BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - The baseball purist in Monroe Jefferson coach Dave Sontag would have preferred a more conventional outing from his sixth-ranked Bears in yesterday's Michigan Division 2 state semifinals.
But that doesn't mean the 18th-year skipper won't take the 11-8 victory over Essexville Garber at Bailey Park in Battle Creek that got his team into today's championship game.
The Bears (31-6) rallied from early deficits of 4-1 and 6-4 thanks to 10 hits and seven Garber errors to earn a chance at the school's first state baseball title.
Jefferson, which had never gotten past the regional finals, plays unranked Lapeer West (30-8) at 5:30 p.m.
“I'm certainly happy we won and that we've gotten to the next level, but the performance kind of shocked me,” Sontag said. “I didn't expect two teams that were relying on pitching and defense to play like that.
“But we always seem to find a way to win.''
With Jefferson senior Rick Goltowksi (now 9-0) facing the Dukes' Jeff Sinicki (now 13-1), the game promised to be a pitcher's duel. But a combined 16 hits, 19 runs, nine errors, four balks and several baserunning miscues later, that forecast proved faulty at best.
Sinicki gave himself an early 4-1 lead with a three-run homer off Goltowski in the bottom of the first.
The Bears scored three in the third to tie it and, after Garber added two in the fourth for a 6-4 edge, Jefferson took control with a five-run fifth.
Two walks sandwiched around an infield error loaded the bases, and Jefferson's Matt Ely drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly.
Goltowski then added a two-run double for a 7-6 lead. The final two runs scored when Garber right fielder Myles Badour charged in on Jason Gendron's single and let the ball skip past him.
Two doubles and a Bear error in the fifth inning enabled the Dukes to pull within a run, but Jefferson added single runs in the sixth and seventh for insurance.
“These guys almost like being behind,” Sontag said. “It doesn't faze them. There's no fear, and that's the way they play. It was 4-1 early in the game and we look around and realize there's still a lot of sticks to go. Nobody panicked.”
Goltowski survived the six-hit, eight-run (six earned) outing for the win, turning things over to A.J. Eppler, who tossed a 1-2-3 seventh.
“I just had to keep throwing strikes,” Goltowski said. “I knew I had to let 'em hit the ball and let our defense go. That was the most I gave up, but I didn't think about the eight runs. We just had to get outs and get runs, like we did.”
The Bears' hitting attack was led by Tyler Bondy (2-for-3, 3 runs), Eppler (2-for-4, 2 RBIs), and Goltowski (2-for-3, 2 RBIs.
Nick Zacharko, who relieved Sinicki five batters into Jefferson's five-run fifth, took the loss.
- STEVE JUNGA