If they’re going to end up in the state quarterfinals a week from this afternoon, the Hillsdale High School baseball team will have to plow through some first-rate competition this weekend.
The three teams in their regional have a combined total of 21 losses.
One of the schools, Lumen Christi, has knocked the Hornets football team out of the state playoffs two of the past four years and rallied from four runs down to beat Hillsdale on the diamond earlier this season.
And the host school Clinton, is 32-5, ranked No. 7 in Division 3 and has lost just once in the last four weeks.
Certainly not if you ask head coach Chris Adams.
“Rankings don’t mean anything this time of season. You know, you get to regionals, and once in a while a team will get lucky and win a district, but for the most part you’re dealing with, and I’m not just talking record wise…all good teams,” Adams said. “I think the team that’s going to come out of our region is the team with the best pitching and the team that makes the fewest mistakes — maybe not the fewest errors, but the fewest mistakes.”
At least Hillsdale can wait until the finals to face either the Redskins or Titans, but Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (30-7) will be no breeze in the semis, fresh off their winningest regular season ever and a thrilling district championship win last weekend.
They toppled Manchester 6-5 with a seventh-inning RBI double at Grass Lake to earn a spot in the regional field, after beating Grass Lake 9-0 behind a 10 strikeout no-hitter from Chris Ostrowski in the semis.
Ostrowski is an all-league sophomore who has thrown several no-hitters this year and struck out 10 or more a handful of times.
“He’s a bigger kid and he throws the ball OK velocity wise,” Adams said. “Grass Lake is down this year, so we didn’t get a real good read on what he did. I think he just pretty much stuck with the fastball and was able to dominate.”
On top of that, coach Greg Lenhoff isn’t afraid to use as many pitchers as he needs to win a contest, evident by him using five in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Notre Dame Prep.
The Fighting Irish have been pretty good at limiting the opposition this season, holding opponents to one or no runs 11 times in 2009.
And at the plate they’re similar to some teams Hillsdale has faced, according to Adams.
“They match-up with us pretty well and they’re kind of like Jonesville in that they’re free swingers who like to swing the bats. We just want to take the same approach we did last weekend pretty much,” Adams said.
Hillsdale will start Dillon Dirth opposite Ostrowski, not surprising considering he is 9-0 with a 1.37 ERA and was the No. 1 pitcher at districts.
“We’re going with what we consider our best team and our best team is with Scott Lantis playing shortstop,” Adams said, referring to his other ace pitcher. “You’ve got to put your best team out there, because you can’t worry about game two if you don’t win game one. You’ve got to put your hottest pitcher out there — last year it was Lantis, this year it’s Dirth.”
Dirth has tied a school record for wins in a season and walked just 22 batters in 51 innings.
As important to the Hornets’ success as their pitching will be their ability to advance base-runners and manufacture runs, Adams said.
The Hillsdale head coach talked about the Hornets regional contest with Blissfield in 2007, during the team’s state championship run, when they had six sacrifices to Blissfield’s zero, and Lantis didn’t allow a leadoff hitter to reach base until the seventh inning.
“We’ve got some things going on that are eerily similar to that season two years ago. And I think that our kids are focused,” he said. “We can’t control what the other team does, we can only control what we do.”
If the Hornets do indeed get by Richard, the task at hand becomes just as hard.
Lantis would be penciled in as the starter for the championship game and Adams said it really all comes down to fundamentals and limiting mistakes when a berth in the state quarterfinals is up for grabs.
“Right now, the pressure of a postseason game, it’s one and done. You can’t afford to make a ton of mistakes,” he said. “A couple of years ago in our state finals run we were able to overcome a lot of physical mistakes, but we had a much better offensive team than we do right now. And that’s not to take anything away from our kids, but we had 374 hits on that team….and that team had pop one through nine.”
Hillsdale and Gabriel Richard will butt heads at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the other semifinals contest and championship game following.