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Brother Rice gets walk-off walk to beat Detroit Catholic Central in slugfest, but second game suspended

By: Matthew B. Mowery, May 1, 2019, 11:30 pm

TROY — A list of the things firmly established when Birmingham Brother Rice met No. 17 Novi Detroit Catholic Central at Warrior Park on Wednesday:

1) No lead is safe. 

End of list.

Both teams underscored their resilience with comebacks — the Shamrocks twice rallied from four-run deficits in the opener, tying it up in the top of the seventh, only to lose it 7-6 in walk-off fashion; Brother Rice falling behind 8-0 in the nightcap, only to erase all but one run of that deficit before the game was suspended by darkness.

Other than that, nothing much else was settled. 

“No, I mean, they beat us the first two times at their place, so it was good to get the first win. We were both (around .500) going into the day in the league, and everybody’s kind of scraping to see where they’re going to fall, so we’re probably going to have to finish this game,” Brother Rice coach Bob Riker said of the nightcap, which saw Catholic Central leading 9-8 after four innings. “But it was good that the guys came back and battled hard. Nothing got settled. We play each game, play each inning the best we can, and see what we can do.”

Given how tightly packed the Catholic League Central standings are, it’s unlikely that either team will be eliminated from contention for the league postseason, nor will either likely be a shoo-in for the final four teams that make the playoffs, meaning that the remaining three innings of the nightcap will likely be played. 

“We’ll see. Our league season ends next Saturday, (May) 11th. We’ll get back together if it matters, but if not, there’s no sense in coming out here for three innings,” said CC coach Dan Michaels. “Everybody’s so tight in the Catholic League, there’s a chance after May 11, we may have to come back out here, and play three innings to see who makes the playoffs.”

As nearly as the two coaches could figure it, Detroit U-of-D Jesuit was leading the pack at 8-4, with Brother Rice (14-9) next at 7-6, and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Catholic Central and Warren DeLaSalle all at 6-6. The Shamrocks (11-6-1) have two suspended games to finish: Wednesday’s, as well as one with Divine Child that will be resumed in the fourth inning next Wednesday, prior to the regularly-scheduled doubleheader. 

Anybody from the outside, looking at the standings might see mediocrity, but in reality it’s parity between a lot of really good teams.

"Come play in our league, though. I was telling the guys at the end of the first game, ‘I challenge anybody to play me four, CC four, U-of-D four, DeLaSalle four, Divine Child four and St. Mary’s four. We play 20 league games. No, they want to play all the non-league games, too. Come play 20, and see. I’m a big — I love playing our guys, because it prepares you — I love playing the non-league stuff, too, but I love playing our guys, too, because it prepares you. You’re going to battle,” Riker said. “For this year, I can’t remember the last time U-of-D has been in first place after the turn. And everybody’s kind of scraping, trying to finish in the top four to get to the playoffs at Comerica because that’s what it’s all about.”

Having lost to the Shamrocks both times in Novi, it was big for the Warriors to get out to a quick lead. They were helped in that effort by walks to the first four batters, and six first-inning walks in total.

The Shamrocks chipped away at the 4-0 deficit with a two-run double by Connor Donlin in the top of the fourth, but Brother Rice re-established the four-run margin with two runs in the fifth, on a sacrifice fly by John Locker and an RBI single by Will Shannon.

Adam Falinski started the seventh-inning rally for the Shamrocks with a solo homer, then another run scored on a sacrifice fly by Brendan Burke. Joe Hardenbergh made it a one-run game with an RBI single, then Donlin drew a bases-loaded walk to tie it 6-6.

It wouldn’t take long for Brother Rice to answer in the bottom half of the inning.

After Tito Flores led off with a double and went to third on a wild pitch, CC chose to load the bases to create a force out at any base, Sterling Hallmann’s walk pushed across the winning run, ending the game.

“Oh, gosh, you’re just trying to win a ball game, trying to take quality at-bats, take one pitch at a time. The philosophy for us is really simple: It starts with pitching. If you can walk fewer batters than they do, that’s an advantage. No. 2, if you can make fewer mistakes defensively — I mean, dropping the ball in left field, the two passed balls, huge; the other ball in left-center. We gave them some runs in the first game, as a close as it was, and we were fortunate to come back. And then if you can strike out less times. If you can do two of those four things more than the other team, you’re going to win 75 percent of your games. That’s what we kind of live on. And we’ve usually lived on pitching and defense. Our defense has been a little sketchy We started off the second game very poorly, though. They came out and hit four balls really hard. We walked a few guys, and that’s a bad recipe. But our guys came back, and that’s to their credit,” Riker said.

“You’re never out of it until the last out, the last at-bat.”

The Shamrocks bounced back in the second game, sending 10 men to the plate in the top of the first, and scoring five runs. Reagan Paulina’s two-run homer started it, then Donlin and Falinsk added RBI singles, and Dante Merucci drew a bases-loaded walk. Ryan Marra had a two-run homer, and Donlin an RBI single, as CC made it 8-0 after the top of the second. 

“Up 8-0, we didn’t rest, trust me. We know these guys better than that. But that six runs happened so quickly,” Michaels said, admitting the bounce-back to start the game was what he was looking for. “Kinda, until we gave up six runs in the second inning. That’s not what I expected. After we got out 8-0, then to give up six — you need a break to get up 8-0, and they needed a break, and we kind of opened the door. …

“They’re never out of it. That’s why I was kind of upset that they called the game. I thought we could’ve gotten another inning in, and I’ll take my chances on getting three outs (and having it end as a complete game after five) rather than play them in a full game to get a win.”

The Warriors rallied for six runs in the bottom of the second, sending 10 men to the plate. Locker had a two-run double, while Josh Anschuetz had a two-run single in the rally. 

The two teams traded runs after that, with Paulina making it 9-6 CC with a third-inning RBI double, then Brother Rice getting an RBI groundout by Charlie D’Angelo in the third to cut it to 9-7, and then an RBI double by Locker in the fourth to make it a one-run game, 9-8.

No lead was safe.

“No. And I love playing CC, because that was our rivals when we played each other. Danny and I played each other when he was at CC, and so did (Greg) Haeger, who’s over there, too. Haeger and I actually played each other at Michigan and Central (Michigan), and were roommates in the Tigers organization together, so there’s a long history there. I was running by the one time, and he said ‘Hey, the first one to 12 wins.’ I go, ‘You’re on, buddy!’” Riker said. “It’s good, and they’re a good team. If we could come out and play a good team like that every day, that’s what we’d like to do.”

Michaels agreed.

“No lead is safe is correct. … We are very resilient. I gotta give the guys credit. We get knocked down, and we get right back up. We get knocked down in the game, and come right back in the first game, give up four runs in the first four batters, and come right back and throw a five-spot on them after losing that game,” the CC coach said. “No lead’s safe … with anybody. But these guys are good. Their first three hitters — that’s the best top three hitters around, anywhere.”