A Perfect Finish For Orchard Lake St. Mary's


Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Michigan Senior Writer

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A Perfect Finish For Orchard Lake St. Mary's

ORCHARD LAKE VILLAGE - A 2022 baseball season to remember has come to an end for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s with a third consecutive state championship. So just how good was this edition of the Eaglets?

The numbers speak for themselves.

  • Final record: 44-0.
  • MHSAA record set: 44 wins in a season.
  • Winning streak: 66 games.
  • Pitching staff: Nine no-hitters.
  • Pitching staff Part 2: 18 shutouts.
  • Team batting average: .359 with every starter .300 or better.
  • Scoring differential: 411-53.
  • Home runs: 53. That’s right, the same number of homers as the opposition scored runs.

So what does head coach Matt Petry think when he hears “greatest team in history” discussed about this team?

“It’s a great talking point around water coolers,” Petry said. “It’s just nice to go undefeated and win the most games for a D-1 team ever in a season.”

The perfect record while moving up to play in the Division 1 tournament this season follows up a 43-1 campaign a year ago. That comes after going 34-9-2 and winning a state championship in 2019 with four of this year’s seniors starting as freshmen.

“It’s certainly a very good team, but I don’t want to compare,” explained Petry. “All of the teams are special in their own way. But finishing undefeated and winning state was as emotional as I’ve ever gotten. To have the goal in preseason and to have it come to fruition is a big weight off the shoulders.

“I know a lot of the kids' goals were 44-0 after going 43-1 last year. They had in their minds to win 44, which is a state record. I was confident in the guys, but as you know in baseball anything can happen. I’d be lying if I said I thought we’d go undefeated.”

UNBEATEN GOAL OBTAINED

To accomplish the goal means so much to those involved.

“This season meant everything for me,” related Nolan Schubart, who led this year’s team with 13 home runs while also driving in 42. “To be able to go out and finish perfect was something that I never thought we could do, and it was even more special to do it with the guys I did it with. I couldn’t be more thankful for my team that helped get us there.”

Schubart, a University of Michigan commit, is one of four players on the team that are four-year starters joined by fellow Michigan commit Jack Crighton, Clemson signee Brock Porter and Michigan State recruit Jake Dresselhouse.

“This season meant the world to me,” Crighton said. “It was very fitting going 44-0 this season after losing one game last year. It was amazing playing with all my best friends for the last time and winning a state championship.”

Porter, the top-ranked player in the state and the Gatorade National Player of the Year, threw a no-hitter in the 9-0 semifinal win over Forest Hills Northern to advance the Eaglets to the state title game.

“This season meant the world to me and my team,” Porter said. “We pushed each other extremely hard in the off-season and our goal all along was to go undefeated.”

FINAL GAME

Orchard Lake did just that with a 1-0 win over Grosse Pointe North in the championship contest, with Ciaran Caughey the starting pitcher for the Eaglets.

“While it might not be easy to believe, I actually didn’t feel any pressure going into the state championship game,” explained the senior right-hander, a Kent State commit. “I’ve worked so hard at my craft that there is no reason to doubt myself. I was more excited than anything. Getting the W in the most important game of my life is something I will tell people about for many years to come.”

As the number two pitcher on this year’s team, Caughey expected a big season.

“I knew that I was going to have a bigger role on the team this year, and I’m glad that I was able to step up,” admitted Caughey, who finished the season with a 10-0 record and 0.409 ERA, fanning 84 in 51.1 innings. “Being a National Champion for the second year in a row is unfathomable.”

Jasen Oliver was on the mound when the Eaglets recorded the final out of the state championship game.

“When coach Petry handed me the ball, I knew this was a high-pressure situation,” the junior right-hander explained. “I’ve closed out several games this year but this by far was the biggest game of the season. My adrenaline was pumping, that's for sure. Ciaran pitched a great game and I wanted the ball to close this game out for my team. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I was ready.”

After coming on to get out of a jam in the sixth, Oliver survived a first-and-third situation again in the seventh to earn his sixth save of the year.

“On the mound I always want to attack the hitters and trust my defense behind me,” related Oliver, the starting shortstop on the team. “Our defense is what wins our games. We made plays in the field to get out of the sixth inning and in the seventh we made some great plays in the infield as well.

