By Angelo Parlove
It was the complete storyline for the Hornets – savvy plate appearances, solid pitching, some flashy defense and outright hustle.
And the conclusion to the narrative: the Saline baseball team boasted the state championship with the 5-2 victory over Northville in the MHSAA Division 1 State Final at Michigan State University June 17.
Chapter 1. Savvy Offense. When the Northville pitching stumbled right out of the gate, the Hornet hitters capitalized. In the top of the first inning, senior Ryan Foley led off with a single to right field. Fellow senior Zach Schwartzenberger then drew a walk. The number three batter – senior Jacob Finkbeiner – looked to put down the sac bunt to advance his teammates. Finkbeiner got the bunt down, sending it towards the mound, but the Northville pitcher wavered, unable to make a play at any base after picking up the ball.
In no time, Saline load the bases to kickstart the state title game. The Northville coaching staff dipped into their bullpen right then, pulling their starter without getting an out. With the new pitcher on the bump, Saline remained patient, not forcing anything. They were prepared to take what the Mustangs pitching was giving them.
With the bases full, junior Cole Daniels walked. 1-0 Saline. Junior Ethan Collick then drew another base on balls. 2-0. Senior Kellan Huang drove the ball into center field, scoring Finkbeiner on the sacrifice fly. With the championship at stake, the Hornets immediately mounted the 3-0 lead.
Chapter 2. Solid Pitching. Junior Danny Weidmayer boasted the start, hurling three innings, allowing only one run on four hits. He also got two Northville batters on strikes in his outing. Head Coach Scott Theisen went deep into his pen the rest of the way. Junior Paul Kiyabu was up first, throwing 1.2 innings, giving up one run on three hits.
After Northville loaded the bases against Kiyabu in the bottom of the fifth inning, with Saline holding the slim 4-2 edge, Theisen summoned Huang to the mound. With the state title on the line, Northville took the ensuing pitch from Huang and laid down a bunt, sending it back to the mound. Huang easily made the play, nabbing the out at first to end the threat.
Senior Tyler Zmich closed out the Mustangs, pitching two scoreless innings of relief to seal the victory. Zmich only surrendered one hit across the final two frames.
Chapter 3. Defense. The Hornets solid pitching was aided with some flashy glove work. The infield turned inning-ending double plays in the bottom of the first and second frames. Shortstop Jacob Finkbeiner also completed the unassisted twin killing in the sixth, picking up the ground ball, stepping on second base and gunning to first.
Second baseman Kellan Huang made a leaping grab in the outfield grass to record the first out of the third inning, and the Saline outfield played flawlessly, making everything look routine, including five put outs on balls hit their way.
Chapter 4. Hustle. In the top of the second inning, Foley punched the ball into left field. When the Northville outfielder was slow returning the ball to the infield, Foley turned the otherwise single into a hustle double. He immediately stole third base, then scored on a wild pitch a moment later. In a matter of a few pitches, Foley manufactured a run all by himself, giving the Hornets the 4-0 advantage after two innings.
Foley exemplified the tone set by the team throughout the entire championship game.
Before squaring off against Northville, Saline had to earn a pair of wins to reach the title game. In a pitching duel, the squad first topped Holt 3-2 in the quarterfinal at the University of Michigan June 13. Senior Sean O’Keefe threw six strong innings in the start, allowing two runs on six hits in his outing. O’Keefe also fanned five hitters along the way.
Huang and Kiyabu came out of the pen in the final inning to finish off Holt. Throwing only one pitch in his appearance, Kiyabu induced the inning-ending double play to complete the victory.
The Hornets then slugged their way past Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the semi-final game at MSU June 15, thumping their opponent 12-0 in a mercy-shortened five innings. O’Keefe led the offense with four RBIs, while Collick and senior Ted Eppinga each drove in two runs in the win.
Daniels tossed four scoreless innings in the start against University Liggett, and Kiyabu again completed the victory, pitching one scoreless frame of relief.