Pontiac Notre Dame Prep pitcher Jack Krausmann delivers a pitch during a contest earlier this season. Krausmann leads the Irish staff along with fellow junior River Shea.

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep pitcher Jack Krausmann delivers a pitch during a contest earlier this season. Krausmann leads the Irish staff along with fellow junior River Shea.

Photo by Donna Agusti

New skipper and stadium signaling success at Notre Dame Prep

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published May 8, 2018

PONTIAC — It took less than two weeks for the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep baseball program to match last season’s win total.

Now past the season’s midpoint, the Fighting Irish have already doubled last year’s number of wins. At press time, Prep was 19-2 overall.

After going 8-22 in 2017, the club made a change at the top, bringing in longtime Utica Eisenhower skipper Jason Gendreau. The move has proven to pay dividends, as Prep has held a top-10 ranking all season long in Division 2, according to the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Gendreau said he has been impressed with the all-around abilities of his group.

“We’re not elite in any area, but we’re solid,” said Gendreau, who won 219 games in his 10 seasons at Ike. “We have the fundamentals, the IQ, the offense and defense necessary to compete. We’re not going to beat ourselves, but at the same time, we’re not going to blow anybody out. In our first 12 wins, seven were by a single run. While that’s a little closer than you’d like, it shows we can win the tight ones.”

Gendreau said he believes the strengths of his team go beyond stats.

“What really impresses me is the unselfishness of these guys,” Gendreau said. “They’re high-character guys who are thankful just to be playing. When I post a lineup, I never see any eye rolls or smirks. It’s a different environment with a special group of guys.”

One aspect that Gendreau implemented from his days at Eisenhower was a trip to Florida. Held over spring break during the first week of April, both the varsity and JV rosters flew down south, staying in a hotel with Sterling Heights Stevenson, Utica Ford II, Romeo High and Ike.

“Going to Florida was a great experience,” senior catcher Ryan Knutson said. “We got to play in beautiful weather while having a great time bonding as a team. Having both the varsity and JV teams there brought us all together over baseball. It was really cool.”

Gendreau believes it provided a jump-start to the campaign.

“It was the first time they’ve ever done something like it here,” Gendreau said. “We took 30 boys down there to just have fun and play baseball. From a staff perspective, I could tell this team was upbeat, and it matched the positivity and high energy of my staff. It allowed us to focus on being positive and having fun, which is my goal. These boys are really easy to coach.”

Armed with eight seniors and eight juniors, Gendreau said he inherited a quality group of upperclassmen.

“The team speed is also a strength, and it lends itself to defensive plays and offensive options,” the coach said.

Gendreau cited Knutson and senior second baseman Brian Blakeslee as two seasoned leaders that he leans on.

“(Knutson) is the backbone of this team. He’s a true captain who carries himself like he’s going into battle,” Gendreau said. “(Blakeslee) is the kind of guy who will run through a brick wall for you. He bats at the top of the lineup and is a tremendous middle infielder. Both are tough mentally and physically and are great leaders, while happening to be great baseball players.”

At press time, Knutson was batting .476 via 30 hits, including eight doubles. He had 20 RBIs. A four-year varsity player, Prep’s No. 3 hitter said he loves his new coach.

“(Gendreau) is connecting with us and always being positive while really wanting us to improve and be successful,” Knutson said. “The seniors have played together for a while now, so we weren’t sure about having a new coach come in, but he’s done so much for the team already. He helps keep the morale up rather than looking in the past, and we all appreciate that.”

Blakeslee agreed. A three-year varsity player, the team’s leadoff hitter is heading to John Carroll University to play both soccer and baseball next year.

“(Gendreau) really makes a point to connect with us outside baseball,” Blakeslee said. “We’ve all bought in and play as a team without worrying about individual stats. Nobody is afraid to lay down a bunt that may hurt their average. We’ve got a good ‘next-man-up’ mentality where we believe anybody starting or off the bench can contribute, and that’s been huge this year.”

Knutson has caught every game so far this season for a pitching staff that Gendreau raved about. Among the group, Prep has five left-handed pitchers, allowing the manager to mix and match based on an opponent’s lineup.

“Even though our two main starters are righties, we have these five lefties to shake things up,” Gendreau said. “You don’t generally see that in high school. It gives us the ability to manage the bullpen more to the situation.”

Juniors River Shea and Jack Krausmann are at the top of the rotation. Shea was 6-0 at press time, while Krausmann was 3-1. Senior Jacob Genord is the top reliever. He was 6-1 with two saves.

While the addition of Gendreau has led to winning ways, another change has also greatly benefited Prep. After an anonymous donation, the school put in artificial turf fields for both the baseball and softball programs.

“It’s truly a tremendous advantage for our program,” the coach said. “We never miss practice or game days. Lightning is the only thing that can keep us off the field.”

Armed with the new facility, Gendreau said he won’t schedule a road game for next season until May since most opponents want to come play on the turf for a guaranteed game regardless of the weather.

“We were very fortunate and thankful to get to play on it our senior year,” Blakeslee said. “It’s beautiful out there. We got out easily two weeks earlier than anybody else because the field was obviously fine.”