STATE CHAMPS! Saline Wins First Baseball State Title

 06/18/2017 - 02:29
Saline LF Ryan Foley takes trophy from coach Scott Theisen and holds it over his head during the trophy presentation Saturday.

Scott Theisen and the Saline High School baseball team are state champs.

Saline defeated Northville 5-2, Saturday, at Michigan State University to win the MHSAA Division 1 state championship.

It was Saline’s first state title in baseball in the team’s sixth trip to the state championship game – including five since 2008.

It was an emotional scene after the game. Following the post-game celebratory man-pile and then handshake with Northville, the Hornets lined up and each hugged coach Theisen – the 25-year skipper of the team. Twice, the players gave Theisen the Gatorade shower. Moments later, when the medals and trophies were presented, athletic director Kirk Evenson and Saline High School principal David Raft presented the state championship trophy to Saline head coach Scott Theisen.

 “It’s not just this group. It’s so many groups before this group that worked to get to this point and finally cap it off,” Theisen said. “To be able to celebrate something with our team, our community, our parents and everyone who’s ever played for us through the years, it’s hard to put it into words, how special it is.”

Saline started the season as a heavy favorite with so many juniors returning from the team that lost by one run in last year’s championship game. But being the favorite and winning are two different things.

Senior Ryan Foley, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a stolen base and two runs scored, said his team began this mission the moment last year’s season ended.

“I had goose bumps running up my arms. I almost went to tears, I think. I was just so excited to get this job done,” Foley said. “As soon as we lost that state title last year we had a goal. We’re so happy to finish it. We put in so much work in the summer, in the morning work outs. The guys were in the gym, long tossing, in the batting cages. We were just putting in work. Luckily it worked out.”

The Hornets took great pride in being the team that won the trophy for coach Theisen.

“To get one for Coach T, he’s had a lot of chances, and it probably hurts not (winning) some (of those games). But it was going to come,” Foley said. “Luckily, the senior class and the juniors and the one sophomore we had, we got it done for him. It feels great.”

Much has been written about the letter that senior slugger Sean O’Keefe wrote in sixth grade to his future self. In the letter, O’Keefe said he hoped to win a state title for Theisen, whose Hornet teams were coming off three straight championship game losses.

“We did this one for coach Theisen. I’m just so glad he can finally walk away with his arms up, saying he’s number one, because no one deserves it more than he does,” O’Keefe said. “No one cares about the kids more than he does. I would put my life on the line for him.”

Like they did in the semifinal, Saline went to work early. Once again, it was Foley igniting the Hornets with a base hit. Zach Schwartzenberger followed with a walk. Jake Finkbeiner bunted them over and was safe at first. Saline chased starter Ben Schmidt, who shut out the Hornets when the two teams met in May.

After O’Keefe flew out, Cole Daniels and Ethan Collick each walked to drive in runs. Kellan Huang lined out to centerfield to score Saline’s third run.

Danny Weidmayer started for Saline. He allowed Kevin Morrissey to reach on a single through the infield but then struck out Nick Prystash. Billy Flohr hit a ground ball to short and Finkbeiner and Huang turned the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

In the second, with one out, Foley was at it again. He hit a line drive to left and sped to first. Rounding first he decided to stretch it into a double and he beat the tag. Foley stole third and then scored on a wild pitch. Schwartzenberger singled and stole second but Saline couldn’t punch him in.

Weidmayer allowed two singles to start the second. Northville bunted the runners over to second and third. Weidmayer walked Michael Lionas to load the bases with one out. Once again, the Saline infield came up big. Alex Garbeck hit a sharp grounder to short. Finkbeiner played it to Huang at second. He relayed to Ted Eppinga at first to complete the double play and end the inning.

The double play ball was a recurring theme throughout the game.

“Those were huge. We got a lot of ground balls through the day and our infield did the job,” Theisen said.

In the third, Huang and Eppinga each singled with two outs, but the Hornets left them stranded on base. In the bottom of the inning, Weidmayer hit one batter, struck out another and got two fly balls. Saline led 4-0 after three innings.

Jonathan Michalak retired the Hornets in order in the fourth. In the bottom of the inning, Northville put two runs on the score board. Sharigian led with a single. Paul Kiyabu relieved Wiedmayer. He got the next hitter to fly out. Jack Sargent drove in Northville’s first run with a line-drive triple over the head of Collick in rightfield. He scored on a sacrifice fly hit by Lionas. Kiyabu allowed one more single before retiring the next hitter on a pop fly to catcher O’Keefe in foul territory.

