BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -Blissfield High School parlayed four first-inning runs, the pitching of Paul Phillips and some timely defense yesterday to take a 5-3 victory over Grandville Calvin Christian in the Michigan Division 3 state baseball semifinals at Bailey Park in Battle Creek.
The second-ranked Royals (39-4), who set a school record for wins in a season, will play for their sixth state championship under 35th-year head coach Larry Tuttle at 2 p.m. today here against seventh-ranked Clare (31-7).
Clare defeated Battle Creek Pennfield (33-4) 11-7 in yesterday's other D-3 semifinal.
This will be the third state final for five Blissfield players, including three four-year starters -Derek Feldkamp, Mike Melvin and Tony Ybarra.
That trio played in the Royals' 6-4 loss to Saginaw Nouvel in the 1999 title game, and in Blissfield's 3-0 triumph in the 2000 championship game here.
Tuttle (808-240-2) also piloted the Royals to state titles in 1973, 1976, 1977, and 1992.
The key to earning a seventh trip to the finals was getting to Squires starter Kyle Snoeyink (8-2) early.
“We knew [Snoeyink] had thrown 37 outs from Saturday to Saturday and we were going to make him throw pitches,” Tuttle said.
“Getting those runs early really relaxed me, because this was the biggest game I've ever pitched and I was a little nervous to begin with,” Phillips said. “We got the runs when we needed them.”
After Phillips (12-0) blanked Grandville in the top of the first inning, Royals leadoff hitter Eric Rose opened with a single to center, stole second and went to third on the catcher's throw.
Feldkamp plated Rose with a sacrifice fly, and Melvin was hit by a pitch. Melvin advanced on a wild pitch, then scored on Phillips' single to center.
After Ybarra reached on an infield single, senior DH Rudy Mirelez delivered a two-run single to left-center for a 4-0 lead.
“It was a fastball low and away, and I've been working on hitting the opposite way,” Mirelez said. “I got good wood, or metal, on it.
“That was big for us. We needed that. It's huge to get on top when you're the home team, and then Paul went out and threw his game.
That was all for the Royals until Mirelez added an RBI triple to right-center scoring pinch runner Brad Emerson. Emerson ran for Phillips, who had singled.
“We got him [Mirelez] in the lineup for a reason,” Tuttle said. “He can swing the bat.''
The Squires (27-9) scored once in the third when Steve Warners singled home Jeff Warners, who had reached on an error.
Grandville added two in the sixth, on RBI singles from Snoeyink - who was removed from the mound after walking Rose to start the second - and from Kevin Scholten.
Then Phillips got some crucial defensive help from his senior battery-mate Chris Hudson.
Second baseman Caleb Porter fielded Josh Kooiker's one-out grounder and threw to Ybarra at short for the force, but Ybarra's relay to first sailed wide of Feldkamp. Hudson, backing up the play, fired to Ybarra to get Kooiker, who was trying to advance.
“Those double plays were huge. We've had great defense all year. It kind of gets underrated sometimes. Chris hustles all the time and covered up when he was supposed to and made a great throw.”
In the seventh, after Phillips hit James Overbeek with a pitch to start the inning, Blissfield junior third baseman Zach Decatur started a 5-4-3 double play. Stewart Pettijohn then flew out to Melvin.
“All year Paul's been doing that,” Tuttle said. “Giving up a hit here and there. He bent but he didn't break. That's why he's 20-0 in his high school career.”