Portage Northern advanced to the Division 1 baseball semifinals with a 5-4 win after nine innings in their regional final against Grand Ledge, followed by a 7-3 victory in the super regional finale versus top-ranked Woodhaven. Colon also got to the Division 4’s elite eight after a 7-2 win over St. Philip to start the day, but the Magi lost an eight-inning heartbreaker 6-5 in the super regional game with fifth-ranked Decatur.
(At Kalamazoo College)
Portage Northern 5, Grand Ledge 4 (9 innings)
The Huskies opened the day against the team that knocked them out this time last season. They struck first as Zach Quinn drew a one-out walk, then came home thanks to Comet errors. Grand Ledge matched in the third inning as Payton Wieber’s leadoff walk setup an Aaron West RBI single. A three-hit fourth inning gave PN two more runs scored via Jack Eiden and Gannon Andrews.
Grand Ledge got their first lead of the game with three runs in the fifth on two hits, a walk, and error. West picked up a two RBI single in the process. Husky starting pitcher Xander Morris would bow out after the fifth, finishing with five hits and four runs allowed (three earned), along with two walks and four strikeouts.
Tyler Helgeson switched from centerfield to the mound and locked things down in relief, tossing four scoreless innings with only two hits and two walks allowed, plus six strikeouts.
Portage Northern tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning with Malcolm Gaynor’s RBI single plating Cam French. That chased starter Braedon Stoakes from the mound, finishing with five and 1/3 innings, seven hits, four runs (three earned), three walks, and two strikeouts. RJ Bohnet pitched the remainder of the game in relief.
Neither team could break the 4-4 tie in the seventh or eighth innings. Grand Ledge got a one-out single in the eighth, but the Huskies turned a double play to stifle that threat. In the bottom of the ninth, nine-hitter Jack Beffel drew a leadoff walk. A sacrifice and groundout pushed him to third base for RBI leader Nolan McCarthy, who delivered his 47th RBI of the season for a walkoff winner.
“That pitch, I was looking for something up that I could do some damage with,” said McCarthy. “He threw a first-pitch curveball or slider. It felt really good knowing I could play another game with our team.”
Beffel made it on base three times with two singles and a walk. Gaynor had two RBI.
“How ’bout the bottom of our order?” said PN head coach Chris Andrews. “Those guys should be at the top of the order for anyone else!”
Grand Ledge sees their season end at 27-6-1.
W- Tyler Helgeson 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K
L- RJ Bohnet 3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
Listen back to the Portage Northern/Grand Ledge broadcast here.
Woodhaven 2, Saline 1 (8 innings)
The second game at K-College also went extras after a pitcher’s duel between Woodhaven’s Ryan Szczepaniak and Saline’s Logan Evans. A squeeze bunt gave the Warriors the opening blow in the fourth, which the Hornets matched in the fifth with two hits and an error.
Both starters reached the pitch count limit in the eighth inning. Szczepaniak went seven and 2/3 with five hits, one unearned run, five walks, and five strikeouts. After a hit-by-pitch from reliever Kyle Ray put the potential go-ahead runner on, Woodhaven elected mid-count to bring in ace Colin Czajkowski from centerfield. He got the strikeout to keep the game 1-1.
Evans gave up back-to-back singles to start the eighth, then a fielding error in center left the bases loaded with no one out. Reliever Kyler Blake-Jones coaxed a flyout from Zach Phillips, but it was deep enough to score Nate Overton for the clincher on a sac fly. The Hornets close their season at 30-7.
W- Colin Czajkowski 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 K
L- Logan Evans 7 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
Listen to the bonus broadcast between Woodhaven and Saline.
Portage Northern 7, Woodhaven 3
The super regional game put the top-ranked team in the final Division 1 coaches poll and state runner-up Warriors against the second-ranked Huskies. It also put Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year Czajkowski on the mound for the start against PN ace French.
Woodhaven found success against French initially, bringing in two runs on four hits in the first inning. From there, French would allow only three more hits for the rest of the complete game victory and just one additional run on a third inning sac fly.
“I knew that they were going to come in hitting,” said French. “Just had to keep the ball down and compete with them every pitch. I was calm, cool, and collected and wasn’t worried.”
“He just did what he does, kept hitting his spots” said coach Andrews. “When we got that lead, he’s the guy you want out there because he’s gonna go right at people.”
