West Bloomfield junior Slade Moore takes a swing during a matchup against Rochester High School May 15 at Rochester High School.

West Bloomfield junior Slade Moore takes a swing during a matchup against Rochester High School May 15 at Rochester High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WB baseball’s ‘lethal combination’ of arms looks to make some noise in state tournament

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 16, 2024

Featured Gallery (Click to view)


WEST BLOOMFIELD — At this point, West Bloomfield baseball head coach Josh Birnberg must think the full-circle feeling is never-ending.

A 2014 West Bloomfield graduate, Birnberg was a standout shortstop for a Lakers baseball squad that surprised everyone in 2014, knocking off Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, one of the top teams in the state at the time, and reaching the regional championship game under head coach Eric Pierce, now the athletic director at West Bloomfield.

“I always told him (Pierce) when he was coaching at the time that I’d come back and coach,” Birnberg said. “I was half serious and half joking, but it was always something I wanted to do at some point. I didn’t necessarily think it would be so early in my coaching career, per say, but it’s definitely something that’s been a full-circle moment for me and something that’s been very cool.”

Now in his fourth season as the frontman for where it all started for Birnberg, West Bloomfield is rolling as the No. 3 ranked team in Division 1 and winning the Oakland Activities Association White with a 12-3 record. West Bloomfield last won the OAA White in 2022 and finished second in the OAA Red last year before moving back down.

The Lakers have all the makings of a team ready to make a run in the Division 1 state tournament — only problem is a team Birnberg is all too familiar with will stand in its way.

West Bloomfield is slated to face North Farmington June 1 to open up district play, but will be faced with the winner of Bloomfield Hills vs. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice in the district finals.

Brother Rice, the unanimous No. 1 ranked team in Division 1 and ranked No. 12 nationally according to MaxPreps, will once again be an obstacle for a Birnberg-led squad as a heavy favorite and the Lakers as the underdogs.

“It’s almost as if the person who is making it has something against it,” Birnberg said. “That’s the only explanation I can think of for how hard they make it for us every year. They put the hardest team in the state in our district every single year.”

Under Birnberg, the Lakers have been eliminated in districts by Brother Rice, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Lake Orion, with each team reaching the regional finals or higher.

If Birnberg remembers anything from the 2014 team, a pitching staff can make all the difference in the state tournament.

West Bloomfield surrendered just over three runs per game during its 2014 run, while also scoring nine or more runs its first three games.

A strong rotation has always been the Lakers’ calling card, and the 2024 staff consisting of junior Slade Moore (University of Michigan commit), senior Myles Sorn (Lansing Community College commit), junior Cam Laflamme, senior Mitchell Rebtoy (Macomb Community College commit), senior Quinn Lewis (Albion commit) and junior Stevie Fountain is only carrying the tradition. Senior Jon Beard, senior Dylan Jordan and junior Brady Scheidt have also contributed innings this season.

“A very deep pitching staff has definitely carried us all year long,” Birnberg said. “Since I’ve been here at West Bloomfield, we’ve relied on pitching heavily every single year. This year is more of the same.”

From top to bottom, West Bloomfield’s array of arms has been nearly unhittable, with each guy having the ability to take the mound and dominate.

In a league-clinching matchup, Sorn, a complete-game maestro and Detroit Catholic Central transfer last year, went seven strong innings as the Lakers edged Birmingham Groves 3-2 May 2 to clinch the OAA White.

Sorn said he prides himself on attacking the zone and challenging hitters, and he said his ability to do so is based on the rest of the pitching staff’s analytical work.

“We chart all of our pitchers and all of their pitches throughout the series,” Sorn said. “On Monday, Slade Moore usually pitches. We’ll chart all of his pitches and where they were in the zone. The next day, we’ll attack that. If the leadoff hitter struggles with hitting outside fastballs, we’ll try and dominate on the outside half of the plate. All of our pitchers really look on each other.”

The offensive unit doesn’t get a ton of love because of how impressive the rotation has been, but the seniors carry the weight as the experienced leaders in the lineup.

Seniors Jaxon Stapf (Macomb Community College commit), Max Gross, Fountain, Jordan, Laflamme, Sorn and Rebtoy can set the table for the lineup to take off at any given time, with junior Brody Pikur also contributing.

“We have a lot of JUCO (junior college) guys, which some people look down on JUCO, but a lot of our hitters are absolute dogs. I feel like the senior class leads by example, which causes everyone else to step up.”

West Bloomfield seniors Andre Landau (Lansing Community College commit) and Ari Klinger (Albion commit) are both players expected to make a name for themselves on the college level.

Currently 24-4 overall and with the state tournament nearing, West Bloomfield could still have its eyes on the regular season win record the program set in 2022 with 32 under Birnberg.

West Bloomfield has the talent to do so, but the focus of the team with the league out of the way will be preparing for the gauntlet district play is set to bring.

The Lakers last made it out of districts in 2015 with their season ending shortly after, but, hopefully, Birnberg’s full-circle tenure can include a trip to East Lansing in the process.

“We got a really confident team,” Sorn said. “Everyone knows their job and everyone knows we have a chance to make a far run in the playoffs, so we’re just trying to get better every day. I think that’s what we really emphasized in the preseason, which was coach Josh (Birnberg) saying we have a chance to win a state championship. I think everyone bought in and is doing their job.”