Novi sophomore Uli Fernsler threw a complete game and struck out eight to lead Novi to an 8-3 win over Brownstown Woodhaven June 17 at Michigan State University.

Novi sophomore Uli Fernsler threw a complete game and struck out eight to lead Novi to an 8-3 win over Brownstown Woodhaven June 17 at Michigan State University.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Fernsler’s ‘poised’ performance leads Novi to first state title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Novi Note | Published June 20, 2023

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NOVI — Throughout the month of April, Novi sophomore Uli Fernsler had yet to pitch in a regular season game due to a knee injury.

The southpaw was regaining his strength so he could join an already well-established Novi pitching staff, and on June 17 at Michigan State University, Fernsler was dominant in every aspect on the mound.

Pitching a complete game and fanning eight, Fernsler led Novi to an 8-3 win over Brownstown Woodhaven in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Final.

“That kid (Fernsler) is about as poised as you’re going to be,” Novi coach Rick Green said. “I’ve had some young guys in the past, like Brandon Davis back in the day in 2000, and then 2001 when he pitched when he was a junior, but I’ve never had anybody this young and that poised. Most of the time they’re already 16, but here’s Uli that’s only 15 years old. I’ve never seen anything like him.”

Novi’s pitching is dominant, and there’s no disputing that. Senior Andrew Abler, a Harvard University commit, went seven innings in the state semifinals before handing the ball to Fernsler, who earned the win in a three-inning effort as Novi beat Mattawan 4-1.

Novi’s pitching staff allowed only 14 runs in seven games during the state tournament, but there was one facet of Novi’s game that took a significant uptick in the state tournament.

In the state final, Novi’s offense exploded as junior Thad Lawler, batting seventh, collected a two-RBI base hit in the third inning to take an early 2-0 lead. Junior Andrew Kummer, junior Brendon Bennett and senior Brett Reed each tallied RBI singles in the fourth inning to extend Novi’s lead to 5-0. Junior Caleb Walker and Bennett, the two and three hitters, went 6-for-9 in the win as Woodhaven used up four different arms in the loss.

Novi’s six-through-nine hitters (Brett Reed, Lawler, senior Alex Czapski and sophomore Trevor Reed) went 6-for-14 in the state finals, which Green said unlocked the offense’s full potential.

“That’s the part we needed to get going,” Green said. “These guys were struggling for most of the year. I moved Walker from the eight spot to the two spot, and when we did that he seemed to shine in that spot. Hitting between all those good hitters helped him out. He takes a lot of pitches, and that’s what we like. We like to get that pitcher worked up in the pitch count.”

While Novi stormed the field and the student section went wild as Fernsler collected the final out, the “what-if” of the season surrounded Czapski and what could have been the final at-bat of Novi’s season.

As Novi tallied only one hit up until the last inning against Mattawan, Czapski came to the plate with a runner on first and second with two outs and the season on the line as Novi trailed 1-0. That’s when Czapski had a moment he’ll never forget, as he barreled one up the middle for a game-tying base hit.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I had supreme confidence going up to the plate, because it was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life,” Czapski said. “When it got to that 2-2 count, I just knew that I had to shorten everything up and make a nice, simple swing. He threw me a high fastball, which anyone on the team can tell you that I’m absolutely brutal at hitting those. I just remember the ball going up the middle and hearing the student section go ballistic.”

Czapski has been part of the Novi baseball family for a while now as he watched his brothers, Mark and Cam, play for Novi baseball.

A Novi Wildcat through and through, Czapski said the state title win felt like a full circle moment for him.

“The feeling is unrivaled,” Czapski said. “I have been going to Wildcat baseball games ever since I was a kid to watch my older brothers play. Even though having brothers means you butt heads 24/7, I’m glad that this championship became the one thing that my brothers could truly be proud of me for and show their appreciation for it.”

While Novi was in celebration mode after the win, coach Green gave a celebratory speech that honored Novi superfan Tom Marcus, who passed away June 16 at the age of 85.

Marcus was a staple of Novi athletics, cheering at every sport from freshman to varsity teams, and there was no doubt he was looking on as Novi made history.

“I’m sure he was there watching us from the scoreboard or something, you know,” Green said.

“Tom has always been Novi’s biggest supporter and came to every sporting event,” Abler said. “He always brought joy to the games, and the news about him fueled us to play with passion.”