The Hornet offense continued to struggle in the fifth as Michalak retired the side in order.

Northville threatened in the bottom of the inning. With one out Prystash reached on an infield single. With two out, Sharigian singled. Moody walked to load the bases. Kellan Huang came in from second and replace Kiyabu. Sargent bunted and Kiyabu picked up the ball and threw him out at first. Saline still led 4-2.

In the sixth, Huang provided the Hornets some insurance. He reached on an infield single to short and then stole second. Eppinga walked. Millspaugh grounded into a double play, but Huang took third. Northville replaced Michalak with lefty Ryan Pumper to face Foley. He threw a wild pitch, allowing Huang to score. Foley hit another double. Tyler Troyer relieved Pumper and got Schwartzenberger to line out to centerfield.

Huang got in trouble in the bottom of the sixth. He hit Lionas with a pitch and a llowed a single to Alex Garbacik. Theisen called in Zmich, who earned the save despite a couple of harrowing moments.

He was immediately helped by his infeld. Finkbeiner started another double play. He fielded the ground ball, touched second and threw to first. 

Zmich got the next guy to ground out to Eppinga at first.

In the top of the seventh, Finkbeiner led with a single but was erased when O’Keefe hit into a double play. Daniels struck out.

The Hornets were three outs away – but they wouldn’t come easy.

Zmich allowed the lead-off runner to reach base on a slow roller to short. He got an out when the next batter grounded to Sean Millspaugh at third. Millspaugh threw to second for the force. Zmich walked the next batter to put the tying run at the plate. Zmich induced the next batter to ground out into a fielder’s choice played by Huang at second. And then Zmich got another groundball to Huang, who threw to Finkbeiner at second for championship clinching out.

“I just tried to pound the strike zone and let my guys make a play,” Zmich said of his high-pressure performance. “Fink and Kellan turned two up the middle, so that gave me a lot of confidence and then we rolled the last out (in the sixth).”

In the seventh, Zmich was trying to throw strikes in a tight strike zone without giving up pitches too easy to hit.

“When you’re out there, you just have to focus in on the catcher. If you look around you’re going to get distracted,” Zmich said. “There’s no feeling like that in the world.”

Finkbeiner had a monster game at short. He turned two inning-ending double plays with second baseman Kellan Huang to help started Danny Weidmayer. Then he helped Zmich in the sixth with a 6-3 double play. It was fitting that he caught Huang’s toss and stepped on the bag at second to end the game. Finkbeiner immediately pumped his fist, threw his glove in the air and joined the man pile near the pitcher’s mound

“It was amazing. The ground ball went to Kellan and I knew he was going to field it. I was covering second. He flipped it to me. I caught it. I threw it up in the air because I knew it was over. It was the greatest feeling in the world,” Finkbeiner said. “I’ve been with these guys since I was nine years old. Winning the state championship and the last game I’ll ever play with them is the best feeling ever.”

Theisen employed the depth of his pitching staff to clinch the win, using four pitchers in the game.

“We had (Justin) Flanagan and (Ted) Eppinga read to go, but once we got the second out, it was about sticking with the guy who was pumping strikes,” Theisen said. “Tyler is pretty much a strike thrower. Flan would have come in and done a good job, I’m sure. But we were sticking with the guy with two outs.”

Lineup

AB

R

H

RBI

BB

K

Foley

4

2

3

0

0

1

Schwartzenberger

3

1

1

0

1

0

Finkbeiner

4

1

2

0

0

1

O'Keefe

4

0

0

0

0

0

Daniels

3

0

0

1

1

2

Collick

2

0

0

1

1

1

Huang

3

1

2

1

0

0

Eppinga

2

0

1

0

1

0

Millspaugh

3

0

0

0

0

0

 

Pitching

IP

#P

S%

H

R

ER

K

BB

HR

Weidmayer

3.0

44

.636

3

1

0

2

1

0

Kiyabu

1.2

28

.571

3

1

1

0

1

0

Huang

0.1

7

.571

1

0

0

0

0

0

Zmich

2.0

27

.519

1

0

0

0

1

0

 

 

Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is owner of The Saline Post. Email him at tran@thesalinepost.com or call him at 734-272-6294

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