MADISON HEIGHTS — He stood under a beaming sun, his eye black had lost its form during a mad celebration.
For the third time in as many years, Garrett Schilling had played an integral role in Bishop Foley’s march to Battle Creek.
For the third time in as many years, the Ventures had ended the Division 3 baseball season alone at the top.
The 2013 Foley team was the first in MHSAA baseball history to win three straight titles.
Schilling, the then junior who finished the season 15-0 on the mound, including a three-hit shutout in the semifinals, was asked what it would be like to win a title the following spring.
He struggled to find words.
“That’d be awesome, wouldn’t it?” he finally said. “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.”
Fast forward some 10 months, take away the beaming sun and eye black, and Schilling is the unquestioned ace of Foley yet again.
And working inside the team’s practice facility in Madison Heights last week, he was asked again what it would be like to win a fourth title, as a senior.
And he struggled to find words, again.
“It gives me chills to think about it,” Schilling said. “It’d be surreal. You try not to think about it too much this early, but to have that chance is pretty awesome.”
The Ventures certainly have the chance.
After going 35-2-1 last season, Foley returned all but two players from the championship roster, catcher Billy Malak and pitcher/first baseman Chad Gravlin.
Those two will certainly need to be replaced in the starting lineup, but so many other pieces already are, and long have been, in place.
“It’s real fortunate. It makes coaching easy,” manager Buster Sunde said of the experience his squad has. Most of the starting lineup is in its third or fourth year on the varsity team. “I think we try to develop young kids. We try to have a core group that makes the difference, but at the same time have younger guys that have the chance to play and gain that experience and step into roles. To have that mix, where you can have younger kids in tough spots and important games contributing, that builds confidence.”
The approach has certainly worked, ever since this reign of success began in 2011.
That team went 39-3, then earned a repeat with a 38-3 mark the following spring, before last year’s trifecta of titles.
While the 2014 squad has yet to get outside, let alone play a game, the pressure and expectation of a fourth title is certainly understood.
“But we really can’t pay attention to how good we’re supposed to be or where we’re ranked, or anything like that,” Sunde said. “Reading into how great you are can be a real poison. Our goal is real simple: make the play in front of you and let everything else, from rankings to wins and losses, take care of themselves.”
Talent doesn’t always win out, but Foley has plenty of it to fall back on.
Schilling, who hasn’t lost a start at the high school level, remains the top dog in the rotation.
Every other starting pitcher aside from Gravlin is back in the fold.
Malak was a leader behind the plate as the team’s catcher and also spent time batting cleanup. Still, Foley’s lineup from top to bottom remains as dangerous as ever.
And now, even with fields frozen and games being pushed back, the one thing a Sunde team will always have going for it is work ethic.
“We ask a lot of these kids,” Sunde said of his normal three-hour practices, “but we do it for a reason. You can’t stay the same. There’s too many teams out there who are the same their first game and their last game. With us, we make it real clear how essential that growth is. We’re going to work all season to make the most of the three months we have. And if we have kids in June better than they were in March, we’ll have a shot to do what we hope to do.”
For the fourth straight time.