By Andy Sneddon
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING – Dillon McInerney delivered at the plate for Richmond on Thursday.
On Saturday, it may be his arm that helps bring the Blue Devils an MHSAA Division 2 championship.
McInerney’s sixth-inning RBI double broke a 1-1 tie and lifted Richmond to a 2-1 win over DeWitt in their Semifinal at Michigan State University’s McLane Baseball Stadium.
Richmond (35-3) will play Mount Pleasant (31-8-1) in the title game Saturday. The Blue Devils, ranked No. 10, could turn to McInerney – or any number of standout arms – as they try to take the step that eluded them last season when they lost, 3-0, in the Final to Grand Rapids Christian.
“We just want it more this year because we lost last year,” said McInerney, who had two of Richmond’s eight hits. “We’re hungry. We’re not done yet, that’s for sure.”
Zach Leach went the distance for the win, striking out five, walking two and surrendering four hits. Leach improved to 11-1, while McInerney is 12-0 with a 1.00 earned run average and could get the ball in Saturday’s Final.
Third-year Richmond coach Scott Evans would not tip his hand as to who would start, but did say his players know full well what it’s going to take to win their 33rd consecutive game Saturday.
“You’ve got to have that stud rise up, and (Leach) was our guy today,” Evans said. “When it comes time for Saturday’s game, one of our studs has to play like a stud. Last year, no one stepped up for us in that final game.”
Leach stepped up big time when his team most needed him Thursday. Trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning, DeWitt loaded the bases on a Chris Ruby single and two walks. Ruby scored on a wild pitch, but Leach regained his composure and got the final out of the inning on a called third strike, stranding runners at second and third and keeping the game tied.
“I’ve just learned to clear my head and not worry about the base runners or what’s going on behind me and just throw the next strike,” Leach said. “(The umpire) gave me a low strike call, and I thank him for that because that was definitely a tight spot and if I wouldn’t have gotten that call it would have been bases loaded with two outs.”
“That was a good opportunity,” DeWitt coach Alan Shankel said. “It was a close call and it didn’t go our way. That’s the way the game is. It’s an uncontrollable factor. We don’t worry about those things, and you go to the next opportunity. They did a great job of keeping us off balance and limiting our opportunities.”
It didn’t take long for Richmond to regain the lead. Evan Kratt singled with one out in the top of the sixth inning, and then McInerney smoked the ball over the head of the centerfielder for a double, scoring Kratt with the go-ahead run.
Leach held the fort one last time when the Panthers threatened in the bottom of the seventh. Timmy Lowe doubled and reached third with two outs, but Leach got a game-ending grounder.
Evans stuck with Leach, a senior right-hander, despite several relief options, including Ryan Boyd, his shortstop and closer.
“He’s a four-year starter,” Evans said of Leach, “and he’s a guy that when you go out to talk to him at about 85 or 90 pitches, he says ‘I’m just getting loose Coach, get back to the dugout.’”
Leach doubled with two out in the second inning and scored on a Boyd single to break a scoreless tie.
Sam Smith struck out five and walked two in taking the loss. DeWitt, making its first Semifinal appearance since 2003, finished 23-11. Click for the box score.
Mount Pleasant 7, Richland Gull Lake 1
Hunter Buczkowski had three hits, drove in three runs and pitched a complete game in leading the Oilers to their first MHSAA title game since 2008.
Buczkowski struck out four, walked three and allowed five hits.
Dean Marais also had three hits including a two-run double off the top of the fence in right field in the first inning, staking the Oilers – who had 12 hits – to a 2-0 lead.
Joe Genia added a pair of two-run singles for Mount Pleasant, which will vie for its third MHSAA title and first since 2007.
The Oilers fell in the Quarterfinals last season.
“They weren’t playing not to lose; they came here to win, and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Mount Pleasant coach Luke Epple said. “We thought we could have been here last year pretty easily, but we didn’t execute at the end (of the Quarterfinal loss) and we didn’t throw strikes.
“This year we’ve played much better defense and our pitching has been strong just like last year, but you’re seeing some of our young guys swing the bat and hit with men on. These are big games for us. Five of our (starting) guys today were underclassmen. We have confidence in them, and we know that they’re going to be good ballplayers.”
Buczkowski, one of four sophomores in the Oilers’ lineup Thursday, issued all three of his free passes and hit a batter in the seventh inning when the Blue Devils (30-10) scored their only run.
Buczkowski struck out Gull Lake cleanup hitter Jarod Burton with the bases loaded to end the game. Epple twice visited Buczkowski on the mound in the seventh.
“He said, ‘This is your game and I want you to finish it,’” said Buczkowski, who threw 115 pitches in improving to 8-2. “That seventh inning was the longest inning I think I’ve ever played.”
Walter Graf walked two and struck out two in taking the loss for Gull Lake. Click for the box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) A Richmond hitter connects during his team’s 2-1 Semifinal win over DeWitt on Thursday. (Middle) Hunter Buczkowski threw a complete game for Mount Pleasant as it advanced to Saturday’s Division 2 championship game.