Gielczyk: Brethren Baseball off to Strong Start
Brethren’s baseball team went 9-1 in the Western Michigan D League last year to earn a share of the conference championship with Pentwater, but was eliminated in the pre-district round of the MHSAA tournament.
The Bobcats came into this season expecting more of the same, to repeat as league champions, or better yet, win the title outright, and then win the district title.
Which is something they haven’t done since this current crop of seniors were freshmen.
Coach Julie Riggs had everyone coming back, including seven players who earned all-conference recognition. The Bobcats have lived up to their preseason billing, too, and are well on their way to another big year.
How big remains to be seen, of course, but considering their pitching depth, experience and talent, a district title certainly doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility.
“They are all leaders in their own right,” Riggs says of the seniors. “They know the routine, they know the expectations and you’re not starting from ground zero.
“Having been in the winner’s circle before, they want to be there again, so every day is back on the grind.”
Brethren has picked up where it left off last year, improving to 12-2 overall and 6-0 in the conference with a doubleheader sweep of the Marion Eagles, 12-2 and 20-0.
The Bobcats hitters feasted on the Eagles’ pitching, with senior Jake Riggs leading the way. He went 8-for-8 in the twin bill with two home runs, one an inside-the-park number, and six doubles.
Gavin Asiala swung a heavy bat as well, finishing 5-for-8 on the day. Skylar Wojciechowski went 5-for-7 and Hunter Wojciechowski finished 4-for-6 on the day.
“We work on the mechanics of hitting,” Riggs said. “We do a lot of ‘T’ work. Just whiffle balls on the ‘T,’ just going through those solid mechanics.”
Jake Riggs is the team’s leading pitcher, but also tops the Bobcats in batting and on-base percentage.
Brethren’s pitching staff includes sophomore Skylar Wojciechowski, senior Adrian Dean and junior Tyler Guinan.
Although they are the top four in the rotation, Riggs stresses in practice everybody throws because a situation may come up when they’ll be called on to get an important out.
Connor Wojciechowski is second on the team overall in batting average and on-base percentage.
Riggs says he’s very methodical, both in practice and in games when he goes up to the plate.
“Even if he gets down in the count, you know that he is going to come out with a hit,” the coach added. “He just does the right thing.”
Asiala is starting to realize he is a contact hitter who’s best suited to putting the ball in play, Riggs said. Because of his speed, He is a base stealing threat when he gets on, and he takes a particular pleasure in swiping a bag.
It’s unnerving for the defense when he’s dancing off first or second.
Skylar Wojciechowski, a sophomore, has moved into the leadoff spot and is producing there with his good bat swing and back leg power. He’s also a quick runner and can beat out infield singles.
Defense has been a slight issue for the Bobcats, especially early in the season with all the cancellations and an inability to practice outdoors because of the inclement weather.
Glove work has not been stellar, but should be improving now that the Bobcats have been able to get outside on a more consistent basis.
“There’s only so much you can do with a tennis ball in the gym,” Riggs said with a slight chuckle. “Glove work is our weakest spot. It’s just being outdoors and fielding the ball, versus being in the cage and hitting, hitting, hitting.
“Being outside and actually having balls hit at you, working on that glove transfer. I’ve seen too many balls hit the heel of the hand and pop back out of the glove because the other hand doesn’t block it up. Physical errors are acceptable, but mental errors … the little things … that’s where I lose my cool sometimes.”
Pentwater is still very much in the hunt for a conference title, or at least a piece of it, and the Bobcats know they can’t get complacent because of their present position.
Conference newcomer Mesick also is in the mix, and the Bobcat coach admitted she knows next to nothing about the Bulldogs. But, that’s not really a concern.
Riggs doesn’t worry about the Bobcats staying in the moment, however. She’s confident they are focused on beating the team in front of them at the moment and aren’t giving into the temptation of looking ahead.
The Bobcats are well aware that they just have to take care of their own business and everything else will fall into place.
Brethren will be the host team for a special non-conference doubleheader against Pine River at Wuerfel Park in Traverse City next Thursday starting at 4:30 p.m.
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 email@example.com for story ideas.