Novi junior Keegan Litkewycz makes the throw to first in an attempt to turn a double play.

Novi junior Keegan Litkewycz makes the throw to first in an attempt to turn a double play.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

With last year in the rearview, Wildcats baseball shifts focus to 2024 campaign

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Novi Note | Published April 16, 2024

 Novi junior Michael Mohtadi slides into home to score a run for Novi in a matchup against Walled Lake Northern on April 5 at Novi High School.

Novi junior Michael Mohtadi slides into home to score a run for Novi in a matchup against Walled Lake Northern on April 5 at Novi High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


NOVI — Last year was everything Novi baseball could have ever dreamed of.

Historic achievements, unlikely heroes, and intense comebacks were all part of the school’s first-ever Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state championship.

So as the 2024 season begins, the Wildcats are focused on everything except one thing — what happened in 2023.

“We don’t want to talk too much about last year,” Novi head coach Rick Green said. “We’re trying to put that behind us and just move forward and get better each day. We lost some pretty good pitchers. We won’t have Brendon Bennett because of his elbow surgery, which he had Tommy John, and we lost (Andrew) Abler and a key catcher in Brett Reed. We lost another left-handed pitcher. We have to replace 167 innings, so our goal going into the season is to win our division and then win our league, which is one thing we didn’t accomplish last year. We’ll focus on the playoffs when we get there.”

Abler, who earned first team all-state honors and was the Wildcats’ ace throughout last season, was as tough of a void as any to fill in the rotation.

Luckily for Novi, it has a lot of pitching depth with senior Boden Fernsler, senior Thad Lawler, junior Uli Fernsler, junior Jonathan Aurilia, junior Alex Wilson, junior Gavin Przybyla, and freshman Colin Bennett expected to lead the rotation.

Juniors Alex Wilson, Keegan Litkewycz, Jaden Vondrasek and Jacob Presher are also expected to contribute innings.

Uli Fernsler was electric on the mound in the state championship game and has already carried over the momentum with a complete game in a 10-1 win over Howell where Fernsler punched out 14 and surrendered only one hit.

Aurilia is someone who possesses as good of movement on his pitches as anyone around, while Novi will lose one Bennett in the rotation and add another with Brendon’s younger brother, Colin, who can hit the upper 80s on the radar gun.

There are big names with big-time talent across the board, but Novi is hoping it has an ace up its sleeve in Przybyla, who stands 6-foot-5 and can throw in the mid-to-high 80s.

“That’s somebody (Przybyla) that really came out of nowhere,” Green said. “Maybe I wouldn’t say out of nowhere, because we had our eye on him, but he’s really polished his game in the offseason from last year. He kind of had an injury I think his freshman year, so he missed a whole year. He’s kind of getting his weight back. I think he’s a key to our season, really, with how well he pitches.”

Pryzbyla is one of many southpaw pitchers at Novi’s disposal alongside Uli Fernsler, Lawler, Wilson and senior Cash Mumford.

Senior Brendon Bennett was a reliable lefty in the rotation last season, but will primarily be a designated hitter for the Wildcats after his surgery.

Dominant left-handed pitchers used to be something that didn’t come around too often at the high school level, especially at Novi, but Green said there’s been a shift over the past few years.

“It’s funny because over the years, we haven’t had any left-hander other than AJ Rowe in 2000 that threw over 80 miles an hour,” Green said. “Finally, a couple guys threw 80 or 81. Now, it’s like, and you’re right, I’ve never had so many left-handers. I used to complain about that all the time. You see these other teams like Plymouth and Canton that throw left-hander after left-hander every year. Now, I guess it’s my turn.”

While Brendon Bennett will be unable to contribute on the mound, he’s done plenty of damage already with the bat along with Wilson, the Fernsler brothers, Colin Bennett, Aurilia, senior Caleb Walker, senior Stephen Boujoulian, junior Trevor Reed, and the rest of the Wildcats roster. From top to bottom, anyone can provide an offensive boost for Novi at any given time.

Brendon Bennett has arguably been Novi’s most consistent hitter, and he credits his offseason preparation and mindset following his injury for his transition into the season.

“I eased myself back pretty good,” Bennett said. “If you can just take it day by day and always try to feel better than the last day, it goes by faster than you think.”

Novi, currently 7-2, started off the year with a preseason trip in late March to the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, where Novi played against local teams such as Grosse Pointe South, Birch Run, Salem and Ann Arbor Pioneer.

Novi has been plagued with slow starts in the past, so Green wanted to shake things up in efforts to get his guys in the rhythm quicker prior to their season opener.

So far, it’s safe to say the trip has paid off for the Wildcats, as they’re tied for first in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West league with a 3-1 record.

The pitching will be there for Novi — that’s a guarantee — but the only thing more difficult than winning a state championship is defending it.

If the pitching can continue to shine and the offense follows, Novi will be a strong candidate to make it back to the state finals stage at Michigan State University.

“I think we’re good all the way around,” Brendon Bennett said. “When the bats are hot, we’re going to be dangerous. We’ll be good on the mound the whole year.”