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May 22, 2013

Berkley baseball team eyes division crown for second straight year

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Berkley’s Colin Maruskin preps to fire the ball during a game against Avondale. Teammate Ian Kobernick, left, tries to get out of the way during the play.

Right now, it is a team of destiny.

Well, at least one that controls its own.

And at this time of year, that’s the most anyone could ask for.

After winning the Oakland Activities Association Gold Division in 2012, the Berkley High baseball team moved up to the Blue, with ambitions of doing the exact same thing in the Blue.

Nearly 12 months later, the guys are just a few wins from the championship.

“It’s all on us,” coach Jordan Gruppen said. “If we win, we’re the division champs. That’s the position you strive to be in.”

After a pair of wins against Auburn Hills Avondale, Berkley was 16-7 overall and 11-5 in the Blue.

The team has one league doubleheader left, a May 22 dip with Birmingham Lahser.

The equation couldn’t be simpler.

“If we win, we’re the champs,” Gruppen added with a smile.

“It’d be a huge deal,” senior Ian Kobernick said. “People doubted us coming into the season. We were supposed to be the team everybody beat up on because we were new. But we’ve hung right there.”

Pitching has been key most of the season, but Gruppen said it’s the offense that’s made the biggest difference, of late.

Slow to start, mainly due to weather, the Bears’ bats have heated up over the second half of the season, producing six or more runs in five of its last six games at press time.

Scoring double-digit runs hasn’t been out of the ordinary, either.

“When we keep our focus, we know we’re a team to contend with,” senior Sean Calender said. “This is a team that has a lot of guys that have played a lot of high school baseball. They understand what it takes.”

The Bears rolled to a 12-0 record in the Gold Division last season.

When camp opened in 2013, the Bears said they had something to prove.

“We don’t want people to think we are a team that can be looked past,” Calender said in mid-March. “I think people expected us to do what we did last year, but now it’s about proving this program is for real.”

To this point, that’s exactly what the Bears have done, and now they have a chance for consecutive titles in two different divisions.

“We’re excited to be in the position we are,” Gruppen said. “We’ve given ourselves a chance to accomplish our first goal. It would mean a lot to this program and where we think we’re headed.”

Of course, when the regular season ends, Berkley’s next mission officially begins.

Last year’s team won 20 games and had the look of one primed for a long postseason run. But in the district opener, the Bears met a sputtering Warren De La Salle team that finished below .500.

The Pilots’ 6-5 victory in the opener spring-boarded them all the way to the state finals and a runner-up finish.

Berkley isn’t expecting a one-and-done scenario this time.

“We have the pitching to make a deep run,” Calender said. “If the defense and offense play the way they have, we feel like we can make some noise.”

Berkley opens the Division 1 tournament in the Warren Cousino district with a 12:30 p.m. June 1 tilt against Royal Oak High.

The Bears won two of the three meetings against Royal Oak in the regular season.

“We’re playing must-win games right now, and I think that’s a huge advantage, come playoff time,” Kobernick said. “We’ve got a great group of seniors on this team, guys that want to end their careers the right way.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.