BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - Thirty years after its first state baseball championship, a rebuilt group of Royals from Lenawee County has found bliss on the field again with title No. 7.
Throughout the tournament, Blissfield (31-10-1) defied the odds against defending its Michigan Division 3 crown, won by a 40-4 veteran group last season.
The Royals did it once more yesterday at C.O. Brown Stadium at Bailey Park, taking a 3-1 victory in the D-3 final over second-ranked Morley Stanwood behind the pitching of senior lefty Jake Recker and some clutch offensive execution.
Blissfield coach Larry Tuttle (36 seasons, 840-250-3) is now 7-1 in state finals, losing only in the 1999 final. Prior titles came in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1992, 2000 and last year.
“This was definitely the most unlikely one,” Tuttle said. “We weren't supposed to be here. The only people that didn't realize that were the 25 guys we had in the white uniforms today, and the coaching staff.
“They are all satisfying, but this one is really special because, when the season started, we had one [full-time] position player back and one win on the hill.”
Recker (7-4), who pitched for the junior varsity last year, took the mound in the shadow of his southpaw counterpart, Nate Wernette. But Recker stayed composed throughout and nearly blanked the 41-3 Mohawks with his complete-game six-hitter.
“This was great because it shows how much talent we have going through the program, and it shows how much we wanted it,” Recker said. “I just tried getting my job done - throw strikes and get 'em out. My curveball was working, but I didn't have too much pop on the fastball. I just tried my hardest to win.”
The hard-throwing Wernette entered the game with a 20-0 record, 258 strikeouts and just seven earned runs allowed in 117 innings this season. He nearly matched his season average of 15.3 strikeouts per seven innings, fanning 14 Royals while allowing seven hits.
After three scoreless innings, Blissfield got a confidence boost by taking a 1-0 lead.
Royals junior catcher Zach Benko singled through the third-short hole to start things. Courtesy-runner Aaron Seeger moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a Ryan Terry bunt. Sophomore first baseman Justin Wilson plated the run on a suicide squeeze bunt.
The 1-2 senior punch of center fielder Eric Rose and shortstop Adam Andrews worked Wernette for runs in the fifth and seventh innings.
In the fifth, after Brad Emerson was thrown out at the plate on Rose's single to left, Rose, who had advanced on the throw, stole third. He scored on Andrews' sharp, two-out single to left on a 1-2 pitch.
“That's my job - get on and run the bases,” said Rose, who was a pinch runner on the 2000 state championship team and a starting outfielder last year. “But I wouldn't have scored without Adam's base hit.
“This is [championship] No. 3 for me and, gosh, what a privilege. I'm thrilled to be a part of this baseball program. This was an unbelievable season. I'll remember it the rest of my life.”
The University of Michigan-bound Rose (2-for-3) led off the seventh with a single, stole his 53rd base of the season, and scored on Andrews' single to right on a 2-2 pitch.
“He was throwing heat,” said Andrews, who missed his junior season with a knee injury from football. “He only threw me one curveball across the plate, so I was sitting on the fastball both times. I was just trying to put it in play and let Rose use his speed. It worked out perfect both times.”
Morley Stanwood's only run of the game came in the bottom of the seventh after two were out. Brent Beemer led off with a single and scored on Doug Westgate's hit to right, scored a double when it skipped past the dive of outfielder Gus LaRoy.
Recker threw 64 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
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