After playing for a state title last season, Northville looks to get past Brother Rice and make a return trip to East Lansing
Northville – Much is learned when you finish second.
You learn that your team was good, just not good enough to win it all. You learn that through hard work and a little luck you were able to reach a championship game. You learn from your mistakes and you hope that if given that chance again you won’t make those same mistakes.
Northville reached a state final for the first time last season then lost to Saline, 5-2, in the Division 1 championship game.
The Mustangs (33-7) escaped with a regional title on Sunday and will play Catholic League powerhouse Birmingham Brother Rice, in a Division 1 quarterfinal on Tuesday at Wayne State University at 4 p.m.
Northville has never defeated Brother Rice. In 2013 Alex Malzone hit a walk-off single in the seventh inning to give Brother Rice a 3-2 victory over Northville. Brother Rice would go on to play in the title game. In 2009, Brother Rice defeated Northville, 11-4, in a regional semifinal.
Northville returned 16 players from last season and coach John Kostrzewa has 13 seniors including his top two starting pitchers Ben Schmidt and Jon Michalak. Schmidt was the starting pitcher against Saline and allowed three runs in the first inning on one hit and one walk. With the bases loaded and no outs, Michalak relieved Schmidt and walked two batters and allowed a sacrifice fly.
“It was like we lost the game in the first five minutes,” Kostrzewa said. “When you have that many returning who tasted it, they want to get back. That experience helps. We’ve been in a lot of one-run games this season. Five of our losses have been by one run. Some of those games went our way. Some didn’t.”
One that did go their way was Sunday’s 1-0 victory over White Lake Lakeland in a regional final.
Schmidt, who signed with Lawrence Tech, allowed four hits in 6 1/3 innings to get the victory. But he needed help. Senior Jordan Shaffer earned the save thanks to a heads-up play by junior second baseman Nick Prystash and a pitcher’s best friend.
Schmidt walked the leadoff batter to begin the seventh and retired the next batter on a sacrifice bunt. Shaffer came in and struck out the first batter he faced but the catcher dropped the ball and he threw wildly to first in an attempt to get the out. Prystash alertly backed up the play and kept the runner on second from scoring. With runners on the corners and one out, Shaffer, who throws sidearm, got the batter to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
“It’s an incredible way to end the game,” Kostrzewa said.
This is Kostrzewa’s 14th season as Northville’s head coach and this is the program’s best two-year run. There aren’t any superstars or Division I prospects on this season. His 21 players are a group of good athletes who pull for each other and aren’t interested in personal achievements.
“They just like being around each other,” he said. “I have a ton of multi-sport athletes (Northville’s entire infield and outfield compete in more than one sport). We have a lot of athletic kids who are well-coached in the other sports they play.
“After losing in the state final, they’ve had a chip on their shoulder since. Being there the first time was great. They got a taste of that and they want to get back.”