Bedford starting pitcher Dan Przeniczny fires one of the 102 pitches he hurled in Friday’s win over Sterling Heights Stevenson at Bailey Park in Battle Creek, Mich. Bedford won 10-5.
BATTLE CREEK, Michigan — After grabbing a big lead early, there were some tense moments in a long sixth inning before Bedford High School pulled out a 10-5 win over Sterling Heights Stevenson Friday in a Michigan Division 1 state baseball semifinal at Bailey Park.
The Kicking Mules (36-6) will face Rockford (31-6) in Saturday’s D-1 state championship game in Battle Creek at 3:30 p.m. The Rams advanced with a 6-5 win over top-ranked Portage Central (35-3) in Friday’s other semifinal game at Bailey.
“We told the kids ‘You can’t be looking at pitches,’" Bedford head coach Craig Trychel said of his team’s rally to a 6-1 lead after two innings. “You’ve got to be aggressive and swing the bat.
“The guys went up there and came through with big hits at big times. That’s what you have to do to win big games like this. It was a team effort from top to bottom.”
This is Bedford’s first trip to a state title game. A 38-3 Mules team lost in the semifinals of their only other final-four appearance in 2009.
Bedford senior right-hander Dan Przeniczny, who played on that 2009 team, helped his own cause this time.
His three-run double in the second inning highlighted the unranked Kicking Mules’ push for five two-out runs and a 6-1 advantage.
Injured Bedford catcher Jared Kujawa, center, shares the win with Jack Eaton, left, and Troy Przbylek.
Bedford threw 52 pitches (22 by Przeniczny) before finally stranding three Stevenson runners and escaping, still clinging to a 7-5 lead.
“It was a great feeling just to get out of that inning,” Przeniczny said. “Keeping them pinned down until that sixth inning definitely took some work, but we got it done.”
Przeniczny, who got the win to lift his season record to 9-2, and sophomore Jackson Lamb, who needed 30 pitches in relief to get out of the sixth, each breathed easier in the top of the seventh.
That’s because Bedford pushed across three insurance runs, all with two outs. Eight of the Mules’ 10 runs in the game were scored with two outs.
“It was beginning to get to me,” Trychel said of the Stevenson rally. “But these kids are resilient. They weren’t going to quit.
“They could’ve gone down 1-2-3 that next inning, and we only would’ve been up 7-5. It’s a lot different being up by five than up by two.”
The Kicking Mules mob each other after downing Sterling Heights Stevenson 10-5 in Division I semifinal action.
On Tuesday, Blake delivered a game-winning, two-run double with two outs in the seventh inning in the quarterfinal against Detroit Western International.
“We’re a good two-out hitting team,” Przeniczny said. “We’re going to put the ball in play and make them make the plays. It’s definitely worked for us so far.”
Lamb, who came in from center field to pitch, was the game’s hitting star, going 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI.
“This is what we’ve worked for all year since day one,” Lamb said of getting to the final thanks to timely hitting.
“The whole year we’ve been a great two-out hitting team. We don’t ever want to give up.”
Senior Trent Szkutnik, the Mules’ left-handed ace who struck out 14 batters and allowed just three hits in Bedford’s come-from-behind win on Tuesday, was pressed into action by Trychel in the bottom of the seventh.
After allowing a leadoff single, Szkutnik retired the final three Titans batters, the last two on strikeouts. He also had an RBI single, one of five hits during Bedford’s second-inning rally.
Bedford shortstop Aaron Mills turns a double play in Friday’s game. Stevenson’s Anthony Persichino doesn’t quite make it to second in time.
“It was a good move to get a fresh arm [Lamb] in there. We couldn’t have asked for more from Dan. Coach was kind of giving me the look in center field, saying ‘Hey, be ready.’ I gave him a nod to say I was ready to go.”
The relief stint was out of necessity because Szkutnik (12-1 record, 125 strikeouts, 0.68 earned run average) is scheduled to start today’s title game.
“With how things were happening, I just felt more comfortable doing that than waiting to see if they got a baserunner or two,” Trychel said. “He was warmed up and ready to go.”
The Mules were playing without their team leader, third-year catcher Jared Kujawa, who suffered a season-ending left knee injury in Tuesday’s game.
Kujawa, an instrumental part of the Kicking Mules’ 107-14 record the last three years, was leading Bedford in hitting with a .519 average.
Przeniczny yielded six hits, struck out eight, and walked four. He was charged with all five Stevenson runs.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Trychel said of reaching the title game.
“They had to be great today, and they did just that.
“We talked about one pitch at a time and one out at a time, and just get it done. I’m extremely proud of every one of them.”
Bedford’s appearance marks the fourth consecutive year a Southeastern Conference Red Division team has gotten to the D-1 title game. Saline was the runner-up three straight years (2008-10), and lost in last year’s final to Red Division foe Ann Arbor Pioneer.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461