Birmingham, West BloomfieldMay 29, 2012
Late-inning heroics lift Brother Rice baseball past West Bloomfield in classic playoff opener
By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer
LATHRUP VILLAGE — Teetering on the edge of disaster and staring a monumental, first-round upset in the face, Matt Ruppenthal turned anger into aggression, subsequently turning hitters into strikeout victims.
And so, with three consecutive punch outs in the top half of the eighth inning, the Birmingham Brother Rice sophomore stranded a pair of West Bloomfield High runners in scoring position, breathing new life into the Warriors’ playoff journey.
An inning later, the No. 5.-ranked team in Division 1 had a 3-2, nine-inning victory and lived to fight another day.
“This is why you play the game,” Rice coach Bob Riker said after the D-1 pre-district win May 29 at Lathrup Village Southfield-Lathrup. “It’s games like this where you really see your kids grow. This is the most excited they’ve been all year, and that includes winning (a Catholic League title May 24) at Comerica Park.”
“We had our chances,” West Bloomfield coach Eric Pierce said with a smile afterward. The Lakers stranded five runners, four in scoring position, in the eighth and ninth innings combined. “We just couldn’t get one more across.”
West Bloomfield (16-16) started the scoring in the third inning, plating a pair of runs on an RBI single by senior Timo Deyoung and a sacrifice fly by senior Mark Hartfelder.
From there, senior pitcher Joey Hartfelder took over, mystifying Rice hitters most of the afternoon.
He didn’t allow a hit until the bottom of the fifth.
Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, though, Rice cut the lead in half after sophomore Randy Righter started the frame with a double. His pinch runner, senior Scott Bateman, later scored on a ground ball.
Still, Joey Hartfelder remained in control, and thanks to a brilliant outfield assist that cut down the would-be trying run in the sixth, entered the seventh with a 2-1 lead.
But with one out, Rice sophomore Tommy Lentz worked an 0-2 count for a six-pitch walk. He stole second base and then scored the tying run when senior Travis Ferguson ripped a double to right-center.
After Ruppenthal worked out of jams in the eighth and ninth, sophomore Freddy Jehle drew a two-out walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then scored when freshman Nick Plummer lofted a single to right field.
“I just told the guys to stay calm,” Riker said about trailing 2-0 with just five outs remaining in the game. “Nothing is going to go perfect. … I told them not to press and just to do what we do.”
Ruppenthal earned the win for Rice, pitching six innings and striking out 10, including the side in the eighth after an error, a walk and two balks put runners and second and third with nobody out.
“You don’t want to put guys on base, but that’s when he’s at his best,” Riker said of Ruppenthal, who pitched seven shutout innings in the Catholic League final.
Joey Hartfelder took the no decision despite striking out 10 Rice hitters in seven innings of work.
Rice, now 30-7, faces Birmingham Seaholm at noon June 2 in the district semifinal.
The winner faces either Lathrup or Beverly Hills Groves in a 3 p.m. final the same day.