Saturday (starting at 10 a.m.)
Teams: Albion, Concord, Jonesville, Hillsdale
Synopsis: The first-round showdown between Jonesville and Hillsdale is the game local baseball fans have been waiting all year to see. The Hornets are 21-9 overall and co-SMAA champs, while Jonesville is 22-6 and are the outright Big Eight champions. Both teams have strong pitching and the ability to put up a lot of runs, so it should be a contest fans remember for years to come. The winner will play the winner of the Albion-Concord contest. The Hornets beat Albion 17-2 and 13-3 less than a month ago and for being a pretty good sports school, this Wildcat team just doesn’t have enough talented baseball players. Concord is an interesting case, as they are 12-14-2 overall, but are 8-2-1 over their last 11 games and scored 60 runs in their final 60 contests. Jonesville beat Concord twice this season, 6-1 and 12-1.
Editor’s pick: This is one of two really hard districts to pick because I love what both Hillsdale County teams have brought to the table this season and I would be shocked if either the Comets or Hornets didn’t bring home the district trophy. But, when push comes to shove I have to pick one of the two schools and all I keep thinking about is pitching ace Scott Lantis. The Hornet senior is no stranger to big games and more often than not he comes through as expected. He’s had a few hiccups this season, but if he has a good first inning and finds his rhythm I don’t think Ben Stemen or John Sigler can silence the Hornet bats enough for the Comets to end Hillsdale’s season. Ultimately I see Hillsdale beating Concord in a close championship game to finish out a momentous afternoon.
Synopsis: The Comets and Hornets also meet on the softball diamond in round one, but the buildup for this contest is not quite as big. Jonesville did win the Addison Tournament recently and finished out the season 12-18, but Hillsdale has struggled to put together an entire consistent week of play all season. Concord and Albion haven’t had years to remember either though. Albion has been at the bottom of the SMAA all year and Concord is 4-28 on the season, but surprisingly chalked up one of its wins at the expense of Jonesville.
Editor’s pick: The best team on paper in this district was actually Hanover-Horton, but Jonesville upset the 20-13 Komets 3-2 Tuesday and now have a straight path to a trophy if all plays out as I expect. The Hornets have made strides under new coach Lottie LoPresto and Jenna Crawford is a solid top pitcher, but Jonesville has too many bats and senior pitcher Kelsey Aemisegger has thrown well the past few weeks. Unless the Comets shoot themselves in the foot with too many errors, which has happened a few times this season, I see them taking care of business. The Comets should win the championship game over either opposing squad, unless a major upset takes place.
Friday (starting at 1:30 p.m.)
Teams: Camden-Frontier, Reading, Pittsford
Synopsis: With Will Carleton Academy dropping out Pittsford is a shoe-in for the championship game, but the lone semifinal contest should be a doozie. Under head coach Nate Gust the host Redskins have experienced a resurgence of sorts with an SCAA East title and 16-10 record. Kurtis Tyler is arguably one of the top pitchers in the county and Jake Jividens has some pop, and Brady Nusbaum can be counted on to get on base. The Rangers are one of the area’s hottest teams, finishing in a tie for second place in the Big Eight after struggling out of the gate. Senior Ryan “Bulldog” Dillon has the leadership, a solid bat and great glove at the catcher’s position and several Ranger pitchers have shown the ability to leave opposing hitters confused whenever they’re accuracy is on. Pittsford is a 10-12 team that has beaten the teams they expected to, but seems to lack a dominant pitcher. On the flip side, they’ve had at least a half-dozen hitters come through in big spots throughout the season.
Editor’s pick: This is the other toughy. Rick Bailey is a championship coach who has a red-hot team right now, but Tyler can be a dominant pitcher at times, and he has the home-field advantage. I’m going to say the only thing that holds the Redskins back Friday is the “big-game experience” that almost every Ranger player has. Reading also beat Quincy and Jonesville in the regular season, proof they can beat anyone. The “feel-good” story here would be for Gust’s team to win the title, but I think Bailey is going to add another banner to his high school full of them by beating C-F first and then toppling Pittsford, in what could be a closer contest than some people think.
