A Piece of Boyhood Left Behind In Battle Creek

by Steve DeDoes for FGR Baseball (originally published at fgrbaseball.com)

June 19, 2010 – When senior co-captain Mattie DeDoes rapped a two-run single in the first, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard players, coaches, and fans saw their visions of a MHSAA state title in high-definition.  When the Fighting Irish scored twice more in the second to elevate their lead to 6-0, the script seemed to read familiar–big bats pound yet another opponent into submission, and the Irish win again.

Who would have foreseen that within in a little over an hour’s time, captains DeDoes and Tom White would be standing in the field for the last time with tears in their eyes, and joining the rest of their distraught underclass teammates in accepting the runner-up trophy ?  How things can change…and it was Shepherd lefthander Colton Loomis that provided the large part of the behavior modification, helped by poor Irish defense and inconsistent GR pitching that allowed Shepherd to come back and achieve a 13-6 triumph in C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek, Michigan.  In defeating Gabriel Richard, Shepherd laid claim to their second consecutive Division 3 state title.

FGR Seniors Tom White (L), Mattie DeDoes Say Goodbye

Chris Ostrowski opened the game on the mound for Gabriel Richard, and quickly dispatched the first three Blue Jay hitters on fly balls.  In the bottom of the first, Shepherd ace Loomis got off to a rocky start in his mound duty.  He walked Dennis Olszewski, hit Conor Dishman, walked Nolan Breymaier…then yielded a sacrifice fly to Ostrowski.  Dishman also came into score on an errant relay.  Matt Wagner then bunted to set up runners at second and third for the hot-hitting DeDoes, who came through with a clutch two-out single to make the score 4-0 before a strikeout ended a serious opening salvo for Richard.

Ostrowski sailed through a scoreless second, although two batters reached base via an error (an omen of things to come) and a hit batsman; but the Irish attack again went after the reeling Loomis, this time after two outs were recorded in the bottom of the second.  Dishman singled, Breymaier doubled to score Tommy Repovz (running for Dishman), and Ostrowski delivered a final run with a single.  At this point, it seemed that the day would be short and brutal for the Shepherd southpaw.  Little did everyone know that Loomis had allowed his last hit, and would absolutely dominate the Irish hitters the rest of the way.

The wheels began to come off the Irish victory train in the third.  Chad Detwiler, the ninth Blue Jay in the lineup, opened with a single, then Loomis singled and Detwiler advanced to third on an outfield bobble.  After second hitter Chad Cline walked, a wild throw on a potential ground out scored two Shepherd runs and moved runners up to second and third.  Ostrowski got the next two batters to ground out, but a run scored on each play before Ostrowski retired Derek Starks on a 4-3 groundout.  While two of the runs were unearned, the score had now narrowed to 6-4 in favor of the Irish.

Loomis suddenly flipped a switch and became dominant–able to get ahead of hitters with a devastating breaking ball in combination with his variety of fastballs.  He struck out the Irish side in the bottom of the third, and then was the beneficiary as the Blue Jay lineup struck five times in the top of the fourth.

The Gabriel Richard plan was to get through four innings, and then see what DeDoes had left from the previous day; DeDoes would only be allowed to work three innings, and though he had thrown over 110 pitches on Friday, he began to warm up.  However, the fourth saw Ostrowski get the first out via strikes; but after two walks and an RBI single, Coach Greg Lenhoff turned to Donnie Eaton.  Eaton came in and attacked the Blue Jay hitters, but two hits and another Irish infield error helped Shepherd take the lead by a 9-6 score before Eaton was able to escape the inning.

Senior Mattie DeDoes and his GR catcher, Conor Dishman, after their final game together

All of a sudden, the game had turned.  Loomis retired fifteen in a row before allowing a Dishman walk with two out in the seventh; the high-flying Blue Jays continued to peck at Eaton, who gamely hung in and closed the day on the mound for the state runners-up.  With four more runs over the last three innings, the Shepherd flock was able to begin their celebratory mood early.  When the last out was made, the Blue Jays flew into the obligatory formation, piling up on the infield; then, both teams lined up for the awarding of medals and trophies.  The trinkets received by Gabriel Richard were every bit as nice as those awarded the champions; however, the Irish would have to content themselves with the title “Finalist” that appeared on their hardware.

DeDoes and White ended their boyhoods on the left side of the Irish defense (DeDoes at third, White in left).  While the entire Irish contingent was extremely disappointed with the loss, these two players saw a chapter close in their young lives, and in dramatic fashion.

“I can’t believe I’ll never play with these guys again,” said an emotional Mattie DeDoes, even though more baseball remains for the college-bound stalwart.  DeDoes led the state in pitching wins (12) and saves (5) in this, his senior year, and tallied 44 RBIs at the plate.  However, his future play would not see him clad in green-and-white, but in the black-and-white of his summer team before he dons the crimson-and-gold of Oberlin.

Tom White’s transition no doubt seemed even more acute–his Irish green will almost instantly be traded for khakis and camoflage.  White begins basic training for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point within just one week’s time.  “These teammates were the absolute best,” said the tearful co-captain, who like DeDoes, felt the “end of the innocence” so profoundly.  In removing their uniforms that evening, the seniors also hung up their wonderful high school years.  “It’s kinda hard to take it all in right now,” White said.

The team made its way back to Ann Arbor to a private party that evening.  Pizza and whiffleball helped the loss to be digested, and summer officially began.  Along with DeDoes, all of the returning players for the 2011 Gabriel Richard Fighting Irish will engage in a serious slate of summer tournament baseball.

A banquet on June 28 will offer the Irish coaches, players, administrators, parents, and fans the opportunity to salute the 2010 season, which saw Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard tie the Michigan state record for wins in a season (43).