“With two outs, I knew Drew Hill was going to be a tough out. I was able to sink a fastball to get a ground ball to Blake at first. Luckily, the ball did not hit the bag and Blake made a great play to get the final out of a remarkable and everlasting season.”

Dresselhouse points to the win as a perfect finish to his high-school baseball career.

“This season means the world to me,” related the center fielder and three-hole hitter, who finished the season with a .399 average to go with a team-high 57 runs scored and five triples. “Some of my best core memories were on the field, whether it was laughing with my friends or making great plays. This year was a great way to end my high school career. It was a blast.”

SPECIAL GROUP

Petry noted early on that this group was different.

“I knew this year’s senior class would be special with the way they were as freshmen,” Petry said. “With the development of Ciaran and the addition of Ike Irish (an Auburn commit who hit .450 with 10 home runs, 45 RBIs and 45 runs scored) and some of the others, I knew this class would be very special. But to win three state championships and be a Covid season away from winning four is amazing. For a senior class to put together an overall record of 121-10-2 is pretty special.” 

The highlight was winning a state championship, but there was more accomplished that stood out.

“A big highlight for me this year was winning the Catholic League Championship against Brother Rice,” Caughey pointed out. “That game was a dog fight and coming out on top against our rival was amazing.”

The contest to win a league title was special for all involved.

“Winning the Catholic League and the state championship felt huge because I knew I was one of the seniors on the team,” Dresselhouse explained. “It was different when we had older players on the team because it was them leading the team, but this year it was my class.”

That brought additional memories.

“One of the main highlights of this year for me was just spending time with my friends that I have been with for the last four years almost everyday,” Dresselhouse related.

Caughey concurred: “Another highlight this year was just being a part of the team. I can confidently call each of my teammates brothers.”

That is something that caught the eye of the head coach.

“How much they hold each other accountable really stood out,” Petry noted. “Being a northern school, the offseason can be monotonous inside. To make sure that everybody was getting the work done with all the goals, it all started the first day of school. I was most impressed with the older guys that have been around four years and how they were taking the younger guys under their wings.

“It was just a very close group,” Petry continued. “They really bonded off the field. They always hung out together. They did competitive team bowling and when it got nice they got outside to play golf. They just love competing in everything they do.”

CALM AND CONFIDENT

The desire to succeed came in handy throughout a season that did have a few tight battles.

“Against Saint Ignatius from Ohio we were losing 1-0 until we tied it in the fifth and then won it on a homer in the seventh,” Petry reflected. “There were 2-0 and 1-0 games versus Catholic Central in the middle of the season. And there was the 2-1 game with Brother Rice in the Catholic League finals. Of course there was the 1-0 state finals.”

In that game, Schubart hit a one-out single to center in the first, advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt and, after Dresslhouse walked and stole second, Irish hit a grounder to short plating Schubart with what proved to be the lone run of the game.

“With all their experience, they were so calm in those close situations,” Petry noted. “They were very confident and calm knowing what they needed to do and were able to do it.”

Was there pressure with a target on the back and all the hype?

“I don’t think we really felt any pressure, we just would go out and play and think that nobody could beat us,” pointed out Crighton, the leadoff hitter in the lineup who batted .434 with an on-base percentage of .513.

That was the feeling from Porter, who was dominant on the mound with a 9-0 record, 0.239 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 58.2 innings while also batting .458 with four home runs in 43 plate appearances.

“We knew going into the year that there was going to be a target on our back and we like playing with some pressure on us,” Porter explained. “We wanted to play against the best and prove to people that we are the best in the country. I credit our team for pushing each other to get better every day whether that’s at practice or even in games. There’s nothing more that we wanted than to go out the way we did.”

But when the opposition is gunning for you, it can bring a little duress.

“There was almost always pressure,” Dresslhouse said. “We went into every game knowing that the opposing team wanted to win almost as much as we did. They would throw their best pitchers and create their strongest lineup in order for them to compete.” 

Still, according to Schubart, the pressure was not on the Eaglets.

“We never felt the pressure,” related Schubart, who hit a grand slam in the state semifinals. “We always knew that there was the target on our back, but that only motivated us more. We wanted to be something that nobody could beat, and a team that would be remembered for a long time, and with the season we had I believe we did exactly that.”

KEY ADDITIONS

After going 43-1 a year ago, newcomers to the lineup in 2022 had to come through.