Synopsis: As in the baseball bracket, the Wildcats have a free-pass to the title game. That leaves another Reading, Camden-Frontier bout. The Rangers have been a middle-of-the-road Big Eight team that pulled some upsets along the way, and Kasie Owens can be tough to hit when she’s on. The Redskins are the SCAA East champs, mainly behind the pitching of Megan Schwartzengraber and Morgan Warfield and leadership of catcher Kara Bryner. They stumbled a bit in the middle of the season, but recovered nicely, albeit against some of the weaker teams in the SCAA. Pittsford is an 8-20 team that struggles with errors at times, but seems to do well in low-scoring pitching duals when their defense is solid.
Editor’s pick: I have no doubt in my mind that the Redskins pitching is just too good for the competition it will see. Even though the C-F bats went cold for a few weeks in early May I don’t think it will matter. On their home field, with arguably one of the states best 1-2 pitching punches in Division 4 I think it’s a no-brainer. Pittsford did actually beat C-F once earlier this year, but I think the Redskins learned from that surprising defeat.
Teams: Homer, Jackson Christian (baseball only), Litchfield, North Adams-Jerome, Tekonsha
Saturday (starting at 10 a.m.)
Synopsis: This is essentially a two-team district, between Jackson Christian and Homer and thankfully they don’t meet in the semifinals. Litchfield is 8-17 and has picked up a few wins late in the season and they will take on Jackson Christian (13-11), while a bottom-of-the-SCAA Rams team will try to somehow upset the 17-12 Trojans. The Trojans have won six district championships in row.
Editor’s pick: History speaks, and Jackson Christian hasn’t even had a winning season since 1997, let alone a district title, so I think Homer’s experience pays off as they bring home the crown. I think Litchfield has a better shot than N A-J to mix things up, but Jackson Christian did beat them in both head-to-head meetings this season.
Synopsis: Litchfield and North Adams-Jerome will vie for spot in the title game, as will Homer and Tekonsha. Litchfield has yet to win a contest this season, while Tekonsha hasn’t fared much better at 3-19. North Adams-Jerome has proved to be a middle-of-the-pack SCAA East team. The far-and-away best team in the district is the host Trojans though. They are 18-10 overall and won 10 of 13 during a stretch earlier this season, plus they are coming off a state runner-up finish in Division 4 last year. Homer’s No. 1 pitcher Paige Winchell is the best player in this district and will likely pitch both games.
Editor’s pick: Winchell, teamed with first baseman Ashley Calhoun is just too much for any of these SCAA squads to overcome. Winchell and Calhoun are both going to play softball for JCC next year and know what it takes to make a deep run in the postseason. Anything other than a Trojan title here would be shocking. I expect them to beat the Rams in the finals.
Location: Ottawa Lake Whiteford
Saturday (starting at 10 a.m.)
Teams: Lenawee Christian, Morenci, Whiteford, Waldron
Synopsis: Waldron is the only local team in this district and they will have a tough time making it out it alive. They have been a below .500 team this year, who couldn’t seem to find a bona fide No. 1 pitcher. They have a lot of good athletes, but not necessarily baseball players.
Considering 16-8 Lenawee Christian and 21-9 Whiteford are its main oppositions this weekend, it’s an uphill battle. While Morenci is a non-factor for all intensive purposes, Lenawee has a stellar 1-2 pitching attack in John Morrison and Rylie Robinson, and the Bobcats’ Jake Ritzenthaler drove in 62 runs this season, a new region record, breaking an 18-year-old mark.
Editor’s pick: The Spartans might to be able to hang with one of these big boys for 4-5 innings, but that’s it. Ultimately it’s all about Lenawee Christian and Whiteford.
While I don’t like betting against good teams hosting a district, I like good defense and reliable pitching even more — two things the Cougars seem to have.
Lenawee Christian is my pick.
Synopsis: Again the Spartans are the lone local team, and they have shown some firepower late in the season and have a win over Camden-Frontier to their credit as well. MacKenzie Price is one of the better pitchers in the area when she’s healthy, but she’s fought through injuries all season long. Morenci is a 20-13 team, while Lenawee Christian is an 11-10 squad who hasn’t been all that strong traditionally, especially in district play. While Morenci has an above average winning percentage to their credit, they dropped a pair to the host school Ottawa Lake Whiteford just last week.
Editor’s pick: I think the Spartans are capable of winning one game, but not two. They don’t have a lineup that shouts ‘wow’ to you from 1-9 and Morenci and Whiteford would be tough take down over the course of a couple of hours.
My money is on the host Bobcats who have good pitching and those two wins over Morenci to boot.