, because if you have a couple of errors, it adds to that pitch count. I think Joel pitched a great game, Connor pitched an outstanding game,” Nate said. “Joel got to his pitch count a little quicker because we had a couple of errors there in the (fifth) inning, and that adds four or five pitches per batter, if you get that error. It goes hand-in-hand. You’ve gotta play good defense, and you’ve gotta throw strikes, and if they get five hits in a row, they do. It looked like it could’ve happened there at the end.”
Swan Valley got two on before Joel Brawley left the game, then Easton Goldsoph greeted Carmody with a two-run double to cut Lakeshore’s lead in half before Carmody got a comebacker to end the game.
The Lancers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one half-inning, scoring both after infield hits, thanks to a pair of throwing errors by the Vikings.
They’d extend it to 3-0 in the fourth, when Oli Carmody led off with a walk, stole second and scored on a throwing error following a Joel Brawley bunt single, chasing Vikings starter Brian Ross. A dropped fly in center loaded the bases, and Sean Branch drove in a fourth run with a fielder’s choice.
“I thought we played pretty well all year until we got to the finals, and then we didn’t play a clean game, and that’s what cost us. On the field, and our base running,” first-year Swan Valley coach Craig Leddy said. “We’re young, and I think the moment finally caught up to them a little bit. But I give them credit, they played hard all year, we played clean all year, for a young team. We played some really tough games all year. That’s what got us here, playing clean, and we didn’t play clean in this game.”
Each of the first four runs was the direct result of throwing errors by Swan Valley fielders. Lakeshore added two more unearned runs in the fifth on a two-out error, and a bloop RBI single by Logan Morrow.
“That’s just our game. It is tough to defend, especially a big game like this. You get a little bit of a wet surface, and good things can happen with that little small ball,” said Nate, who introduced the small-ball attack five or six years ago.
“It’s not an every-year thing. For two years now, we’ve had the same group of kids. We lost four great ones last year, and we picked up three or four real good ones, and they learned the game, just like the rest of the team. And once they started learning that game, it started to click for us, but early in the year, we struggled with it, we're making mistakes. I guess when you play our style of baseball, you’re going to make mistakes, and they’re going to be costly.
“But at the end of the day, if you stick with it, stick with the plan, you can produce a lot of runs by not even hitting the ball. Just speed and small ball is just a huge part of Lakeshore baseball.”
Lakeshore is the third team to repeat in D2 since the state went to divisions in 1998, joining Dearborn Divine Child (2004-05) and Grand Rapids Christian (2012-13). The Lancers also won a Class B title in 1990.