Hartland hitched its wagon to the big horse and rode him to the Division 1 final four — again.
Senior pitcher John Baker, who pitched a 10-inning win in the final game last season for the Division 1 title, came within one strike of his first no-hitter Tuesday in a quarterfinal victory over Rochester. The effort was more than enough to give defending champ Hartland a 6-0 victory and a return date in East Lansing.
“He’s a stud and he did today what good players do, that’s put the team on your back and get the win,” Hartland coach Brian Morrison said.
It was a Baker’s Dozen as the senior pitcher recorded 12 strikeouts over the Falcons, but the last one didn’t come until Ryan Gladstone broke up the no-hitter with a double to leftfield on a 1-2 count and two outs in the seventh inning.
“I thought we played amazing defense and I though John Baker pitched one heck of a game,” said Hartland senior first baseman Gary Turnbull. “But he’s done that all year. We knew he kind of wanted that (no-hitter). But he was smiling and laughing about it, so I think he’s taking it pretty well.
“We’re always on edge and ready (playing defense) because he likes to pitch a lot of strikes and so it’s easy to play defense behind him. You know where (the ball) is going to be; in the strike zone all day.”
Rochester managed only one other baserunner, when Tyler Frankhouse went to second base after an infield grounder and throwing error in the fourth inning.
“We had good defense,” Baker said. “Did start off slow with the hitting but then managed to get some runs together so it was a good team effort.
“I just went out and started throwing strikes. I knew the team would help me out behind me and I knew we’d get some runs on the board hitting.”
The Eagles (36-5-1) scored a run in the first when Jack Slavin singled and came home on a double by Hunter DeLanoy. Hartland could have blown the game open in the third with the bases loaded and no outs. Baker earned a walk to force in one run, but the Eagles left the remaining three runners on base.
“Rochester did a nice job gutting it out, getting out of it, limiting the damage,” Morrison said. “But yes, we missed a huge opportunity there, but give them credit too. They made a couple pitches, we popped them up.”
Two innings later, Hartland had the same scenario with bases loaded and no outs. This time they capitalized. Cade Martin forced a run in with a walk, and then Richard Bortle smacked a two-run single to score Baker and Maximillian Hendricks for a 5-0 edge. Turnbull added a sacrifice fly to end the scoring.
Baker said trying to defend a state title is not pressuring this team. He noted a 25-game win streak during the season and a strong playoff run to date.
“It’s nice going to the playoffs strong knowing we’ve got a good team,” Baker said. “I don’t think there’s pressure, we’re just confident. We know what we’re here for and we just want to keep winning.”
WARREN DE LA SALLE 6, U-D JESUIT 1: The Pilots won the opening game of the Wayne State quarterfinals by defeating their Catholic League foe.
De La Salle coach Matt Cook praised his sophomore pitcher’s effort.
“Ben Hyndman did a great job settling down after coming out, got a little behind on hitters, walked a couple guys in the first inning,” Cook said. “Then he did a heck of a job pounding the strike zone and our defense picked everything behind him; made all the plays. So Ben could keep attacking the hitters.
“Offensively our whole lineup had a great approach today; hit the ball hard, numbers one through nine. We needed that in a game like this today.”
De La Salle stands at 26-13 in its return to the state semifinals after a four-year absence, when it was runner up to Hudsonville in 2012.
“I want them to keep playing loose,” Cook said. “Have told them it’s a good time of the year, you’ve put in all the work and energy, so enjoy the moment.”