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Strong pitching leads Troy Athens to first ever regional championship

By: Jeff Dullack, June 6, 2015, 9:00 pm

Rochester – As Troy Athens entered Saturday’s regional round of the playoffs at Rochester high school, the Red Hawks knew they’d need their pitching that has been key all year long to step up once again if they were to advance to their first ever quarterfinal.

And stellar pitching is just what Athens got from its senior aces.

After Matt Lerdahl turned in a dominant performance in a win over Rochester Adams in the regional final, it was John Van Hoef’s turn.

Facing Utica Eisenhower, fresh off of a thrilling eight-inning upset win over Brother Rice, Van Hoef shut down Eisenhower, allowing just one run as he helped lead the Red Hawks to a 4-1 win and the first regional title for Athens.

In the Division 1 quarterfinal, Athens will face Hartland, which knocked off West Bloomfield in the regional semifinal and the Detroit Catholic Central in the regional final, at Novi high school at 4:00 on Tuesday.

Athens coach Mike Morris said that his team has had depth in its pitching rotation all season long and credited his senior aces for once against coming up big for his team on Saturday.

“We’re deep in pitching and we have some senior leaders in Lerdahl and Van Hoef and with all of our seniors,” he said. “They came out and pounded the zone today and trusted our fielders. For the most part, we played a pretty clean game.”

In the regional final, a Justyn Schoening sacrifice fly scored the first run of the game, giving Eisenhower (18-16) an early 1-0 lead.

But that would be all Van Hoef would allow the rest of the way, as he shut down Eisenhower for the rest of the afternoon.

“I was just trying to get groundballs and get fly balls and my defense really came through today,” Van Hoef said of his outing on Saturday. “Everyone behind me was playing awesome, I don’t think we had many errors and everyone came through for me.”

Van Hoef would get some run support in the third inning as Lerdahl would record an RBI single and then Van Hoef would help his own cause with an RBI single of his own to put Athens (18-11) on top, 2-1.

The senior left hander said that getting the lead in the third inning made his job easier as he took the mound in the fourth inning.

“It was amazing,” he said. “Because I knew I could go out there and just do my job. I didn’t have to worry as much about the runners, I just concerned myself with a lot of the mental game and I went out there trying to throw strikes.”

The second regional semifinal of the day produced one of the most surprising outcomes of the day on Saturday as Eisenhower shocked Brother Rice 2-1 in eight innings behind a great pitching performance from Pete Zeimis, who also delivered a game-winning RBI single in the eighth inning.

Coming off of the upset win, Eisenhower coach Jason Gendreau said that the mix of emotions between games was excitement, but he then felt anxious waiting to see how his team would respond in against Athens.

“Extremely happy for the first 15 minutes of the break,” he said. “Slightly concerned the last 10 minutes of break. When you tell teenagers to bring it down to an even keel, it’s a lot easier said than done. Not to mention, you’re in the sun, it’s 80 degrees and they’re playing in extra innings and I felt like we came out very flat. It wasn’t that they didn’t try, the effort was there, but we didn’t have a lot of steam left."

Athens would go on to add two runs later in the game to seal the win.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Highlights from this game can be seen on the State Champs! HS Sports Show on Fox Sports Detroit on Sunday morning at 9:00 am