By: Butch Harmon
By BUTCH HARMON
It took awhile, but the snow and cold of winter finally gave way to the boys of spring, and area high school baseball teams finally made it onto the diamond. A big season of baseball is underway, with area teams trying to replicate the feat that Bay City Western and Beal City accomplished last year and make it to the state championship game. Bay City Western won the Division 1 state title, while Beal City was runner-up in Division 4.
Following is a look at the state of baseball at the high school level this spring.
Top teams in the state: Brother Rice, Sterling Heights Stevenson, Lake Orion
Brother Rice has a team stocked full of some of the best players in the state. Senior pitcher Matt Ruppenthal is one of the premier pitchers in the state and is headed to Vanderbilt University, while junior pitcher Josh Smith is the top junior in the state and has committed to the University of Kentucky. Senior first baseman Ty Kiafoulis is a University of Michigan commitment.
Top area teams: Rockford, Midland, Grand Ledge, Bay City Western, East Lansing, Midland Dow
Rockford reached the state quarterfinals before falling to eventual state champion Western. Rockford returns a slew of talented players this year and could be hoisting the trophy this June. Midland has a number of talented performers, led by Tanner Gross. Grand Ledge went 29-6 last year and returns a deep and talented senior class, led by Nathan Langenfeld, Keefer Johnson, and Nick Karmada. Dow has a solid team, and with the addition of talented pitching transfer Evan Marquardt, has the potential for a deep tournament run.
Top area players: Matt DiLeo, Rockford; Zach Francisco, East Lansing; Seth Freed, Bay City Western; Tanner Gross, Midland; Tyler Gulick, East Lansing; Keefer Johnson, Grand Ledge; Nick Karmada, Grand Ledge; Reid Kelley, Rockford; Nathan Langenfeld, Grand Ledge; Evan Marquardt, Midland Dow; Matthew Pearsall, St. Johns; Alex Sova, Midland Dow; Adam Turner, Holt; Kory Young, Rockford
Top teams in the state: Grand Rapids Christian, St. Mary's Preparatory, Milan
Grand Rapids Christian has won the last two Division 2 state titles and has a team capable of making it three in a row. St. Mary's is a perennial baseball power that is led by senior catcher Will Salter, who has committed to Michigan State University.
Top area teams: Haslett, Portland, DeWitt, John Glenn, Mt. Pleasant, Swan Valley, Alma, Charlotte
Haslett reached the state quarterfinals last year and returns a load of experience. DeWitt returns plenty of talented players from a squad that went 24-9 last year. Senior John-Michael Moody hit .427 last year and leads a balanced offense. Few teams can match the one-two pitching punch of Portland’s Tanner Allison and Andrew Click, who both have fastballs that touch 90mph. Mt. Pleasant is always among the top area teams, and that is no different this spring. Senior Aaron Leasher went 8-1 last year with a 1.12 ERA and is also a threat at the plate. Robert Banks is another talented batter who returns for the Oilers, who went 28-9 last year. Swan Valley has a solid squad this spring. Ben Finzel is a dangerous hitter who leads a productive offense that includes Zach Mendoza.
Top area players: Tanner Allison, Portland; Auston Brandt, Portland; Andrew Click, Portland; Ben Finzel, Swan Valley; Antonio Jacobs, John Glenn; Dillon Kleinhege, Haslett; Aaron Leasher, Mt. Pleasant; Tyler Minnick, Alma; John-Michael Moody, DeWitt; AJ Rubio, Goodrich; Caleb Somerville, Bullock Creek
Top teams in the state: Bishop Foley Catholic, Hackett Catholic Central, St. Mary Catholic Central
Bishop Foley has dominated Division 3 baseball, having won the last three state titles. It is again the team to beat, while Hackett and St. Mary also have solid teams.
Top area teams: Bath, Lansing Catholic, Clare, Meridian, Ithaca, Pewamo-Westphalia
Bath returns one of the top pitchers in mid Michigan, senior Ryan Orr, along with Chris Gubry, who earned all-conference honors last season. Lansing Catholic went 30-3 a year ago. The Cougars return some key players from that squad, including all-state infielder Austin Krause and sophomore pitcher Riley Creamer. Clare went 24-5 last year and reached the state quarterfinals. The Pioneers return plenty of talented pitchers, including Charlie Bugbee, Logan Emery, and Colton Punches, who went a combined 15-1 last year. Ithaca suffered some heavy graduation losses but returns senior Logan Hessbrook, who is one of the premier players in the area. Last year, he hit .379 and went 8-1 on the mound with a 0.83 ERA.
Top area players: Drew Bergstrom, Pewamo-Westphalia; Charlie Bugbee, Clare; Logan Hessbrook, Ithaca; Austin Krause, Lansing Catholic; Ryan Orr, Bath; Colton Punches, Clare
Top teams in the state: Glen Lake, Muskegon Catholic, Lake Michigan Catholic
Glen Lake has a number of talented players back from a team that made a deep tournament run last year, led by junior first baseman Austin Onziana and catcher Trevor Apsey. Muskegon Catholic has a team loaded with young talent, like junior pitcher Nick Holt and junior outfielder Zack Winzer.
Top area teams: Beal City, New Lothrop, Breckenridge, Merrill, Sacred Heart Academy, Coleman
Beal City has been a familiar face at the Division 4 state finals, and that is likely to continue this year. Ty Rollin is a returning all-state player who leads a high-powered offense. New Lothrop has a solid squad capable of a deep playoff run. It has a deep and potent batting order and strong pitching. Breckenridge has a strong nucleus back, led by hard-hitting Derek Moulton and Wade SanMiguel, who is the ace of the pitching staff. Merrill suffered some heavy graduation losses but, with ace pitcher Hunter DeBeau back on the mound, is capable of a deep tournament run. Coleman has a solid squad this spring, with an offense paced by Matt Warner and pitcher Lars Murray.
Top area players: Hunter DeBeau, Merrill; Lane Levine, Sacred Heart Academy; Derek Moulton, Breckenridge; Josh Parks, Lansing Christian; Ty Rollin, Beal City; Wade SanMiguel, Breckenridge; Jacob Schmidt, Fowler; Grant Steinborn, New Lothrop; Josh Stephens, Fulton