J-L Varsity Baseball 2016

Baseball Coaches Association names 3 county players All-State

GO CARDINALS!

2016 SCHEDULE

Major key alert: Guild says Cardinals' senior leadership to determine success

Apr 16, 2016
Sat
12:00 PM
A
Game #1 - W 9-5
Game #2 - L 5-1
Apr 18, 2016
Mon
4:00 PM
H
Game #1 - W 4-1
Game #2 - W 13-5
Apr 22, 2016
Fri
4:00 PM
H
Game #1 - W 4-1
Game #2 - W 5-3
Apr 27, 2016
Wed
4:00 PM
A
@ Lincoln Alcona High School
Game #1 - W 6-1
Game #2 - T 9-9
Apr 28, 2016
Thu
4:00 PM
H
Game #1 - W 9-2
Game #2 - W 1-0
May 02, 2016
Mon
4:30 PM
A
Game #1 - W 14-4
Game #2 - W 4-0
May 05, 2016
Thu
4:30 PM
H
Game #1 - W 12-0
Game #2 - W 6-0
May 07, 2016
Sat
9:00 AM
H

11th Annual
Val Kapture Memorial Baseball Tournament


Magical win: Cardinals rally late to grab Val Kapture tournament crown

Game #1 - W 16-2
Game #2 - W 13-12
May 10, 2016
Tue
4:00 PM
H
VS Alanson High School
Game #1 - W 4-3
Game #2 - W L 3-2
May 11, 2016
Wed
4:00 PM
A
Johannesburg-Lewiston Schools
May 12, 2016
Thu
4:30 PM
A
Game #1 - W 15-0
Game #2 - W 12-3
May 16, 2016
Mon
4:30 PM
H
Game #1 - L 6-3
Game #2 - L 9-5
May 17, 2016
Tues
4:00 PM
H
VS. Boyne City
Game #1 - L 10-5
Game #2 - L 10-8
May 19, 2016
Thu
4:30 PM
A
@ Inland Lakes High School
Game #1 -W 13-1
Game #2 - W 9-1
May 20, 2016
Fri
4:30 PM
H
Game #1 -W 6-2
Game #2 - W 8-6
May 23, 2016
Mon
4:30 PM
A
Game #1 -W 3-1
Game #2 - W 5-0
May 27, 2016
Fri
4:00 PM
A
Baseball will play at Lincoln-Alcona vs.
Lincoln-Alcona & New Lothrop


Friday finale: Huff smacks 2nd home run as Cardinals beat Tigers
VS. Lincoln-Alcona W 18-13
VS. New Lothrup L 10-0
May 31, 2016
Tue
4:00 PM
A
Baseball Pre-District @ Hillman vs. Posen
Sharpe deals Cardinals season-ending loss in D4 pre-district
J-L vs. Posen L 5-3


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Baseball Coaches Association names 3 county players All-State
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

EAST LANSING — Otsego County's three baseball teams, Gaylord, Johannesburg-Lewiston and St. Mary, combined for 86 wins this season and put together the best spring in county history.

The Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association recognized that success over the weekend by naming one player from each team to its First Team All-State list.

Gaylord outfielder Jacob Freeman made its Division 2 team.

The senior helped the Blue Devils finish 29-14 and appear in the quarterfinal at Saginaw Valley State University. He carried a .403 batting average and recorded 48 hits, 15 RBIs and 40 runs.

His 47 stolen bases tied for 19th for most stolen bases all-time in MHSAA history, a feat reached by former St. Mary player Robert DeLong in 2006.

Pitchers Logan Huff and Nick Torsky made the D4 All-State team.

Huff helped J-L to a 26-8-1 record, despite the Cardinals bowing out of the postseason after losing to Posen 5-3 in a pre-district matchup.

In that game, Huff struck out 10 batters and walked only two.

Torsky was the ace for the Snowbirds, who put together a 31-6 campaign and made their first appearance in a semifinal game since 1988 and '89. Eighth-ranked St. Mary lost 2-0 to Portland St. Patrick in that game Friday at Michigan State University's McLane Stadium.

Torsky had a 15-2 record, finishing with 99 strikeouts and allowing only 36 walks and 15 earned runs in 86 innings pitched.

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Sharpe deals Cardinals season-ending loss in D4 pre-district
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

HILLMAN — Brett Williams, Drew Long and Cameron Pope.

