BATTLE CREEK — If there was ever a doubt, even momentary, they never showed it.
Not in the regional round while trialing by three runs late in the game.
Not is the state semifinals, when as a team of power-hitters instead relied on singles and stolen bases to fuel a limited offense.
And certainly not in the state final, when even after a single hit hadn’t been allowed, the lead had shrunk to 3-2 against a scrappy team searching for an upset.
If there was ever a doubt the Madison Heights Bishop Foley baseball team wasn’t the best in Division 3 this season, the Ventures squashed it the only way they knew how.
“Pretty awesome,” said senior Billy Malak from the dugout at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek moments after a 12-5 victory against Grandville Calvin Christian in a June 15 final. It was the third in a row for the Ventures: a feat no other baseball team in the state had ever accomplished.
“To be the only team in the state of Michigan to win three in a row,” he continued, “it’s pretty awesome.”
“We said last year that we wanted to get a three-peat for Foley baseball,” sophomore Nathan Grys said. “That’s what we did.”
Early in the 2013 season, coach Buster Sunde said this team may be the best of any he’s had, including the previous two state champs.
At the time, the Ventures were 6-0 and hardly battle-tested.
They rolled through another regular season, grabbed another Catholic League title shortly before the playoffs, and then the real fun began.
The district was a breeze, and not until the regional final — an eventual 8-5 win against Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard — did Foley really get tested.
The guys bounced back from a three-run deficit in that game, blew past Flint Powers Catholic 9-1 in the quarters, and made what has become an annual trip to Battle Creek for the semifinals.
Another mini scare arose in the semis, when the power bats were suddenly weakened.
Foley (35-2-1) beat Bridgman High 6-0, but the game was much closer than the final score suggests.
“After the semifinal, people suddenly thought we were a small-ball team,” Sunde said with a laugh. “But when I saw the guys take batting practice (before the final), I knew it was going to be a good day.”
Foley led 3-0 after two, but Calvin Christian scored twice in the third inning, despite not getting a hit, and trailed by just one.
Foley answered right back when Michael Reid had an RBI sacrifice fly to bring home Grys.
The Ventures then opened things up in the fourth, pounding five hits for five runs and a 9-2 lead.
In the fifth, though, Calvin Christian picked up its first three hits of the game, and coupled with two Foley errors, crossed the plate three times and pulled within 9-5.
“You know, we’re a team that can go weeks without an error, and then we come here and play like that,” Sunde said with a laugh. “But we did that in last year’s final, too. The important thing is that we hung with it. We stayed focused and found a way to get the job done.”
Malek’s double down the first-base line scored two more runs in the fifth, and a throwing error brought Grys home for the final run of the day.
The party was unofficially on.
“It’s just an awesome feeling to do all this,” said three-year varsity vet Garrett Schilling. The hard-throwing junior pitched in the semifinal, allowing three hits, all singles, while striking out seven to stay perfect (15-0) on the season. He has yet to lose a start in high school.
“To be the first to say we did something like this, it stands out,” he continued. “I mean, I walk down the street with a Foley baseball shirt on, and people stop to talk about what we’ve done the past few years.”
“It’s pretty special because nobody else has done it,” Sunde said. “It’s so rewarding for these guys, to see all their hard work pay off.”
But lots of teams work hard.
Lots of teams have talented players.
What’s the catch with this group?
“Character — no doubt about it,” Sunde said. “Growing up, I played on some hand-picked teams — elite teams — where you had guys sitting 3 feet away from each other on the bench. These guys, you have seniors and freshmen that are friends. You have guys pushing and working for each other. That’s something special.”
The talent doesn’t hurt, either, and the scary thing is, next year’s team could be even better.
Malak and Chad Gravlin are the only two seniors on the roster.
Schilling anchors a pitching staff that is set to return in full.
And, well, there’s a little motivation to do something no other team has ever done before — again.
“When we get together March 15 to get things going, winning a state title will be the No. 1 goal,” Sunde said frankly. “That’s the expectation. They know it won’t be handed to them, but they’ve proven they’re willing to put the work in that’s necessary to have a chance.”
“That’d be awesome, wouldn’t it?” Schilling said with a smile. “I came in as a freshman, and we did it. I think this senior class would love to go out with four in a row.”
November 16, 2015
Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day
Thanks to two early scores, some lock-down defense, and a touchdown with just 5:25 remaining in regulation, the Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day football team picked up a 20-13 victory against Milan High in a Division 4 regional final on Nov. 14 and earned this week’s Team of the Week honor. Country Day, which had outscored its opponents 78-7 in the district round, advanced to the state semifinals for the second year in a row. The Yellowjackets (11-1) face Flint Powers Catholic (10-2) at 1 p.m. Nov. 21 at West Bloomfield High.