When Bedford entered the Michigan Division 1 baseball regional last Saturday, the prime motivation for the Kicking Mules was assistant coach Kevin Bemister, who had just left for basic training in the military.
Bedford responded with convincing 10-0 and 12-1 regional wins over Allen Park and Southgate Anderson, respectively.
Friday, as veteran coach Craig Trychel's team approaches its second state semifinal appearance in three seasons, the Mules have an added incentive for winning.
Senior third-year starting catcher and team leader Jared Kujawa will now serve as inspiration as unranked Bedford (35-6) faces fifth-ranked Sterling Heights Stevenson (29-8-1) in a 3 p.m. semifinal at Morrison Field at Bailey Park in Battle Creek.
Kujawa -- one of the best athletes in the school's history as a football, hockey, and baseball player -- will have to be content in offering advice and encouragement from the dugout. That after sustaining a season-ending left knee injury in Tuesday's dramatic 3-2 comeback win over Detroit Western International at the University of Michigan.
Blocking the plate in the first inning, Kujawa was firmly planted but facing away while awaiting a throw home from foul territory down the right-field line. Cowboys baserunner Todd Phelps slid in, and the resulting collision twisted Kujawa's knee awkwardly, temporarily dislodging his kneecap.
"I saw they were sending the second kid from third," Kujawa said. "Our outfielder made a throw and I had my leg planted in the ground to block the plate.
"[Phelps] was just trying to get to the plate. It wasn't anything dirty. It happened. My knee was planted and, when he hit it that bent it sideways. It hurt."
Kujawa, who was assisted off the field, was set to undergo an MRI exam Wednesday to determine the full extent of the injury. He is not expected to return to action, perhaps until he begins his college baseball career at Western Michigan.
"It's a shame because he's our guy," Trychel said of Kujawa. "Jared's the guy we lean on and go to. He's our leading hitter, a great baserunner and a great catcher behind the plate.
"Now these guys just need to step up and play the kind of ball we know we're all capable of. We proved that we could still win, so we have to keep it going and hopefully get some breaks and play good baseball."
What did Bedford lose?
Aside from his priceless leadership on the diamond, which has helped the Mules to a three-year overall record of 106-14, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Kujawa also led Bedford in batting average at .519, and had scored 51 runs and driven in 42 as Bedford's leadoff hitter.
What Bedford did not lose was the state quarterfinal game. Held scoreless through six innings against Western pitcher Hector Gutierrez, the Mules rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh.
Senior lefty Trent Szkutnik (12-1) closed his complete-game victory in the bottom of the seventh while pitching on his future home field. He will join the Wolverines on scholarship next year. He yielded three hits while striking out 14 batters and walking just one.
Szkutnik, who has an 0.69 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 71 innings, yielded one hit and two base runners after the first inning. Trychel said Szkutnik remained confident after Kujawa's injury.
Troy Przybylek replaced Kujawa behind the plate after the injury, catching 12 of Szkutnik's strikeouts.
"Troy Przybylek is [also] a great catcher," Mike Blake said. "Hopefully he'll step up and take Jared's spot and make a good run with it."
Senior pitcher/shortstop Dan Przeniczny, who will start on the mound Friday, is hitting .385 (55-for-143) with team highs of 10 home runs and 49 RBIs in the No. 2 spot.
Przeniczny, set to pitch on scholarship at Xavier next year, is 8-2 pitching with a 1.62 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 54⅔ innings.
"Now it means a lot more," Przeniczny said. "We definitely want to go out there and get two more. Now it's for Jared, and for coach Bemister."
Sophomore center fielder/pitcher Jackson Lamb is hitting .473 (62-for-131) with eight homers, 45 RBIs, and a team-high 55 runs scored.
"We were down," Lamb said of the early misfortune. "We were down by two runs in the first inning, and the heart and soul of the team was gone.
"But we pulled through and he kept us up with his leadership."
Lamb, often used in relief, is 4-0 pitching with three saves, a 1.08 ERA, and 50 strikeouts in 39 innings.
Kyle Kuhr, the cleanup hitter is at .346 with 23 RBIs and 25 runs. Szkutnik is at .430 with three homers, 30 RBIs, and 27 runs. Aaron Mills is hitting .413 with 33 RBIs and 35 runs, Zach Mayo is at .371 with 19 RBIs and 22 runs, Przybylek is batting .353 with 21 RBIs and 28 runs, and Blake is at .327 with 16 RBIs.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461.