Those are three pitchers who gave Johannesburg-Lewiston (26-8-1) all it could handle this baseball season.

It's time to add Posen's Travis Sharpe to that list.

He struck out 12 Cardinals and allowed only two hits, helping the Vikings beat J-L 5-3 in the Division 4 pre-district Tuesday at Hillman.

He also smacked a home run with the first pitch of the game over the left field fence.

The Vikings advanced to face Onaway in the district semifinal.

"It was a good pitcher, but we've seen good pitchers all year," said J-L coach Rick Guild, who retired following the loss after 41 seasons coaching the Cardinals. "He single-handedly beat us.

"He had a home run the first pitch of the first at-bat of the first inning."

Posen, which took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, finished with six hits, and Sharpe accounted for half of them — the homer and two doubles.

The Vikings added one run in each of the second and third innings.

A Joel Kussrow double and Orin Kierczynski single accounted for both J-L hits while it scored one run in the second and two in the third.

The Cardinals just couldn't get around Sharpe's stellar pitching.

"He was a good pitcher and was timed at 80 mph," Guild said. "He was throwing around 75 to 80 mph with an excellent curve.

"He was an outstanding ball playing."

J-L pitcher Logan Huff started. He fanned 10 Vikings and walked only two, but the Cardinals gave up three unearned runs.

"We didn't hit or field," Guild said. "When you don't do that, you don't beat teams.

"It was a rough way to end a season and (the seniors') careers."

The Cardinals graduate seven seniors from this year's team.

"They're just phenomenal kids," Guild said. "I just felt so bad for them because we picked a terrible day to have a bad game.

"We're losing great kids, and they're moving on. I told them after the game that my goal for them now is to be positive members of society and give back something to their communities."

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GHT COURTESY PHOTO

Friday finale: Huff smacks 2nd home run as Cardinals beat Tigers
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

HARRISVILLE — Johannesburg-Lewiston (26-7-1) had one goal in mind when it visited Lincoln Alcona for its regular season finale Friday.

That goal? Face one of the top pitchers in the state to prepare for the Division 4 district baseball tournament.

Mission accomplished.

Logan Huff blasted a home run, and the Cardinals defeated the host Tigers 18-13 before falling 10-0 to two-loss New Lothrop, the fourth-ranked Division 3 team which started stud pitcher Cameron Pope.

"We won't see a pitcher nearly as good as he was tonight in the postseason tournament," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "He had three balls on the batter maybe only two or three times.

"They had the gun on him, and he was throwing 83 to 85 mph."

Pope fanned 16 Cardinals.

The Hornets scored four times in the first to garner the winning run.

J-L senior Orin Kierczynski started on the hill.

"We never had an error in the game," Guild said. "I was extremely pleased with how well we played defensively, which is what we got out of playing this game.

"I thought Orin pitched extremely well, too."

The Cardinals secured their win against Alcona thanks to a two-run home run Huff jacked past the center field fence during the sixth inning.

The senior finished 4-for-5 batting, drove in five runs and had a triple.

The homer was Huff's second of the season and the sixth dinger to be hit by an Otsego County player between Thursday and Friday nights. Other home runs were hit Thursday by Gaylord's Robbie Hansen and St. Mary's Nick Torsky, Billy Koenig and Gabby Schultz while J-L senior Bailey Bennett notched her second-career homer Friday against Manton.

Also playing well against the Tigers was Brendan Prentice, who was 3-for-4, and Alex Lemcool added two doubles and drove in two runs.

Brandon Huff (two RBIs), Joel Kussrow (two RBIs) and Cody Haase (one RBI) each had two hits, and Nathan Fox recorded an RBI triple.

Pitcher Mason Kortman started for the Cardinals while Tanner Shimel threw in relief and earned the win — his second victory of the season.

The Cardinals will now focus on the postseason. They face Posen in the pre-district Tuesday, May 31 at Hillman. The winner advances to the semifinal Saturday, June 4.

J-L should be prepared for Posen following the two games Friday.

"We got done what I wanted to do to get ready for the tournament," Guild said. "We hit a lot, played good D and saw good pitching."

