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NEW PITCHING CALCULUS: Catholic Central navigates new postseason format, weather variable to shut out Novi for 3rd district title in 5 years

By: Matthew B. Mowery, June 2, 2019, 6:30 pm

NOVI — There’s a new calculus for the pitching formula in districts, with the MHSAA’s new postseason baseball format.

And that formula only gets murkier when you throw in a variable, like inclement weather further compacting the postseason schedule.

Novi Detroit Catholic Central’s conundrum in Sunday’s weather-postponed district championship game was whether or not to let Brendan Burke keep dominating against Novi, or to save bullets for Wednesday’s brand-new postseason feature, the regional semifinal.

The Shamrock coaches let Burke go, and — despite allowing two runners on in the seventh — he shut down the Wildcats, finishing off a three-hit shutout in a 7-0 win to claim the district title. 

“Ahh, Brendan Burke … I thought they didn’t really threaten until the seventh inning. We just looked at the chart — I think he threw 63 strikes and 24 balls. Like way over 70 percent. Awesome. Great kid,” CC coach Dan Michaels said, admitting there was some indecision on letting him continue.

“I knew he was in the 60s after the fifth inning, and with the pitch-count rules, once you get over 75, you’ve gotta sit three days. So you hate to do that (pull a pitcher), because — heck we gave up 11 runs to Orchard Lake in one inning this year — but looking ahead, if you’re below 75, you only need two days rest. We just decided that Burkie does better when he gets more rest, so kind of shoehorning him in, and forcing him to pitch with 65 or 70 pitches, is kind of hard on a kid. We were like just let him finish. He doesn’t bounce back that quick — I don’t know who bounces back after 70 pitches in just two days.”

Catholic Central advances to the Farmington regional semifinal No. 15 at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, when they’ll face Livonia Stevenson.

The Spartans won the Farmington district, beating Farmington (6-3) and North Farmington (8-1). 

The winner of the CC/Stevenson regional semifinal will move on to the regional finals back at Novi on Saturday, facing the winner of the regional semifinal between Walled Lake Northern and the winner of the Hartland district (Hartland, Milford or Fenton). 

Catholic Central got past Northville, 7-4, at South Lyon East on Saturday, but the second semifinal between East and Novi was suspended in the third inning, then moved to Novi for Sunday’s resumption. The Wildcats came back to beat the Cougars, 6-3, but used up a lot of pitching in the process. 

The new format will have coaches doing the pitch-count math throughout districts.

“And then when rain and thunder comes in, it makes it even harder,” Novi coach Rick Green said. “So yeah, it’s tough. We weren’t too deep in the pitching staff, so that’s where it hurt us. We’ll be back hopefully next year, with some more arms.”

Michaels could commiserate, since he had to go to reliever Thomas Sylvester to get the Shamrocks through a back-and-forth game with Northville.

“That game, we talked about it, just back and forth. A couple of plays here and there, and it flips the other way. I mean, Thomas Sylvester, and the job he did in the sixth inning … He came in and threw nothing but strikes,” Michaels said. 

“They (the Wildcats) had it worse than we did with the rules, right? Their pitchers threw two or three innings, and then they’re done for today. You gotta have the pitch count. I get it. But it’s like ‘Oh, man …’ for the tournament. It was better just to take a deep breath, go home, dry the clothes out, and then come back and play. It worked out for us, and we’ll take it.”

The Wildcats started Drew O’Connor against the Shamrocks, and he go them through two quick innings before a big rally in the third. He lasted until the fifth, when another big rally by the Shamrocks, pushing it to 5-0, knocked him out.

“It was a long day, long weekend. That kind of hurt us in that first game Saturday, being rained out and losing our pitching. But I thought Drew battled, and when it was 0-0, I thought we had a good chance to win the ballgame,” Green said. “We just didn’t hit. We swung at too many high pitches, and they laid off the high pitches, and I thought that was the difference in the game — they took their walks, and we didn’t.”

The bottom of the CC order started two of their three rallies, including the three-run third. Regan Paulina led off with a single, and scored on a single by Tyler Harris. Ryan Marra drew a bases-loaded walk, then Joe Hardenbergh hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. 

The Shamrocks knocked O’Connor out with a two-out rally in the fifth, started when Marra beat out an infield single, and Hardenbergh walked. Cooper Donlin greeted Connor Truax with a two-run double to make it 5-0.

Paulina led off the sixth with a single, then Adam Falinski doubled. Paulina scored on Tyler Harris’ sacrifice fly, and Falinski scored on a throwing error, making it 7-0.

“Our top half of the lineup, they were taking some whacks up there, and you gotta give it to Rick, he was playing his outfielders pretty deep, and they were catching balls — but I can’t tell the guys not to swing. You got Burkie, Marra, Hardenbergh, Donlin — those guys go up there and take some swings,” Michaels said. “When they’re going, they all can hit. That’s what’s good about this lineup, they don’t all hit for power, but you’ve got Harris and (Dante) Merrucci, and you’ve got (Jake) Zeeb, when Zeeb plays, and you’ve got Paulina. We can put the ball in play.”

Even with Burke unavailable for Wednesday’s game, Shamrocks will have Saturday’s first game starter, Harris, and the rest of their staff good to go. 

It still may take a few seasons to see if the postseason format change helps as it was intended.

“I’m curious to see. At some point in time — the old way or the new way — if you make a run to the finals, you probably need at least three pitchers. I think you need at least three,” Michaels said. “We’ve talked about it. This is our third district title in the last five years, and the other times, it was the old rules, so now we would’ve played next Saturday. If you’ve got two good pitchers, you’re going to throw them on Saturday. Now, this Wednesday is taking the place of the next Tuesday (quarterfinals), which was the final eight. I heard some talk that the reason they did it was they were getting to the semifinals, and no one had their top pitchers. 

That’s why this is a tough day, too. I lose Burkie, whereas the guys that finished (Saturday), they have everybody available. And the guys that play (Monday) have it even worse than I do. Unless you throw 75 or less — if you’re out there throwing a complete game, you’re going to be in the same boat as we are. 

“I don’t know. You’re going to need more than two pitchers to win the first three games, I believe. I’ve already gone three pitchers, and I might have to go four or five, right? I’m planning on bringing the guys from Saturday back on three days rest.”