By: Butch Harmon
High school baseball preview
By BUTCH HARMON
Although the high school baseball season has had a slow start due to the cold and rainy weather, it should heat up rather quickly, it and promises to be an exciting year. Several area teams from Division 1 through Division 4 are primed for big seasons, and the area will be well-represented come tournament time in the march to Battle Creek. The area also boasts plenty of talented individuals who have committed to play college baseball or who are being recruited by colleges and universities.
Teams to watch statewide: Hudsonville, De LaSalle Collegiate, Howell, Brother Rice
The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red division has produced the past two Division 1 state champions, as Rockford won the 2011 state title and Hudsonville won last year’s state title. Both teams have loaded rosters this season that include some of the top junior talent in the state. Hudsonville junior lefthander Keegan Baar has already committed to pitch at Michigan State University. At Rockford, junior shortstop Kory Young has also committed to the Spartans and junior catcher Matt DiLeo has committed to Oakland University. Look for one of these O-K Red teams to make it to Battle Creek and be the team to beat.
Top local teams: Bay City Western, Rockford, Holt, Midland Dow, Midland
The area is loaded with quality Division 1 teams. Rockford, the 2011 Division 1 state champion, has a stocked lineup. The Rams have a solid group of senior pitchers led by Tim Redder, Steven Powell, and Alex Hertel. It also has a loaded junior class and one of the top sophomores in the state in shortstop/outfielder Tyler Pellerito.
Bay City Western is loaded with talent this season, led by left-handed pitcher Brett Adcock, who is a Michigan State recruit. Catcher Grant Birdgewater is a returning all-conference player.
Holt won 30 games last season, and the Rams will be the class of the Lansing area. They may have the best one-two punch on the mound in the state with Michigan State recruit Andrew Sabrosky and Blake McHenry, who is headed to Indiana Tech. Junior shortstop Adam Turner is another talented player to watch.
Grand Ledge also won 30 games last season, and it welcomes back outfielder C.J. Clouse, who hit .462 last year.
Midland Dow returns 10 players from last year’s squad. Two of the top returnees are junior pitcher Alex Sova, who has one of the top junior arms in the state, and junior centerfielder Adam Fitzgibbon.
Midland also welcomes back a wealth of talent from a team that tied for the Saginaw Valley League title last season. Junior shortstop Tanner Gross hit .436 last season and leads the way along with senior Michael Wright, who hit .457 a year ago.
With a host of talented players returning, Davison will again be a big factor in the Flint area. Senior Maverick Prine, a Louisville Slugger preseason all-American, hit .467 last season with five home runs and 37 RBI. The Cardinals are a senior-laden team with a loaded infield.
Flushing, which reached the Division 1 quarterfinals last season, returns a large group of talented players, led by junior Kyle Randick, who hit .440 last year and earned all-state honors.
Top players in the state: Carmen Benedetti (1b/p), Grosse Pointe South; B.J. Butler (of), Mattawan; Nick Deeg (p), Lake Orion; Jackson Lamb (lhp/of), Bedford
Top local players: Brett Adcock (lhp), Bay City Western; C.J. Clouse (of), Grand Ledge; Thomas Daffern (ss), Grand Blanc; Maverick Prine (p/3b), Davison; Kyle Randick (p/of), Flushing; Andrew Sabrosky (p), Holt; Alex Sova (p), Midland Dow
Teams to watch statewide: Grand Rapids Christian, Divine Child Catholic, Tecumseh, St. Joseph, Gull Lake
Grand Rapids Christian has been the team to beat in Division 2 the last few seasons, and the road to the state title will again go through the Eagles. Divine Child has been another traditional D2 power, and the Falcons have the talent to make it back to Battle Creek. Coming out of Southwest Michigan will be either Gull Lake or St. Joseph. Gull Lake has a senior-dominated squad with plenty of college talent led by shortstop Colton Bradley, who is headed to Central Michigan University.
Top local teams: Mt. Pleasant, Chippewa Hills, Bullock Creek, Portland, Williamston, DeWitt
Mt. Pleasant has been the gold standard locally in Division 2 baseball. The Oilers turned in a 31-8 record last season but were hit hard by graduation. The cupboard is far from bare, however, as junior catcher/pitcher Daniel Pulver is back after hitting .358 a year ago. Senior Cory Williams is another solid hitter who will team with Pulver on the mound.
Chippewa Hills turned in a memorable season last spring. The Warriors won a league title, advanced to the Division 2 state quarterfinals, and finished 33-7 overall. A ton of players returns from last year’s team, led by all-stater Jake Tarbell, who was 14-2 with a 1.35 era on the mound. Senior shortstop/pitcher Ty Schafer also returns along with outfielder Devin Esch, who hit .361 a year ago.
Alma returns a veteran squad this spring. Senior Josh Moody leads a deep, experienced pitching staff and is also a threat at the plate.
Bullock Creek will be extremely tough to beat when senior lefthander Keegan Akin takes the hill. Committed to Michigan State, he struck out 15 in an early-season game against Caro. Sophomore Caleb Somerville is a promising right-handed pitcher and outfielder who is one of the top sophomores in the state.
