• Michigan

Can Oxford baseball continue Cinderella run, like football, basketball? Wildcats already have first district title since ’08

By: Matthew B. Mowery, June 5, 2019, 1:15 pm

OXFORD — The whole Cinderella theme has worked out well at Oxford this year.

Now it’s the baseball team’s turn to try to jam the glass slipper on its foot.

Like football and boys basketball before it, the baseball team has put itself in position for an unexpectedly good finish to the season, thanks to a 9-1 upset win over Lake Orion.

“I’m so proud of my guys. This was our first district title since 2008, and that was one of our team goals,” Oxford coach Dave Herrick said. “It was our turn to represent. Just like our football team did, and our basketball team did, it was kind of our time to represent and uphold the community. I’m so proud of the guys.”

Back in the fall, the Oxford football team went 8-3, making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, and winning a playoff game for the first time since 2012, and knocked off defending state champion Clarkston, the eventual D1 runner-up. 

The boys basketball team won its first league title since 2001, its first district title since 1993 and its first regional-round win since 1948 and its first regional title since 1926, finishing 23-2 after a quarterfinals loss to a Howell team that was every bit as much of a Cinderella.

Now, it might just be the turn of the baseball team, which faces Birmingham Brother Rice in Wednesday’s regional semifinals.

The Wildcats came into districts just 11-21, having lost two of three to Clarkston and all three regular-season meetings vs. Lake Orion. But Jesse Burch threw a one-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over Clarkston, then the Wildcats got a huge game from Evan Brunning — who may have pitched his last game for the Wildcats — in the district title game. 

“They beat us three times in the regular season, but we were talking about that since they beat us the last time, we were talking about ‘We’re going to celebrate at Oxford, as district champs,’” Brunning said. “Even though we knew (we were underdogs) coming into this game, we had a pretty good shot.”

Brunning will be off in the fall to play defensive end for Michigan State’s football team. 

“He gave it everything he had. He was up in his pitch count going into the seventh inning, and we wanted Drew (Carpenter) to have a clean seventh inning. Evan was bummed that he wasn’t able to go out there and finish the game, but he was a great teammate, sitting in the dugout cheering Drew on,” Herrick said. “This is my fifth year, and I’ve never seen a group of Oxford baseball players show up as intense for that long. We’ve little glimpses of it. Saturday, we had the momentum going against Clarkston and then the rain came. But the boys showed up with the same intensity all day (Monday).

“So it was really fun to watch. I was just hoping that rain delay didn’t hurt us.”

It helped Brunning that he had some offensive support, too, especially since they’d scored just one run in three regular-season games against Lake Orion.

Tanner Stokes had a two-run double off the wall in the top of the fourth — a ball that looked like it might be gone off the bat — to get Oxford on the board, then added a two-run no-doubter of a home run in the Wildcats’ five-run fifth inning. 

“At first, I did, and they didn’t start cheering. He (the third base coach) said ‘Three!’ But I slipped on second base, so I stayed there. I thought it was (out), but I went in the dugout, did a couple of push-ups, and the next at-bat, I hit one out. … My adrenaline started running a little bit, and I got really excited. Just to be in the district championship, too, is a lot. It’s a nice experience,” said Stokes, who for good reason doesn’t remember the last Oxford district winner. “No, I was six years old. It feels nice to win after 11 years.”