Richmond claims regional crown to cap ‘special season,’ before falling in quarterfinals (2024)

HOWELL — Scott Evans has seen a lot of different kinds of teams in his 30 years of coaching, but midseason he wasn’t really sure what he had in this year’s young Richmond baseball squad, featuring just one senior, and a gaggle of raw sophom*ores.

In early May, it certainly didn’t look like a squad that was going to add another hardware-filled extended run for his storied program.

So ending up at Howell High School on Saturday, with that young team beating Macomb Lutheran North 17-3 in six innings for for a little revenge, and the fifth regional trophy, first since 2021, for the Blue Devils was satisfying.

“Oh, not at all (expected). We were struggling early, midseason. We were losing more than we were winning. We came out, we won a few games early, and then we started really struggling. We don’t really have elite, shutdown pitching, we’ve got to rely on strikes. We’ve got to rely on fielding balls and have and I don’t think they really bought in the process or trust the process,” said Evans, who watched the season turn into a special one.

“Our team in batting average was terrible early, but man, at the end, just what I thought would happen. The sophom*ores matured, got some quality at-bats, and we really started driving the baseball late in the season. That’s kind of what, as you can see with Lutheran North. That’s what happened. And the Lutheran North game was kind of a grudge match for us, because they we had eight, nine seniors last year, and they thumped us. And so we were we came in here hungry, we came here pretty angry, and we gave we gave them an answer. We showed up and played today. We pounded that ball.”

The Blue Devils (21-10) wound up losing to No. 1-ranked Flint Powers (32-6) in the ensuing quarterfinal, 10-3, but that doesn’t lessen the growth the Blue Devils showed in the final month of the season.

The inflection point for that turnaround came in a May 17 game, a 5-4 loss to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

“When we played against Liggett, that was the most bonding moment I’ve had in 30 years of coaching. Something happened. Our team got mad. Our team stood up for themselves, and we were a completely different cultured team. We started really doing a lot of things together and believing in each other and trusting that we’re a good team. Like we were feeling it, we weren’t really playing it,” Evans said. “And I think that once we realized that we were a good team and we were taught all the right things, I think that it really started to go forward. Kids started to throw more strikes. We started to make some more plays; when we made errors, it wasn’t the end of the world. I just think it was a unique game, and it really propelled us through and then our bats really came alive.”

That showed in both games Saturday, albeit more in the first one, against Lutheran North (21-14), when the Blue Devils pounded out 15 hits, and scored in every inning but the fifth, stretching a 7-2 game into a double-digit lead over the final three frames with a four-run fourth and a six-run sixth.

Five different Blue Devils had multiple hits, and six scored multiple runs, while Luke Pastuchyn drove in four runs, Anthony Bonnetti and Kolten Bartels three each.

Richmond claims regional crown to cap ‘special season,’ before falling in quarterfinals (1)

While that may have seemed enough to back starting pitcher Charlie Hitzelberger — the team’s lone senior, who went the distance on the mound, striking out four — Evans kept pushing to score more, just in case. He didn’t want it to be like last year’s district meeting, when the Mustangs rallied to win, 4-2.

Richmond claims regional crown to cap ‘special season,’ before falling in quarterfinals (2)

“Last year, that’s what happened. We scored early, and they came out afterwards, and they outscored — we stopped scoring runs, and they end up beating us. This year is just a different group. They’re 100% buy-in and do what I asked them to do,” Evans said. “We just can’t say enough about culture and and our brotherhood, our love for our kids, our love for each other. It was just, it was a special — it’s a special year.”

The Blue Devils fell behind early in the quarterfinal contest to the top-ranked Chargers, who’d won the Saginaw Valley League for the first time this season, after falling in the D2 semis a year ago. That early surge was powered by an Isaac Sturgess grand slam in the top of the second inning, and Powers continued to build on the lead, pushing it to 6-0 in the top of the third, and 9-0 in the top of the fourth, before the Blue Devils started chipping away.

Bartels scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth to get Richmond on the board, then Hitzelberger drove in two with a single to right an inning later, but that was all the Blue Devils could muster.

The Blue Devils lose only Hitzelberger to graduation, and potentially return the 10 juniors, seven sophom*ores and two freshmen from Saturday’s roster.

Photo gallery from the Division 2 baseball regional final/quarterfinal at Howell

This year’s team left its mark, though.

“I just can't say enough. It's just, in 30 years of coaching, there are years you want it done, and there's years that you just love your kids. Like we didn't expect to be here, right? We had no idea. We had talent, we had young kids, but we just knew that we were going to work hard and try to prepare for next year or the year after, and try to make a run. And it worked this year,” Evans said.

“I love this year more than a lot of years. We were at the finals in ’13 and ’14. In ’21, ’22 we went to the states. But having it unexpected is just joyous for us, and it's a testament to the kids, the community, the parents who allow us to coach their kids, do a lot of stuff that's maybe some other schools can’t. But it's just, it's a great environment. We're in a great city. We love baseball, and they let us coach our kids tough.”

Richmond claims regional crown to cap ‘special season,’ before falling in quarterfinals (2024)
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