Mike DeClarke has saved his best for last.
The senior starting pitcher allowed one run over six innings on Friday for Lansing Catholic, who eased past Mancelona, 8-1, for a spot in today’s Division 3 state final.
“It feels pretty good,” DeClarke said. “I treated it as just another start, and I let my defense work for me.”
DeClarke now has given up two runs in 16 innings during the state tournament.
“You always want to see those seniors succeed when you get to the tournament,” Lansing Catholic head coach Mike Scott said. “It’s their team, ultimately.”
The Cougars (31-6) will try to win their first state title since 1996 when they take on Madison Heights Bishop Foley (37-3) at 6:30 p.m. today at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek.
On Friday, DeClarke (9-0) scattered five hits and struck out five against Mancelona (29-6). He also was 3 for 4 at the plate with a double and two RBIs.
Scott said DeClarke would be available to pitch for today’s final.
The senior starter benefited from some clutch hitting from his offense. The Cougars scored six of their eight runs with two outs.
One of those two out hits was an RBI triple from junior right fielder Eric Plaehn. It was part of a five-run fifth inning that pushed the score to 7-0.
“I knew with that run support that we could get the job done,” DeClarke said. “I had a more relaxed feeling go out there.”
Plaehn finished the day 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, an RBI and two runs scored. He also pitched a scoreless seventh inning to close the game.
Lansing Catholic has scored 19 runs in its last three games.
“Everyone is hitting on our team,” Plaehn said. “We have all nine out there doing well.”
In the other semifinal, Madison Heights Bishop Foley beat Saginaw Nouvel, 6-2. The Ventures have lost just three times all season.
“I’m sure they are the best we’ll see all year,” Scott said. “But the best part about the state tournament is that you don’t have to be the best for the whole year. You have to be the best for one day.”
Although Lansing Catholic has not faced Bishop Foley, it has had a chance to watch the team play.
“We saw them at Comerica Park before we played there,” DeClarke said.
“They looked like a good ballclub, but I believe we are too.”
A win over Bishop Foley would conclude a remarkable run for a Lansing Catholic team that has suffered injuries all season.
The latest injury came on Wednesday when sophomore infielder Andrew Johnson broke his left leg in practice.
But through all that adversity, the Cougars are just one win away from a state title.
“You start that second Monday in March and then you finally get to this point in June,” Scott said. “There’s only one thing left to do.”