Chieftains are champs of the MAC Blue

Utica wins first MAC division title since 1997

By: Thomas Franz | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 18, 2015


UTICA — From worst to first, Utica High’s baseball team has experienced a dramatic turnaround this spring.

That turnaround now includes the end of an 18-year wait, as Utica won its first Macomb Area Conference divisional title since 1997 by defeating Port Huron High 3-2 on May 12 to win the MAC Blue.

“Since the beginning, we’ve all just believed that we could do it,” senior Will Young said. “We’ve had a couple of seasons in the past that we’ve struggled a little bit, and this year we really worked in the offseason and knew that if we worked hard, we could get this one.”

The Chieftains’ 10 league victories this spring eclipsed their league win total from the last three years combined, as they could not escape the basement of the MAC Blue.

“The first year, we weren’t playing competitive baseball at all, and now in these past couple of years we’ve been in games; we’ve played against some of the toughest teams, and we’ve kept up with them,” said Young, who is a four-year varsity player. “We’ve shown them that Utica baseball is on the rise, and we’re here to stay.”

The division title is also the high point of coach Mark Moehlig’s four-year stint with Utica. Having a senior class that began with him as freshmen, along with getting Young and senior Chris Kaschalk back from injuries, were keys to the turnaround.

“We got Chris and Will back, and just having them bat at the three and four spots — having those guys in the lineup, it’s like no matter what, you know you have two really tough outs, and that puts pressure on pitchers. I can’t give those guys enough credit,” Moehlig said.

Through May 15, Young has boasted a .328 batting average with 10 RBIs. Kaschalk is hitting .301 with 15 RBIs.

Sophomore Justin Dewitt is hitting .369 with 11 RBIs, and junior Paul Marble is batting .303 with 14 RBIs.

On the mound, Chieftain pitchers have combined for a 3.24 team ERA. Junior RJ Pinto is leading the team in wins with a 6-2 record to go with a 2.44 ERA. Junior Caden Ebeling is 4-1 with a 2.10 ERA.

“Mike Cubitt (pitching coach), he’s really doing a great job with those pitchers, and he’s really seen it pay off because he’s had some time to work with those kids. Our pitching has been amazing; I give him a ton of credit. He really takes that and owns it,” Moehlig said.

Moehlig and his captains each pointed to a stretch of games following a series loss to St. Clair High as the turning point in Utica’s season. Utica lost two out of three games to St. Clair from April 13-16, but bounced back with sweeps of Marysville High and Anchor Bay High the following two weeks.

“The MAC Blue is super competitive; all of the games are super close,” Moehlig said. “When we swept Anchor Bay — we all kind of stood back and said, ‘We have something going here.’ We had a little momentum, so I would say that was the turning point big time.”

Moehlig said that Utica’s success has also put into perspective the challenges involved with taking a program to a new level of success.

“Whenever you take something over, you have visions of grandeur, and then you don’t realize how hard it is,” Moehlig said. “It’s a nice thing for the kids because they’ve really worked hard. As a group, the seniors have all been great kids. I’ve had a lot of kids that if they weren’t playing another sport, then they were doing a lot of work in the offseason. This has been the best group as far as the weightlifting and stuff. That’s been impressive, so it’s been super rewarding to see them get a payoff for their hard work.”

Looking ahead, Utica will try to translate its regular-season success in the postseason. The Chieftains head to the Sterling Heights Stevenson district tournament May 30, when they open against Chippewa Valley.