BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS — What a difference a year makes.
After venturing through some of the leanest years in program history, Rochester Hills Christian’s baseball team has made a significant turnaround this season end enter the Michigan Association of Christian Schools baseball state tournament with high hopes for the first time in several years.
Rochester Hills Christian is 8-4-1 entering the postseason, its first winning season in several years.
“To see where we are now as to last year is unbelievable,” said RHC coach Mark Harrison, who is in his third season with the Eagles. “Last year we didn’t have one senior and only one junior on the team.”
Two years ago in Harrison’s first season, the Eagles finished 0-15. Last season they were 3-14 with a team of mostly freshmen, counting just one junior among the starting lineup. The Eagles lost several players last season who opted to play club soccer or AAU basketball.
“That hurt,” recalled Harrison of the low numbers last season. “Last year we had a lot of guys that didn’t come out and we played with a lot of freshmen and eighth graders.”
This season with nearly half of the schedule being wiped out due to weather and playing conditions, the Eagles have not played as many games but have seen a major improvement in the level of play. Rochester Hills Christian finished third in the Fundamental Baptist Athletic Conference.
The abrupt turnaround has been due to a talented freshmen class of newcomers, plus some upper classmen that returned to the diamond.
Senior infielder Jon Becker came back after a one-year hiatus from baseball and has become one of the Eagles’ leaders. Junior Jon Armitage is back after earning all-league status last season.
What has made the Eagles far more competitive is the arrival of several freshmen, including Brandon Rodriguez and Misael Hernandez. Rodriguez is 2-1 on the mound with 34 strikeouts against six walks, while Hernandez is 3-2 with 23 punchouts against eight walks on the mound.
Rodriguez is hitting close to .600 and has not struck out once all season to go along with a .727 on-base a percentage and an .812 slugging percentage. Becker and Armitage are both hitting over .400 and Armitage has 19 stolen bases.
“We have some guys that can play,” said Harrison. “Our freshmen come in having a lot of baseball experience with some pretty good (travel) teams. They know how the game is to be played.”
Rochester Hills Christian was a power in the MACS circles back in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching the MACS semifinals or state finals on numerous occasions.
The Eagles will host Temperance Stateline Christian, the state runner-up last season, in a MACS opening-round Tuesday.
“I know they lost a lot (to graduation), but they have on really good pitcher,” said Harrison, referring to Stateline junior right-hander Todd Gardiner. “We don’t know who they will throw. But we feel we can play with them. We played them twice earlier in the season and we split with them. A year ago, we couldn’t compete with the good teams. Now, we at least have a shot and we’ll return almost the entire team next season.”