The Huskies tied the game up with a two-run second inning that started with Parker Brey’s lead-off single. French fell behind 0-2 to start his count, but ended up drawing a walk after an 11-pitch duel with Czajkowski.
“I was locked in, having that mindset of ‘you’re not going to strike me out,'” said French.
“That was an epic at-bat,” added Andrews.
An error would score Brey and a groundout brought in French’s courtesy runner Eiden to tie the game at 2-2. Woodhaven had their final run in the third inning and held a 3-2 advantage until the Huskies scored three in the fifth inning. Although Portage Northern only had two hits in the first four innings, numerous lengthy drawn out at-bats started inflating Czajkowski’s pitch count.
Portage Northern broke through in the fifth inning. Gannon Andrews had a leadoff single, followed by a sacrifice and lineout. With two outs, Helgeson delivered a RBI double to tie the game up. An error at shortstop brought Helgeson home for the 4-3 lead and put Zach Quinn at second base. McCarthy then brought in Quinn with a RBI single for a 5-3 score.
Czajkowski left early in the sixth inning with five runs allowed (two earned), five hits, and four strikeouts. The future Michigan Wolverine had allowed only five runs all season in his prior 61 innings. Against reliever Colin Schwartz, the Huskies added two more runs in the seventh. Helgeson tripled, then scored on a Quinn bunt which led to the fourth Warrior error. Greg Lapetina singled in Quinn for a RBI.
Woodhaven had one last gasp in the seventh with the first two runners getting on via the lone Husky error and a walk. However, French retired the next three men to secure the win and Portage Northern’s first semifinal berth since their 2015 runner-up campaign. Helgeson was a homer from the cycle, scoring twice with a RBI. Quinn also had two runs scored.
“Credit to our guys, they’re just gritty,” noted Andrews. “They don’t give up, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Portage Northern improves to 37-7 and advances to Thursday’s semifinal against Birmingham Brother Rice from Michigan State University, which can be heard live via JoeInsider.com with first pitch around 11:30 a.m.
W- Cam French 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
L- Colin Czajkowski 5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
(At Gobles High School)
Colon 7, Battle Creek St. Philip 2
The Magi set the tone immediately with four runs in the first inning. Four singles, a walk, and hit batsman led the way. Matt Bissett brought in Andrew Smolarz on a RBI single, then Audi Stoll plated Bissett with a single. Stoll scored on a passed ball, then Brandon Crawford knocked in Andy Stoll with a hit for the 4-0 lead.
Colon added a fourth inning run as Brenden Barkman singled in Phil Alva. Smolarz scored his second run in the fifth on Audi Stoll’s sacrifice fly, then Smolarz knocked in Johnathan West on a sixth inning single.
Micky Barkman pitched an excellent game, scattering solo runs in the fourth and sixth to the Tigers. He finished with six innings, four hits, one walk, and three strikeouts. Audi Stoll pitched a flawless seventh with two strikeouts to lock up the win. Audi Stoll had three hits, two RBI, and a run. Smolarz had two hits, two runs, and a RBI. In their current four-year district title run, it’s Colon’s first regional crown.
Decatur 5, River Valley 0
Decatur 6, Colon 5 (8 innings)
The Magi went back-and-forth against the fifth-ranked Raiders. Colon scored one in the top of the second inning, but Decatur answered with two. The Magi went ahead with two in the fifth, but the Raiders tied the game with one in the bottom half. Decatur then scored twice in the sixth inning, giving them a 5-3 advantage entering the final inning of regulation.
An error at first base put Alva on to start the seventh, then an Andy Stoll single placed runners at the corners. Colon suffered back-to-back groundouts with Alva scoring on the second to get the Magi back within one. West was walked to put runners again at the corners, this time with two outs. Crawford then singled in Stoll to tie the game at 5-5. A walk loaded the bases up, but Decatur survived with a strikeout to keep the game even.
In the bottom of the eighth, Decatur was able to bring in the winning with a walk, single, error, then RBI single.
Alva pitched the first three innings for Colon, allowing three hits and two earned runs with two strikeouts. Audi Stoll had the remaining four innings completed with five hits, four runs (two earned), two Ks, and two walks. Audi also led the offense with three hits (one double) and three runs. Barkman had two RBI.
Colon closes the season at 24-4 and graduates Andrew Smolarz, Matt Bissett, Andy Stoll, and Brendan Barkman. Decatur advances to a 5 p.m. semifinal Friday at Michigan State against Saginaw Nouvel.