“We got a transfer in Blake Grimmer who had not played high school before due to Covid and then an injury,” Petry said about the junior committed to Tennessee who led the team in RBIs with 49 to go along with eight home runs, a team-best 12 doubles and a .365 batting average. “We had to get him up to speed on what St. Mary’s baseball is all about and it was a seamless transition.

“Parker Brzustewicz was a non-league starter last year and he had to play a bigger role as one of the top pitchers,” Petry said of the sophomore, who was a DH, left fielder and first baseman in addition to pitcher with a .360 average to go along with a 6-0 mark on the mound with a 1.75 ERA, striking out 44 in 24 innings. “I’m proud of him, especially with how he stepped up when Jack Crighton was injured for three weeks. He was prepared and ready to step in.”

With a team ERA of 1.011, pitching obviously stood out with help from the likes of Aidan Donovan (7-0, 0.923 ERA) and Brandon Skorupski (6-0, 1.902 ERA).

“Our pitching was outstanding all year,” Petry said. “Brock gets a lot of credit and deservedly so, but Parker had a bigger role and Nolan Higgins won five games after only throwing three innings as a junior.”

FUNDAMENTALS

There was another area that excelled according to the Orchard Lake mentor.

“One thing that doesn’t get talked about a lot is how well we played defense this year,” Petry pointed out. “A .972 fielding percentage when you play home games on grass is pretty darn good. It starts with our guys up the middle, Jasen Oliver at shortstop and Ryan McKay at second. Ryan had one error all year and that was on the backside of a double play, so there were no fielding errors.

“Our lineup got a lot of credit for power with 50-some home runs, but being able to win in a multitude of different ways was special for us.”

There was more that Petry believes should not be overlooked about the squad, which also had help in the infield from junior Ryan Mooney, a Notre Dame commit, and sophomore Will Boisineau

“The attention to detail with these guys was amazing,” Petry said. “We worked on first-and-third plays all year and then in the sixth inning Grosse Pointe North runs a ‘fake steal, fall down’ and Jasen steps off the mound and does what he’s supposed to do. We worked on it a hundred times in practice but it never happened until then. To execute like we did is special to me.”

EXPECTATIONS MET

It all helped meet the expectations established at the outset of the season.

“My expectation coming into this year was that we would go undefeated,” Crighton said. “We had mostly all of our hitters back and our pitchers from the year before got a lot better. We also added Blake Grimmer to the lineup which helped us out a lot.”

Added Dresselhouse: “After last season, it was an expectation for us to have another successful season. On the other hand, though, last season was hard to beat so we had to continue to put our best effort forward.”

Porter put it simply.

“I think that our expectations were extremely high and we set goals for our team and we worked to achieve those goals,” Porter said.

The biggest of those being a state and national championship.

“My expectations this season was for the team to be the best we could be and win it all,” Schubart noted. “I never truly thought we would do it. However, finishing like we did did not surprise me, because of how special we were as a team.”

Caughey summed it up well.

“After going 43-1 last year, we all had the goal of having an undefeated season,” the eighth ranked 2022 right-handed pitcher in the state said. “While only losing one game in a season seems pretty impressive to most, none of the guys were satisfied. We wanted to be perfect. I don’t think I ever had any doubt that we would be able to do it.”

BIG ACCOMPLISHMENT

Oliver, who will be counted on even more next year during his senior season, is ecstatic to be part of history at St. Mary’s.

“This season was amazing,” the junior committed to Michigan said. “To go undefeated and to win the D-1 state championship is something we will remember forever. The senior class is a  special group of players. I’m so happy that we accomplished this for all of our Orchard Lake community.”

For Petry, it is not just success which makes his players special.

“These guys are obviously very talented and a host are going on to play college baseball and are pro prospects,” Petry said. “But they’re just better people. The senior class with all the talent was fun to be around but we also had guys that didn’t play a ton that bought in and were the best at their roles as they could possibly be.”

WHAT LIES AHEAD?

A state champion for the sixth time - 1998, 2003, 2015, 2019, 2021, 2022 - Petry now looks forward to what the future holds in the program.

“These seniors did a great job of mentoring the younger guys,” Petry concluded. “You’re never going to replace a guy like Brock Porter or a catcher like Ike Irish, but I don’t want our guys to try to step in and try to be them. I want them to be the best of themselves and play up to the best of their abilities.”

That is something that the 2022 team lived up to during a memorable season that will be talked about for years to come.

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