BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS — Five years ago, Rochester Hills Christian was struggling to gain wins on the baseball diamond.
Competing with a team of virtually all underclassmen, the Eagles were annual cellar dwellers in the Fundamental Baptist Athletic Conference and normally a team that suffered a first-round exit in the Michigan Association of Christian Schools postseason state tournament.
The Eagles have definitely turned the corner and ventured from the doghouse to the penthouse.
League champions for the first time in over two decades this season, Rochester Hills Christian advanced to the its first MACS state title game in 22 years Thursday, topping visiting Lake Orion Baptist, 4-2, to reach the championship round.
The top-seeded Eagles (12-5-1) will face third-seeded Davison Faith Baptist at 12 p.m. Saturday at Auburn Hills Oakland Christian. The Eagles lost in the MACS title game in both 1990 and 1991.
“I honestly don’t know if we have ever been there,” admitted second-year head coach Jon Armitage. “It was only three years ago we didn’t have any seniors and only one junior on our team. Now, we have some pretty good baseball players and we are winning games.”
Junior pitchers Brandon Rodriguez and Misael Hernandez split time on the mound in the semifinals win over Lake Orion Baptist. Rodriguez gave up five hits over the first four innings and struck out nine. Hernandez came on in relief in the fifth and pitched the final three frames, fanning four more while yielding only three hits.
Hernandez, who took a line drive off his pitching arm in the last inning, gave up one run in the seventh but eventually got out of the jam.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Armitage of Hernandez. “He battled and still pitched to the last few batters. The ball was hit hard right off his forearm. We have had solid pitching all season. Our top three guys have been pretty consistent.”
Jason Magar had an RBI single in the first for Lake Orion Baptist. In the seventh, Jason Noruk singled and later scored on a fielder’s choice. The Lions (8-8-1) had three baserunners in the seventh but could only muster one run and the comeback sputtered.
Since opening its doors in 2002-03, Lake Orion Baptist has lost in either the semifinals or finals nine times. The Lions finished five-hundred this season with a young team.
Noruk, a junior left-hander who threw 125 pitches last Friday in a 4-3 win over Temperance Stateline Christian, came back with another solid outing in the semifinals but suffered the loss. He went six strong innings and scattered seven hits with nine strikeouts.
“He’s been very reliable all season,” offered Lake Orion Baptist coach Cole Welby. “He’s pitched in a lot of important games for us. We just struggled to hit the ball in this game. We are still a very young team with mostly (underclassmen). We only have one senior on the entire team, our center fielder Ben Case. We hope that we can come back and hit the ball better next season.”
Rochester Hills Christian, which shared the FBAC league crown with Troy Bethany Christian in the regular season — its first league title since the league was formed in 1993-94 — scored a run in the second, two more in the third to take the lead for good and added an insurance run in the fifth.
In the second, sophomore Brandon Tuttle laced an RBI single that scored Rodriguez to tie the game at 1-1.
In the third, junior Jesse Montgomery walked and later scored off an RBI single by Hernandez, while Rodriguez plated Hernandez with another RBI single.
In the first, the Eagles added to their cushion Rodriguez again knocked in Hernandez with an RBI double.
“We got a lot of timely hits,” said Armitage. “We’ve won a lot of games that way.
“We are excited to be able to play in the championship,” continued Armitage. “We have come a long ways the past couple of years. Two years ago under Mark Harrison, we started to see a lot of improvement even though we were a young team that season. We have improved each year and it is finally paying off.”
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