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June 18, 2012

Improbable playoff ends in Division 1 final for De La Salle baseball team

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
De La Salle catcher Alex Fultz tags a Hudsonville runner out at the plate during the D-1 championship game. The Pilots lost 9-6, but shocked just about everyone in reaching the final game.

BATTLE CREEK — There came a point where losing was the routine, an endless source of frustration that had officially pushed the season to its boiling point.

A team with nine seniors and this much potential had no business finding wins so infrequently.

But the team with nine seniors and this much potential refused to surrender, avoiding the temptation to mail in the rest of the season.

“We got sick of it, sick of losing,” Warren De La Salle senior Kevin Carroll said. “We weren’t about to quit. It was just a matter of us coming together and doing what we were capable of.”

Roughly two months after starting the 2012 season with a 2-14 record, Carroll stood talking on the infield grass at C.O. Brown stadium in Battle Creek, a high school baseball haven annually reserved for the best teams in the state.

“Just getting to this game says so much about our kids, about the type of young men they are,” Pilots coach Matt Cook said following the Division 1 state championship, a 9-6 loss to Hudsonville High. “They believed in themselves. They believed in what we were teaching them and in playing the game of baseball a certain way. I give all the credit in the world to them for making it this far. This was something they’ll never forget.”

The Pilots turnaround was nothing short of spectacular.

Left for dead when the playoffs started, and with just a 13-22-1 record, De La Salle saved its best baseball for the most important part of the season.

The offense came to life in three district wins and then took things to a new level in the regional round, grabbing a pair of victories thanks to 27 runs scored.

But surely a quarterfinal matchup with Hartland High would spell the end of the run.

“I thought we used up all our swings (in the regional round),” Cook said after a 7-0 quarterfinal win in which the Pilots scored five runs in the first inning.

Once in Battle Creek, the Pilots refused to be denied a chance at a title.

Carroll put forth one of his best outings of the season, and the offense did just enough to earn a 3-2 semifinal victory against a Howell High team that had won 30 times in 2012.

So, on a sunny, hot, June 16 afternoon, here stood a De La Salle team with a chance to become the first baseball squad in MHSAA history to win a state title with a sub-500 record.

“I’m real proud of the way we battled here today,” Cook boasted. “We got behind, then had to claw back — then got behind again and had to claw back. It wasn’t our best game of the year, not by a long shot, but we fought and battled against a very good team.”

The Pilots trailed 1-0 and 4-2 at different points in the contest, both times rallying to tie the game. But five errors proved too costly, and Hudsonville (33-5) simply proved too strong.

“It stinks to get here and lose, but really, we were supposed to lose in districts,” Carroll said, forcing a smile. “We proved a lot of people wrong. We earned a spot here and then put up a real good fight against a very good team.”

Asked about the future of the program, most notably the 11 guys who could return to the team next season, Carroll said, “They saw that anything’s possible.”

Cook agreed.

“We got a taste,” he said. “We’ll get after it in the offseason, learn from this experience, and when next year starts, hopefully, pick up right where this team left off.”