Gielczyk: Pentwater Preps for Stout Regional

It seemed a foregone conclusion that Pentwater’s baseball team would breeze to its first district championship in five years after going 4-0 against the two teams it faced in the tournament.

Not only that, but the Falcons had mercied both the Mason County Eastern Cardinals and Manistee Catholic Central Sabers. Everyone naturally thought the Falcons would have no trouble with them now.

But someone forgot to tell the Cardinals and Sabers they were supposed to be just light competition for the Falcons, who won their second straight Western Michigan D League title this spring.

Like in basketball when teams frequently play a third time in the districts, Pentwater found getting that third win immensely difficult.

The Sabers proved especially pesky in the district final, using a five-run fourth inning to stun the Falcons and take a 6-4 lead. Pentwater had built a 4-1 advantage and appeared on the verge of blowing the game open.

Manistee Catholic loaded the bases with no one out, and forced Pentwater coach Richard Magrath to pull starting pitcher Iain Stewart and bring on Max Stoneman in hopes of putting out the fire.

Which is exactly what happened, and then the Cardinals answered that Sabers surge with a pair of runs to tie the game, 6-6, thanks to infield singles from Stewart and Glenn Miller followed by Stoneman’s two-run double.

Stoneman pitched scoreless ball the rest of the way and the Falcons took off, soaring to a 13-6 win that put them into Saturday’s regional at Frankfort where the homestanding Panthers are the favorites to move on.

None of the Falcons current seniors have ever won a district before so they’re embarking into unfamiliar territory.

The Falcons have three seniors on the team in Billy Sproul, Stewart and Owen Knudsen.

One of the key players for the Falcons, though, has been junior Miller who pitched the first game in the district against Mason County Eastern and tossed five shutout innings before Magrath brought in Stoneman to close it in a 7-1 win. Miller finished with 11 strike outs.

“He’s a fine ball player,” said Magrath of Miller. “He really works at being a good ball player, and I think he wants to go play at the next level, which I’m sure he will. Maybe (Division 3).

“Sproul is my vocal leader. He plays shortstop when Glenn is pitching and does some catching. He’s a guy that pulls the team together all the time, and just encourages the players and gives them a little pep talk before the game and after the game.”

The team’s leadoff hitter, Sproul is a good base runner and just a solid player for the Falcons according to Magrath.

A catcher as well as a pitcher, Stewart is the other team leader for the Falcons. He often catches Miller and starts the second game of doubleheaders.

Miller has compiled a 6-2 record this season with two saves and a smart 1.12 earned run average. Going into the regional, he has racked up 85 strike outs against just six base on balls.

“He’s a true pitcher,” Magrath added. “I think he’s probably throwing in the low 80s (miles per hour), but has good command of several pitches. He has a nice fastball that he can put where he wants to put it.

“But he also has a great curve, a nice changeup that he’s been working on and a little bit of cut on his fastball that he’s been working on. There some people out there who are just throwers, but he’s a pitcher. He’s a thinker.”

Miller’s not only the top pitcher for the Falcons, but also leads them at the plate with a .613 average. Stoneman, a junior, is the Falcons’ first baseman and carries a .418 batting average into the regional.

Stewart is also hitting over .400 for the season at .403, while third baseman Austin Hofmann is hitting .356.

The Falcons are young in the outfield, with just one upperclassman in centerfielder Knudsen. Magrath says he’s a solid outfielder and runs down just about everything hit in his area.

Pentwater has freshman Blake Bringedahl in left.

“He has a good glove and has a nice awareness of the game,” says Magrath. “He understands the game and loves baseball.”

Over in right is freshman Khole Hofmann, the younger brother of Austin.

Forced to spend the pre-season working out indoors because of the extended winter weather, and losing several schedule games because of it, the Falcons didn’t know quite what they had entering the season.

It made the MHSAA’s new pitch count rule even more worrisome, especially with a school Pentwater’s size with only 80 students in the high school.

“One of the younger players is in charge of keeping track of the pitch count, and he’s always in my ear saying ‘Here’s where we are. Here’s where we are,'” said Magrath. “You really have to know that.

“You’re always thinking down the road: ‘When can this kid pitching again?’ Days went by when we did not play because the field was full of ice or something else. The kids have come together.

“They’re a good group of guys. They’re a fun group of guys. They work really well together. They like each other, and that really makes it a lot of fun to coach.”

Magrath hopes that the Falcons can extend their season one more week so he can continue having fun coaching them.

If they play well, limit their mistakes and hit the ball Magrath believes they have a shot.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Baseball