Dakota baseball coach looks back on run to MSU

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published June 19, 2019

 Macomb Dakota junior infielder Kyle Finn makes a throw during a June 3 district playoff win. The Cougars lose six players to graduation and have 17 eligible to return next season.

Macomb Dakota junior infielder Kyle Finn makes a throw during a June 3 district playoff win. The Cougars lose six players to graduation and have 17 eligible to return next season.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

 Senior outfielder Patrick Merolla rounds third base. The Cougars fell in a Division 1 state semifinal.

Senior outfielder Patrick Merolla rounds third base. The Cougars fell in a Division 1 state semifinal.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Consistency was something Macomb Dakota baseball coach Matt Carley stressed over the course of this season, and he admitted that his team at times struggled to adhere to that.

Carley, who just finished his ninth year leading the program, said the team didn’t play as well as it could have at points, but he never doubted the group’s ability.

That ability shone through in the team’s run to the Division 1 state semifinals. The Cougars entered the playoffs with a .500 record and won five games to get to Michigan State University. It’s the second season in a row that Dakota has won multiple postseason tournaments, taking district, regional and super regional championships this spring.

“I thought that if we found some consistency we’d be pretty good,” Carley said June 13. “We played well early, struggled in the middle, and played well late in the season. The (Macomb Area Conference) Red Division is tough. We’re disappointed we went 5-10 in the league. That wasn’t the expectation, but everybody in the MAC Red plays tough teams all the time. That’s what makes this fun.”

The Cougars’ run ended in a 3-2 eight-inning loss to Rockford High June 13 in the state semifinals. Dakota ended the season at 21-17-1.

 

Crazy finish
A wild game-ending play gave Rockford the win.

Rams junior Owen Cairns hit a slow roller to third base and beat the throw to first on an error. The error allowed Rockford sophomore Luke McLean to score the winning run.

“After the third inning, I told the players that with two outs and a runner on second, on any ground ball we were gonna wheel it home and force (Dakota) to make a throw,” Rams coach Matt Vriesenga said following the game. “We’re lucky that came back around in the eighth inning. It helps to have a speedy guy like (McLean) on base. He did a good job getting home.”

Rockford took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Dakota made its move in the sixth frame. A walk by junior infielder Billy Sawyer, followed by a double off the right field wall from sophomore infielder Greg Guzik, gave the Cougars runners in scoring position for just the second time in the game. Dakota junior catcher Jeff Reseigh followed with a single to center field to drive in Sawyer and Guzik, and gave the Cougars a 2-1 lead.

Rockford, which won the 2011 D-1 state title, tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out single from senior outfielder Alex Miller. An error allowed pinch runner Luke McLean to score from second base.

Dakota threatened in the seventh after a leadoff double from senior outfielder Pat Merolla, who eventually moved to third with one out, but couldn’t get the run across the plate.

“This is a game we were in,” Carley said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. Rockford is going to be in the state final, but we were right there.”

Carley talked about his team’s play over the course of the entire season. He said there’s no shock the Cougars advanced as far as they did, but the team struggled at points.

“We felt we had a solid team, but we didn’t play like it at times,” said Carley. “It’s a good deal for us to have gotten this far. I thought the guys played well. We put ourselves in position to win the game, and that’s all you can ask for.

“We’re pretty young. We’ve got a good team coming back. We’ll be back.”

 

Salute to the seniors
Following the semifinal, Carley had a special message for his seniors. He called the group — pitcher Thomas Wall, infielder John Sovey, outfielder Connor Verduci, infielder Jack Girling, pitcher Matt Biebuyck and Merolla and — six of the best people he’s ever coached.

“I’m not talking about talent — just as people. They’re selfless individuals,” Carley said. “They always did whatever was best for the team. They’re outstanding human beings.”