BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS — Last June, Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest put it all together in the postseason, making a run to the Division 4 baseball state quarterfinals.
It was the fourth trip to the stage dating back to 2004, when the Crusaders won their first and only state championship in any sport. Northwest also reached at least the state quarterfinals in 2005 and 2006 before last year’s run. The 2006 squad eventually lost in the Final Four to nationally-ranked Homer.
Could the Crusaders have a similar run this season?
“We return seven starters from last year,” noted Brett Borocci, Northwest’s first-year head coach who assisted his father, Mario, the past couple of years. “We might not have the depth in pitching as last season, but our pitching has been our strongest point so far this season and that’s a good sign. We haven’t played our best baseball yet. We have a couple of losses that we shouldn’t have.”
Northwest dropped decisions to both Allen Park Inter-City Baptist and upstart Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, one of the area’s most improved teams, in the first two weeks of the campaign. The Crusaders have not lost since.
Lutheran Northwest is off to a fine 9-2 overall start and entered the week ranked fourth in the state in Division 4.
In last Thursday’s 3-1 win against Sterling Heights Parkway Christian, Northwest looked to its pitching staff for the victory. Matt Mischley, seldom used on the mound last season, struck out 10 and scattered only four hits in the win.
The Crusaders picked up six hits, with Adrian College-bound Chad Cook delivering two RBI in the victory
Since then the bats have come alive.
Northwest is on a five-game win streak following Tuesday’s 13-3, mercy-shortened victory over Southfield Christian. The Crusaders defeated Ann Arbor Greenhills on Monday (21-2) and swept Class A Detroit King (13-1, 18-3) on Saturday afternoon.
Northwest lost All-State First Team performer Eric Mischley, a pitcher-outfielder who is redshirted at Rochester College this season, and pitcher-infielder Luke McCatty, who is also a redshirt at Oakland University. The two departed after exceptional senior seasons and careers as four-year varsity performers.
Mischley was an All-Area First Team and McCatty an All-Area Second Team pick, as the duo earned a plethora of postseason honors last season. Mischley also earned All-County Second Team accolades.
The Crusaders only lost one other player to graduation, and that player saw scant action.
“We have a lot of kids back, but we’re asking guys to play bigger roles this season,” said Borocci. “We feel that if we continue to get better, than we could have another strong season. But I think our best baseball is down the road.
“Last year we came on strong in the last few weeks of the season,” recalled Borrocci. “I think we were right around five hundred when the playoffs began. We hope to being playing a lot better baseball by midseason this year. Last year we struggled (on the defensive side).”
Northwest was just 15-12 entering the postseason in 2011 and finished 19-13 overall. In the MIAC Blue Division, they finished third with a 9-7 ledger.
MIAC league champion Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett ended up winning the D-4 state title to overshadow the Crusaders’ accomplishments coming out of the MIAC, which has a long history of successful baseball teams spanning over three decades. The Crusaders hope to validate their success in the past decade with a strong showing in 2012.
“If we can make a run this year, then we could see Liggett in the quarters, that is if they can make a run, too,” noted Borrocci. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s a long ways down the road. Anything can happen, and I think we just need to worry about playing better baseball overall right now. We have a lot to work on.”
There is ample talent on the diamond again this season. Senior Colin Sheehan is back at first base and has committed to Olivet College for football. Senior Travis Kersten is has returned behind the plate and has improved his defensive skills. The aforementioned junior Matt Mishley can play the infield, outfield and is one of five regular pitchers, and Cook, a senior, is the staff ace and plays either shortstop or third base when not on the mound.
Junior Josh Morrison is back to roam the outfield, along with senior Cameron Morris, while junior Justin Novak is a key infielder, pitcher and can even spell innings in the outfield.
Cook and Novak were All-League Second Team and All-Area Honorable Mention selections last season.
Three other players that saw action last season are also back, including senior outfielder-pitcher Christian Woodfin, a standout on the Crusaders’ soccer team, junior pitcher-outfielder Ian Wellhousen and junior Evan Carver, the backup catcher who can also slide into multiple other positions in the field.
The top newcomer who has cracked the regular starting lineup is freshman Nick Grunewald, who has locked down his role at second base.
“If we continue to get solid pitching and continue to improve in a lot of areas, then this could be a good team. But we’re going to have to earn it,” added Borrocci. “We can’t rest on what we did in (the postseason) last year.”
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