The last time the Whiteford baseball team made it to the state semifinals in 1991, Steve Draper was a mere freshman on the varsity squad.
The Bobcats have a chance to get back there with a Division 4 quarterfinal matchup looming at 4 p.m. today against Lutheran Westland (23-7) at Adrian College, and this time Draper will be calling the shots.
Whiteford (23-10) advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2001 by virtue of its 10-7 win over defending state champion Reading in the Region 31 final Saturday.
After losing to Reading in the regional finals last season, Draper said one thing in particular helped his team get over the hump this year.
"We beefed up our schedule a little bit [this season]," said Draper, now in his second year at the helm in Whiteford.
"We only played one nonleague game against a D-4 school in hopes of preparing ourselves for the state tournament."
Junior first baseman Jake Ritzenthaler leads Whiteford with a .461 batting average. He also holds the school record for most RBIs in a single season (41), passing his uncle Fred Kutzke's mark set in the early '90s.
Right behind is senior catcher Kyle Lievens, who has started 63 straight games over the last two seasons, with a .432 batting average, 32 RBI, and 14 runners caught stealing.
Also chipping in for the Bobcats is senior shortstop Levi Pauli, who is committed to play baseball next season at Defiance College, with a .337 batting average and a team-leading 22 stolen bases.
"We have a good group of kids," Draper said. "Our starting lineup, there's not an easy out in there."
Senior Dave Gust (8-2, 3.05 ERA) is the probable starter for Whiteford. If Gust runs into trouble, senior Joel Bunge (7-2) or senior Nick Bratt (5-3), who picked up the win in Whiteford's 12-1 victory over Canton Agape Christian in the regional semifinals, will be called on in relief.
"We have three pitchers available [because] you can't save anybody now," Draper said. "Dave throws in the low 80s, and Joel is my junkballer. He throws a lot of offspeed pitches and things like that."
Much like Whiteford, Lutheran Westland was the surprise team in its region, knocking off top-ranked and undefeated Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 3-2 in the title game.
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