BASEBALL: Playing For Each Other and Saline, the Hornets Win Another Championship


Saline baseball is back - with enthusiasm.

The previous week, Saline baseball swept Lincoln to seal the SEC Red - the team’s first since 2018. Last Tuesday, Saline defeated Huron, 9-1, to open the MHSAA Division baseball tournament. Then Saturday, Saline bested Skyline, 7-3, and Dexter, 3-2, to win the trophy - the team’s first since 2018.

The Hornets won it dramatically and celebrated like a team thrilled to play another day.

The team’s ace, Jackson Muir, who’ll be pitching at the University of Michigan next year, had already won the opening game of the series Tuesday. Saline saved Muir for spot duty, starting Matt Mareno and Zach Fidh in games one and two, respectively.

Muir came in into the game in the top of the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead. Muir retired the Dreadnaughts 1-2-3 in the sixth. In the seventh, things weren’t quite so easy. The leadoff hitter, Salisbury, singled between short and third. The next batter bunted him over to second. Muir walked the batter, and in the process, Salisbury took third on a passed ball.

Suddenly, Dreadnaughts had the tying and winning run on base.

But Muir did what perhaps only he could do. He struck out the next batter. And then he struck out the final batter on three pitches - three fastballs.

The Hornets had won the district trophy that had eluded the team for years. Muir pumped his fist and roared. He threw his glove into the air and jumped into the embrace of catcher Jackson Conley - and then the entire team fell into a dogpile for the second straight week as the coaches exchanged handshakes and embraces near the dugout.

“It’s never easy, but you know what, the journey makes it that much sweeter,” head coach Al Zeiher said after the win.

It was curious that Muir didn’t start, especially with Sam Miller, who was the number two pitcher, sidelined with an injury.

“We knew he probably couldn’t give us a full game because he threw on Tuesday, so it was, hey, when we got in a spot, we think he can slam the door. Fortunately, he proved us right,” Zeiher said.

What makes Muir the guy for that moment?

“He loves Saline. He loves his teammates. That’s the best thing you can say about anybody,” Zeiher said. “It’s all about Saline and going out there and leaving everything I got for my teammates. We knew whatever the result was going to be, he was going to leave everything he had for us.”

The coaches enjoyed watching their team celebrate the moment. It was a contrast from late 2010 teams so hellbent on winning the state championship they didn’t want to touch the district trophy.

“We haven’t been here since 2019, so to have that moment and for those kids to do that, it’s so special,” Zeiher said. “To be around guys who want to celebrate as a team, for Saline, that’s what’s so great about it.”

For Muir, it was the biggest moment of his Saline baseball career - so far.

“The whole season’s been leading up to this moment. The coaches did a great job preparing us for situations like this, how to maintain control and trust your teammates, trust your catcher and trust yourself, and not letting the moment get too big for you,” he said.

The baseball team celebrated in a way that only this team does. It’s hard to remember a Saline team that celebrated with as much enthusiasm - and that’s saying something considering the most recent Saline boys’ varsity soccer team.

As we’ve noted before, this team stomps on home plate when they score. They “pull the rope” when they hit doubles. They chant with the chair everyone time a Hornet scores and comes back to the dugout.

That willingness to celebrate with each other is both a reflection of the team bond and something that strengthens the bond.

“It’s all love from our teammates. Everyone loves each other. Everyone cares for each other. It’s great because we’re all pulling the same rope and all pulling in the same direction,” Muir said. It’s really easy to root for all these people because they’re all great teammates. The celebrations are just everyone coming together - and it’s what we do.”

At the beginning of the year, Zeiher was the one talking about playing for each other and playing with love for each other and the game. Now the entire team seems to have bought in.

But it’s not all love and psychology and D1 college pitchers throwing smoke.

It’s also about doing the little things.

The Hornets left Saturday with the dustiest uniforms. The Hornets scrapped for the win. Cade Tousa led off the bottom of the first with an infield single. Roman Laurio bunted him to second. Tousa took third on a wild pitch and then scored on a wild pitch while Kriss Sydlowski was up. Sydlowski walked and stole second and then scored on Conley’s single.

Dexter tied the score two runs in the top of the third. Fidh, the starter, gave up just two runs, one earned in five innings work.

Saline scored what proved to be the winning run in the bottom of the third. Conley singled with one out. Josh Folk came in as the courtesy runner for the catcher. The pitcher tried to pick him off a first and threw it away. Folk sprinted to third. Tate Bezeau ground out to first.

“I saw the first basemen get it. He looked at me and I had to go back,” Folk said. “Once I saw him run to the bag I ran home and I scored.”

And that’s part of another thing Zeiher has preached all year.

“We always talk about how the difference in the game could be 90 feet. How can we earn 90 feet? How can we change the game? Guys have really bought into that. That we’re going to be aggressive. As an offense we’ve got to be opportunistic and take that 90 feet when we can. If we get thrown out, we get thrown out. But we’re going to keep trying to get it,” Zeiher said.

A lot of narratives are coming together as the Hornets have put together a great season. One thing the Hornets have played down is the expectations - but now that the Hornets have done what recent Saline teams could not, it’s clear that this team wants to live up to the standard that Saline baseball has been known for.

“It felt right,” Muir said. “It felt right to get back to this moment in Saline baseball history.”

Saline hosts the regional semifinal against Hartland at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday. The winner advances to the regional final and perhaps the quarterfinal Saturday at Novi.

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