By Calli Newberry
The Algonac baseball team set out to play as far into the postseason as possible this spring and it resulted in the school’s first-ever regional title.
The Muskrats topped Bad Axe on the Hatchets’ home field Wednesday night, 5-2, in the Division 3, Region 48 Semifinal. The victory propelled them to Saturday as they shut out Ecorse 4-0 for the championship.
“It was a really good feeling, I was really proud of the guys and everything we’ve done so far,” senior Jack Cote said. “I still thought the job wasn’t done yet, that’s what I told the guys after we won that that was just the beginning of our plan. Obviously it didn’t go as planned, but I was still really proud of everybody and the season.”
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Just a few hours later, however, Algonac’s season ended at Sanborn Park in the quarterfinal, falling to Detroit Edison 9-1. But that doesn’t take away from the historic season.
“The kids that we have weren’t part of our 2017 and 2018 district championships…so it’s one of those things where they can imagine it but have never experienced it, so it’s pretty cool as a coach for them to have some success,” head coach Scott Thaler said. “And for a lot of those seniors, to have that success on their way out…it’s really, really rewarding to see those kids go out on top like that.”
Cote agreed, saying that despite falling in the quarterfinal, he’s confident in the future of the program.
“It was a really good feeling to win with the group of guys. We grew up playing baseball together all summer and whenever we were inside we were playing wiffle ball,” Cote said. “I think we had eight seniors, so it was a tough loss for all the guys, but we have faith in all the other guys. We’ll be around next year to see the run that they make.”
As the Muskrats headed into Saturday’s regional championship, they sent senior Jake Kanser to the mound, something he said he felt comfortable doing.
“In that game, I knew I would give my team a great chance to win and I hadn’t given up an earned run in 16.2 innings in the postseason,” Kanser said. “My teammates and coaches trusted me in big games all year.”
And after settling in, he threw seven strikeouts and only allowed three hits to earn the win.
“It kind of was the story of his high school career. He kept grinding along. He didn’t have his best stuff the first couple of innings,” Thaler said. “He started to look at the pitch count and didn’t think he was going to make it through the game, but he ended up making it all seven innings. That’s kind of Jake.”
As seniors Seth Longergan and Roman Gieraga were the only players to record a hit on the game, Thaler said his team’s ability to play unselfishly and “make the little plays” ultimately pushed across the four runs.
“It’s the same thing we’ve been doing the whole entire postseason…we just started to play the game the right way: bunting, taking extra bases, stealing – they weren’t relying on just hitting. In fact, we didn’t hit terribly well in that first game, but we were able to draw some walks and do all the unselfish stuff that you really have to do in the playoffs,” Thaler said. “When you get to this point, everyone has a really good pitcher…so you don’t win those games 10-0, 12-2 very often…It’s going to come down to those decisions throughout the game and making those little plays.”
And in the field, the Muskrat defense demonstrated similar play-making ability as it managed nine consecutive outs in the final innings to seal the victory.
While it may have ended sooner than they’d like, the Muskrats concluded their season as history-makers with a hunger for even more next season, and they won’t rest just yet. Thaler said many of his players are already turning to summer ball, playing in tournaments in Grand Rapids and at Notre Dame this weekend.
“For those younger guys to get that experience [in the postseason]…I think they’re going to be a lot more prepared next year if it happens or in the years going forward. They’re going to feel a little more comfortable being in that position,” Thaler said. “I think the biggest thing is that I want to see these juniors and sophomores…to see where the bar is at and where they’d like to go if they want to exceed what we were able to do this year.”