Portland has won two straight district titles, and the Raiders have the talent to keep that string going this spring. Mason Haggard is a returning all-conference shortstop and pitcher, while junior Tanner Allison heads up a talented junior class. Allison has already committed to Western Michigan University, while Andrew Click is one of the top junior catchers in the state.
Williamston has a senior-laden squad that is poised for a big season.
Top players in the state: Colton Bradley (ss), Gull Lake; Jacob Britt (of), Tecumseh
Top local players: Keegan Akin (lhp), Bullock Creek; Tanner Allison (of/lhp), Portland; Eric McCoy (ss), Williamston; Kelsey Sorenson (p/inf), Mt. Morris; Tyler Strevel (p/ss), Belding; Jake Tarbell (p), Chippewa Hills.
Teams to watch statewide: Bishop Foley Catholic, Hillsdale, Columbia Central
Bishop Foley will be looking for the three-peat this June after winning the past two Division 3 state titles. Odds are good that a Catholic school will win the D3 state title this season, as the top four ranked teams in Division 3 coming into the season were Bishop Foley, Powers Catholic, Lansing Catholic, and Nouvel Catholic Central.
Top local teams: Powers Catholic, Lansing Catholic, Bath, Nouvel Catholic Central, Frankenmuth, Ithaca, Shepherd
Powers has what it takes to give Bishop Foley a run for its money. The Chargers return the Flint area player of the year in senior Ethan Wiskur. Wiskur went 9-0 last season with a 1.37 era. Add in the bat of Garrett Pougnet, and the Chargers have a potent offense as well.
Lansing Catholic reached the state title game last June, and the Cougars have a number of veterans returning from that squad. They are led by pitcher Dillon Rush and catcher/second baseman Thomas Cutter.
Bath has plenty of talent returning from a team that turned in a 33-8 mark last season. The Bees have won the past two Central Michigan Athletic Conference titles and are led on the mound by junior Ryan Orr, who earned all-state honors last season and turned in an unheard of era of 0.10. They also return all-conference players Grant Svendsen and Dan Hayes in the infield.
Nouvel will boast a solid pitching staff led by lefthander Drew King and righthander Alex Valasek.
Clare won the Jack Pine Conference last season and has some key players back. Senior catcher James Baer earned all-state honors last season as he hit .466 with 34 RBI. The Pioneers also boast a standout junior pitcher in Colton Punches.
Top players in the state: James Chase (ss/p), Hillsdale; Chad Gravlin (lhp), Bishop Foley; Ryan O’Dowd (ss/p), Hanover-Horton; Garrett Soule (ss), Dansville; Brennan Vaughn, Schoolcraft
Top local players: Adam Babcock (of/if), Lansing Catholic; James Baer (c ), Clare; Luke Bunting (ss/p), Ithaca; Ryan Cline (c/p), Shepherd
Top teams in the state: University Liggett School, Gobles, Decatur
University Liggett has been the team to beat in the state the past few seasons, and this year will be no different. It comes into the season ranked number one in the state in D4 and is a strong favorite to return to Battle Creek. In Southwest Michigan, Gobles and Decatur are a pair of baseball powerhouses that will battle it out for supremacy and possibly a state title.
Top local teams: New Lothrop, Beal City, St. Patrick Catholic, Sacred Heart Academy, Merrill
New Lothrop has been on a roll the past few seasons. The Hornets have gone undefeated in the Genesee Athletic Conference Blue Division the past two seasons, and last year they won 27 games. With senior shortstop/pitcher Jake Perrin back to lead a solid group of returnees, the Hornets will be looking for a third straight league title and a long postseason run.
Beal City has won nine straight Highland Conference titles, and with a talented core of players back, the Aggies are aiming for number 10 and even more when the postseason rolls around. Shortstop Ty Rollin is one of the top juniors in the state, as he hit .433 last season with 51 RBI. The Aggies also return Ryan Marshall on the mound.
Sacred Heart won the Mid State Athletic Conference title last season and finished with 25 wins. With all-state pitcher /shortstop Nick Hire back, the Irish are primed for another big season. Hire hit .442 last season and is joined in the lineup by seniors Mitch Myler and Mike Heller who, along with Hire, give the Irish some strong pitching. Sophomore Lane Levine hit close to .400 last season and is another big bat in the lineup.
When Brandon Mudry takes the mound for Merrill, the Vandals can contend with anyone in Division 4. Mudry struck out 14 batters in eight innings in an early-season battle with Meridian.
Top players in the state: Tim Cerven (lhp/1b), Decatur; Connor Fannon (p), University Liggett; Seth Johnson (of/2b), Gobles; Ty Rock (p/3b), Gobles
Top local players: Nick Hire (ss/p), Sacred Heart; Collin Lay (p), St. Patrick; Lane Levine (of/p), Sacred Heart; Brandon Mudry (p), Merrill; Jake Perrin (3b/p), New Lothrop; Ty Rollin (ss/p), Beal City.