Challenges Ahead For Ferndale Baseball In Regionals
The Eagles play defending Division 2 state champions in regional semifinals Saturday morning.
If history is any indication the Ferndale varsity baseball team has a tough challenge on its hands in the Division 2 regional semifinals against Dearborn Divine Child on Saturday (at Ladywood; 11:30 a.m.).
The last time a Falcons team lost in the first round of regionals was eight years ago. They are the defending state champions and have won the title in Division 2 four of the last seven years.
“We almost beat them two years ago, we’re planning on beating them this time,” Eagles second baseman Matt Callahan said. “I think we got a pretty good chance. We just can’t get psyched out about it (who we’re playing).”
The Eagles (14-8-1) lost 5-2 to Divine Child in the 2009 regional semifinals. The Falcons were also the defending state champions that year. They also had three or four players committed to play college ball at Division 1 schools.
Ferndale had a 2-1 lead in the early innings before Divine Child stormed back. Ferndale's Noah Reiter had a chance with the bases loaded late in the game to cut into its lead.
He hit a scorching line drive that nearly went over the second baseman’s head. The Falcons infielder reached up and was just able to grab it.
“Their second baseman made a great defensive play, he caught it on his tip toes,” Ferndale coach John Sibula said. “The way that ball was hit it probably would’ve been a bases clearing hit and tied the game.”
Ferndale’s seniors haven’t forgotten about Divine Child sending them home two years ago.
“We’re not going down without a fight this year,” Eagles starting pitcher Ryan Humphreys said.
One player Humphreys will have to keep an eye on is catcher and third baseman Eric Haase. He’s the only starter from last year’s squad and is one of the top players in the state. The Cleveland Indians in the seventh round drafted the senior on Monday.
Going into the district round, he was hitting .495 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs as the team’s leadoff hitter.
Balanced lineup keeps runs coming
Ferndale’s not one of those teams that is built around one batter. It scores runs with a very balanced attack.
“Normally you expect an average of seven, eight hits a game, this team has averaged 12,” Sibula said. “We scored 185 runs in 20 games. Our team batting average is like .325, the offense has been spread out.”
Josh Allen had the best individual numbers. He hit .544 with 26 RBIs, 34 runs and 18 stolen bases. While the senior led the team in all four categories, his teammates weren’t far behind.
Reiter was second on the team in three of those categories. He had a .431 batting average with 28 runs and 14 stolen bases. Garrett Rose had 24 RBIs with a .328 batting average and freshman catcher Justin Hammerle hit .327 and drove in 23 runs.
Callahan hits at the bottom of the order (eighth) for the Eagles and he hit .360.
“Knowing that everyone has a part in our success no one has pressure,” Humphreys said. “We can all just be relaxed, just swing and make plays.”
Pitching and defense the key
“Our pitching has been fantastic,” Sibula said. “It’s been the key, they’ve kept us in every game. Even in games we’ve lost, they’ve pitched well.”
Reiter and Ryan Humphreys have logged the lion’s share of innings for Ferndale. And they’ve been quite the one-two punch.
Going into Ferndale’s game against Warren De La Salle on Tuesday, Humphreys was 6-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 42 plus innings. Opponents are only batting .152 against the senior. Humphreys accounted for nearly half of his team’s wins.
“He’s been hitting his spots,” Sibula said. “He can pitch inside-outside and high-low. That’s what keeps hitters off balance. He’s been superb. His record and ERA speak for themselves.”
The numbers for Reiter aren’t quite as good, but he’s put some early season struggles behind him. Over the last three weeks he's pitched great.
“Coach (Mike) Hand spotted a mechanical flaw with him, once he ironed that out, he’s been really dominant since then,” Sibula said.
He finished the year with a 4-4 record and had an ERA of 3.90. The junior also led the team with 43 strikeouts.
The key for Ferndale on Saturday will be making sure they match that strong pitching with strong fielding. One of the main problems the Eagles haven’t been able totally overcome are lapses on defense.
“We’re kind of on-and-off with our fielding,” Callahan said.
Of the 129 runs the team has allowed, almost 45 percent (57) of them have been unearned. Good teams take advantage of fielding errors and those miscues can make the difference in a tight playoff game.
“We have to play better defensively,” Sibula said. “If we do, then we’ll be in any game regardless of the opponent."
If Ferndale beats Divine Child, it will move on to the regional finals against the winner of Dearborn Heights Annapolis and Detroit Renaissance later in the afternoon on Saturday.