Hillsdale Hornets head coach Chris Adams has a lot of expectations for his players, but when they meet his criteria some of their own expectations are then met — like being crowned district champs.
Using some ‘small-ball’ tactics to rev the engine up and then putting the pedal to the metal in later innings, Hillsdale beat Jonesville 14-1, then took down Concord 11-1 Saturday, to win the program’s third straight district title and sixth since the turn of the century.
“The game plan is simply to come out and play solid defense, hit the ball, get good pitching, go gap-to-gap, we’re going to move runners and run the bases aggressively… we’re going to do things the right way and we were able to do that today and that’s exciting,” Adams said. “We have a lot of fun with this group of kids, they come to play and we’ve got a lot of baseball kids and some phenomenal athletes too. This is always a goal that goes unspoken, and it’s not even a goal, it’s an expectation, an expectation to compete for a district championship.”
While the usual suspects, senior stars Mitchell Gabriele and Scott Lantis were their usual productive selves Saturday, guys like Tyler Vandeberghe and Brad Jenkins came through in the clutch on more than one occasion.
Vandeberghe totaled four hits, four RBIs and four runs and drew three walks while getting on base seven out of a possible eight times.
Jenkins got on base seven of nine trips to the plate and scored five runs, drew two walks, was hit by pitches twice and had three hits including a double.
“Brad has really stepped it up the last week-and-a-half, and that’s something we really needed from him. He’s kind of been languishing there down in the nine spot and we put him up to two because he’s a good bunter, he had a good weekend at the Adrian Invitational last week, and things just worked out for us today,” Adams said.
“And Vandeberghe has been stroking it all year, he was actually leading our team in hitting until this weekend when Lantis kind of exploded. Tyler hit .225 last year and he’s at almost .400 this year, and his defense is much improved. What can you say? Good things happen to good kids and they work hard, they bust their tails in practice.”
As Adams put it though, every guy on the roster was responsible for the success, because they came into districts prepared thanks to the type of competition that takes place in practice.
In the heavily hyped crosstown showdown with Jonesville, the Comets fought valiantly, but ultimately Hornets pitcher Dillon Dirth (9-0) shut them down in a key fifth-inning spot to stomp out a possible rally and invoke his own team even more.
Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth Jonesville put runners on second and third with no outs, but Dirth struck out Jared Jordan, and was able to get John Sigler and Jay Bearden to pop out and ground out to end the threat.
“A couple of bunts there hurt us, but that’s just how baseball goes. The momentum went their way and we couldn’t stop them,” Jonesville head coach Dale Steward said. “That was a big play and turning point. If we could’ve got a couple of runs and at least made it tight…it’s a lot easier to bat when you’re ahead.”
With the pressure on, the Comets went 1-2-3 with two strikeouts the following inning and the Hornets took control with a 10-run seventh inning shortly thereafter.
That inning included three walks and five hits, including an exclamation-point grandslam from Hornet senior Scott Lantis to cap things off. Lantis was 3-for-3 with six RBIs, including two sacrifice flies in the semifinals rout.
He got himself in several jams and the Comets made solid contact on him throughout the contest, but he ended up going the distance, giving up just one earned run and eight hits, while striking out six and walking three.
Ben Stemen took the loss for Jonesville, giving up 10 runs and 11 hits, while striking out four, but Steward said he would start his senior again if he could do it all over.
It was a tough way to go out for a Jonesville team that went 21-6 in the regular season and won an outright Big 8 championship, but Steward said he told his boys to keep their heads up and remember that next year only four starters will have graduated and “the cupboard will be far from empty.”
“We’re still Big 8 champs, you can’t take that away from us…that’s pretty much what I told them,” he said. “It was a good season, we went 22-7, good turnaround for Jonesville baseball and it’s a good way for the seniors to leave.”
Casey Clow had the Comets lone RBI, via a double in the first inning and Chase Jacks added two singles and walk in the loss.
The championship game was only 3-0 in favor of the Hornets, before a 6-run fifth inning did all but start the Yellow Jacket’s bus for them.
Gabriele came through with a two-run double that inning and DH Charlie Vear drove in two runs with a single to put some distance between the two teams.
Despite dealing with a serious migraine for several hours before taking the mound, Lantis was in top form, allowing just three hits and one run in six innings. He struck out seven and walked two.
Kurtis Condon had two of his four hits in the championship game and had four RBIs on the day and Vear totaled three RBIs in the finals. “It’s depth, its coach-ability, it’s kids doing anything they can and it’s not about me, it’s about us,’ Adams said.
The head coach was pleased with another district trophy, but far from satisfied.
“Getting to regionals is no longer acceptable. We need to start setting our goals on competing for a regional championship every year,” he said. “Last year was a disappointment and hopefully we’re not going to be contending with the same disappointment because the kids are expecting to win.”