Lakers baseball rides momentum all the way to D-1 regional final

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 12, 2014

 Josh Birnberg rips into a pitch during West Bloomfield’s regional final against Brighton High. The Lakers dropped the game 2-0 and ended the season 24-11.

Josh Birnberg rips into a pitch during West Bloomfield’s regional final against Brighton High. The Lakers dropped the game 2-0 and ended the season 24-11.

Photo by Mike Moore

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Some 14 games into the season, this was a sputtering team. Flashes of brilliance were overshadowed by head-scratching miscues.

Dominant performances on the mound were wasted by struggles in the batter’s box — and visa versa.

Eric Pierce and his West Bloomfield High baseball team sat at 7-7, a season teetering on disaster, but it was also an opportunity to turn it all around and become exactly what the Lakers could be.

The guys in green and white chose the latter.

“It was like a switch came on and we decided to play the way we could,” Pierce said. “I think they realized if we didn’t get going, this could be a lost season. Then, things started clicking.”

The Lakers never looked back, going 17-4 after the .500 start.

The momentum carried West Bloomfield through the district round and onto last weekend’s regional final at Novi High.

And finally, the magic ran out in a 2-0 setback to Brighton.

“You have to tip your cap to their pitcher. He lived off his breaking balls, and he did a great job,” Pierce said of Brighton’s Colin McClelland, who allowed just two hits in the shutout. “We couldn’t make the adjustments we needed to. It’s tough to throw strikes like that, but he did it consistently.”

Brighton scored once early and once later in the game, and that’s all it would need.

“It’s tough to get there and not win, but at the same time, our guys battled,” Pierce said. “If we play again, I don’t know if he can have that performance. It was tough to see us get shut down like that, and you tip your hat, but I don’t know that’s something he could repeat.”

The Lakers finished the season 24-11 and were playing in a regional final for the first time since 2007.

After the slow start to the cool and rainy spring, things heated up.

The regular season ended with wins coming in bunches.

When the playoffs started, West Bloomfield drew Brother Rice in a predistrict, a certain death sentence in the eyes of many predicting Rice to run to a state title.

“We looked forward to that challenge,” Pierce said. “To play them right away was no big deal to us. Guys knew we could get past them based on how close the games in the past had been. Especially these seniors — they wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

The Lakers stunned Rice 9-7 in a game that, thanks to rain and flooded fields, took three days to complete.

By the time the weekend was over, West Bloomfield scored 31 runs in the round and had a district championship to celebrate.

In the regional round, West Bloomfield got past Northville High 4-3 in the semifinal, setting up the game with Brighton, one of the top-ranked teams in D-1.

“They needed an outstanding performance to beat us,” Pierce said. “But I’d put these guys up against anyone in the state. I felt like when we were on our game, we were among the elite teams out there.”

That feeling won’t change from now until next spring. With pitching ace Chandler Sedat set to return to anchor the staff and a number of other key players scheduled to be back, 2014 may just serve as a preview of what the future holds.

“The expectations always need to be through the roof here, and they will continue to be,” Pierce said. “We have some key juniors coming back. And on top of that, our sophomore class wasn’t needed on varsity. They had a whole year together at the JV level. So we’re going to be strong again. We’ll be ready to go.”