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BASEBALL: Watching the throne on Saturday in Battle Creek, 4 state champions take the hefty hardware

By: Scott Burnstein, June 16, 2013, 10:00 am

BATTLE CREEK – The kings of the Mitten’s prep diamond assumed their throne Saturday in Battle Creek at C.O.  Brown Stadium, where the MHSAA crowned its 2013 state baseball champions.

Two of the titles were of the repeat variety.

While Grand Rapids Christian won its second straight Division 2 state championship, Madison Heights Bishop Foley claimed its third consecutive crown in Division 3, becoming the first baseball team in state history to win three in a row.

In Division 1, Bay City Western squeaked past Birmingham Brother Rice 1-0 for its first state championship on the diamond and in Division 4, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett raised its second state-title trophy in three seasons, after losing in the state finals last year.

Bishop Foley (35-2) beat Granville Calvin Christian 12-5 on the shoulders of some timely relief pitching and an opportune eruption on offense, which saw the Ventures jump ahead 9-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning to break things open.

Entering the game in the third, senior Chad Gravlin picked up the win on the mound, going 3 innings of sturdy 3-hit ball, working out of a rough patch in the top of the fifth that set the stage for his club’s knockout blow in the following half of the frame. Senior catcher Billy Malack went 2-for-2 with 3 RBI, 2 walks and 2 runs-scored and juniors Garrett Schilling and Mike Reid both went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI apiece to highlight Bishop Foley’s massive offensive surge with the game on the line.

Gravlin is a transfer from Riverview Gabriel Richard. Malack is a three-year starter, the past two seasons as an all-league third basemen prior to replacing the departed Brett Sunde (Western Michigan, MLB draft choice), the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012 behind the plate for his senior campaign.

Reid worked the final inning of the state championship game from the pitching rubber, retiring the last out of the contest with two runners on to post the save. Schilling, the squad’s ace, ran his career record to 31-0 and his season-record to 15-0 in the semifinals – a 6-0 shutout versus Bridgeman.

On the subject of perfection, Grand Rapids Christian hurler Austin Batka flirted with it during his team’s state title tilt Saturday. The junior spin-master took a no-hitter into the 7th inning of his team’s 3-0 blanking of Richmond, finishing with a 2-hit, 8-strikeout gem instead.

At the dish, GRC (19-15) was all precision, plating two runs via suicide squeezes (Alex VanDeVusse and Tyler Boyd) and its other on a sacrifice fly provided by Batka to help his own cause toeing the slab.

Although the defending state-champion in Division 2, GRC could qualify for the ‘Cinderella’ tag in this spring’s tournament. The club was under the .500 mark for much of the season.

Bay City Western (42-2) and Brother Rice (32-9) locked horns in a battle of heavyweights in Division 1 and neither backed down, giving fans a nip-and-tuck affair to kick-off the crowning festivities Saturday morning.

Connor Foley snared the victory on the hill for Western, scattering 6 hits and going the distance.

Scoreless through five innings, Brendan Harrison broke the deadlock in Western’s direction with an RBI single in the sixth to give his club all it needed with Foley tossing a beautiful and befuddling mixed-bag of pitches to keep the dangerous Brother Rice batsmen at bay the entire outing.

Western wraps up the 2013 campaign on a 35-game winning streak.

Liggett (31-4) needed extra innings in Division 4 to dispatch Beal City, 3-2, collecting the win in the eighth courtesy of a throwing error in the top half of the frame and a sterling relief appearance by closer Adam Feima in the bottom half of the frame. Feima recorded a 1-2-3 inning and the Knights were having themselves a mound party.

Leading-off the bottom of the eighth with a single, right-fielder Cole Zingas eventually scored the game-winning run when a Beal City mis-fire resulted in him being brought in from third, where he had reached on a sinlge by Mark Evan Auk, who made a diving grab in centerfield to nail down the second-to-last out of the game.

Oakland University-commit Connor Fannon got credit for the win on the bump for Liggett, making his final effort throwing as a prepster a productive one in middle relief.