Brother Rice Baseball Wins Wild Extra Innings Game Over West Bloomfield
The Warriors win in the ninth on Nick Plummer’s RBI single to advance to district semifinals on Saturday.
SOUTHFIELD – As playoff openers go, that was a doozy.
The Brother Rice varsity baseball team was down to its last out on Tuesday against West Bloomfield at Southfield Lathrup High School in the opening round of districts.
Facing a 2-1 deficit, Warriors leadoff hitter Travis Ferguson hit a two-out double to the centerfield fence that scored Tommy Lentz from second base to force extra innings.
It was only the fourth hit of the day Lakers starting pitcher Joey Hartfelder allowed in seven dominant innings of work.
The top of the order came through again for Brother Rice (30-7) in the bottom of the ninth. And again; with two outs, the Warriors' Nick Plummer hit a single to right field off Tyler Grafmiller with runners on first and second. Ty Kiafoulis scored easily to give his team a walkoff 3-2 win.
“This is what you play for, I’m enjoying watching these kids grow up right in front of me” Brother Rice coach Bob Riker said of a lineup that only has two seniors starting. “I’ll be honest with you, this is probably the most excited this team has been all year.”
Just last week the Warriors beat University of Detroit Jesuit 6-0 at Comerica Park to win their second Catholic League Championship in three years, but the team’s comeback on Tuesday provided some of the season’s most intense moments.
Sophomore sensation Matt Ruppenthal had to work out of big time jams in both the eighth and the ninth inning after allowing runners into scoring position with less than two outs. He came into the game in the fourth to relieve his brother Mike Ruppenthal.
In the eighth, West Bloomfield second baseman Michael Curtis reached first on an error. Centerfielder Marcus Armstrong came up with the intention of bunting Curtis over.
Armstrong laid down a perfect bunt that would have actually been an infield single, but the umpires called Ruppenthal for a balk. The runner advanced and Armstrong had to go back up to bat. He ended up reaching first anyway on a walk.
Before Lakers cleanup hitter Timo DeYoung even saw a pitch during the next at-bat, Ruppenthal was called for a second balk. Curtis and Armstrong moved to second and third with no outs.
An upset Ruppenthal unsuccessfully argued his case to the umpire.
Unfortunately for West Bloomfield, Ruppenthal took his frustration out on its hitters. The sophomore struck out the side and prevented anybody from putting a ball in play that would’ve scored the go-ahead run.
“He kept his composure nicely, he was in some tough situations with runners in scoring position,” Lakers coach Eric Pierce said. “We just couldn’t find a way to get runners across. He was dominant with his fastball like we knew he’d be. The plan was to sit on the fastball and spit on everything else – the curveballs – he beat us with his fastball. You have to tip your cap.”
Grafmiller, who tore his ACL in April, had the Lakers only hit against Ruppenthal to leadoff the ninth. He knocked a ball all the way to the right field fence and gutted out a double on one leg.
West Bloomfield (16-16) would load the bases with two outs, but came up empty again. Ruppenthal forced Armstrong to pop-up to shortstop to end the inning.
“He’s a competitive kid, doesn’t like to lose, he has big command of three pitches,” Riker said. “It’s unfortunate he had guys on base, but that’s when he pitches his best. He’s done that all year long.”
In six innings, Ruppenthal struck out 11 and only allowed five baserunners.
Riker put Ruppenthal in the game earlier than he was planning after the Lakers scored two runs in the third and Hartfelder had a no-hitter going.
“Their pitcher really set the tone, their players fed off of that,” Riker said. “It was only 2-0, but in games like these where you loss and your done, you can’t wait to see if things are going to pan out. They had the momentum and we had to change things up.”
Hartfelder didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning. He was throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, limiting Brother Rice’s potent lineup to weak pop flies.
“He came through in the clutch and almost came through every time we needed him to,” Pierce said.
With the way Hartfelder was pitching, Riker knows Brother Rice is lucky to be advancing to the district semifinals on Saturday against Seaholm.
“We could easily be going home and be done for the year, that guy pitched well enough, I know that and our kids know that, a win is a win,” Riker said. “We’re excited to go on.”
For the Lakers, their season ends for a second straight year with a loss to the Warriors. As disappointed as Pierce knows his kids are, he sees the program on the brink of accomplishing big things.
“It’s very tough, just to have all the opportunities we had," he said. "I tell you they are a great team, but I know we are right there and right on the verge.”