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Kierczynski helps Cardinals deal Ironmen 2 losses
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

MANCELONA — Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Rick Guild can't remember the last time his Cardinals swept Mancelona during a Ski Valley baseball doubleheader.

He definitely can't remember the last time the Cardinals beat the Ironmen three times in the same season.

But that's what J-L (25-6-1, 14-2 Ski Valley) accomplished Monday.

Orin Kierczynski pitched a two-hitter, and the Cardinals swept host Mancelona 3-1 and 5-0 in their league finale.

Couple those two wins with J-L's 13-12 victory over Mancelona in the Val Kapture tournament championship May 7, and that gave the Cardinals their third win over the Ironmen — last year's Ski Valley champions — this season.

"It's been quite awhile since we've beat them twice," Guild said. "It was a good two wins for us tonight because they're a good ball club."

In the first game, the Cardinals needed a comeback effort.

Mancelona garnered a 1-0 lead in the third inning, but J-L fought back to score all three of its runs in the fifth.

An Alex Lemcool single scored Brendan Prentice.

Jacob Smith, who pinch-hit, recorded a base hit to drive home Kierczynski, and then with the bases loaded, Brandon Huff drove in the final run for the Cardinals.

Logan Huff pitched six innings and struck out six Ironmen. He gave up only four hits and one walk.

Kierczynski's gem in Game 2 kept Mancelona off the scoreboard.

The senior fanned eight batters and walked only one.

"He dominated," Guild said. "He did as well in that game as he did in the first part of the year. He threw exceptionally well, and all three of his pitches were working really well."

A Logan single scored Prentice for the winning run early on.

J-L scored two insurance runs in the fourth inning. A Joel Kussrow double scored Brandon, and a fielder's choice from Nathan Fox gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.

In the fifth inning, Logan doubled to score Tanner Shimel and shortly afterward, Brandon drove in Logan with a single.

Logan, Brandon and Kussrow each finished 2-for-3 batting.

The Cardinals wrap up the regular season when they visit Lincoln Alcona for a pair of games Friday, May 27. They'll face the host Tigers as well as New Lothrop, the third-ranked team in Division 3.

J-L begins the D4 postseason when it faces Posen in the pre-district Tuesday, May 31 at Hillman. The winner advances to play in the semifinal Saturday, June 4.

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Fire wood: Lemcool's bat helps Cardinals hose Red Devils
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Now that his training is over, Alex Lemcool is behind his teammates the same way he's there for his father.

The senior drove in four runs, helping Johannesburg-Lewiston put together two comeback wins Friday.

The Cardinals (23-6-1, 12-2 Ski Valley) swept visiting East Jordan 6-2 and 8-6 in a non conference baseball doubleheader.

For Lemcool, who had a hot start to the season, the matchup marked his official return to the Cardinals' dugout.

For the past few weeks, he attended firefighter training classes taught by the Otsego County Fire Department. Classes were twice a week, usually on game days, and lasted nearly four hours per session.

Tack on homework as well as a part-time job, and Lemcool was hard pressed to contribute to the team on a regular basis.

Now classes are over. He's back — a welcome edition to J-L's lineup.

"It was hard going to practice and still try to go to work but yet still try to make the classes," Lemcool said. "I had to juggle that around, and it was kind of difficult, but Coach Guild was really lenient on it.

"He understood what was going on."

Against the Red Devils, it was Lemcool who understood what was going on: the Cardinals needed two comebacks.

In Game 1, East Jordan had led 2-0 until Lemcool scored on a passed ball and Tanner Shimel stole home to tie it up in the third inning.

One inning later, Lemcool's line drive to third base scored Cody Haase and gave the Cardinals their winning run.

Then Orin Kierczynski singled to help Lemcool, who finished 2-for-3 batting, cross home plate again. Logan Huff rounded out the frame by singling to center field, scoring Brendan Prentice.

Haase notched the final run in the fifth inning while Mason Kortman pitched a gem for the Cardinals. The starter went five innings and fanned four Red Devils to record his win.

But still, the hat tip went to Lemcool's cleanup work.

"Lemcool, he was the best hitter for us two years ago on the JV," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "He's a good kid and has been doing pretty well. He started the first part of the year in left field.

"He went by the wayside for a bit with school and trying to finish classes which I supported. But he's back, and I told him he had to commit to the team."

Lemcool proved how committed he was in the second game.

In the second inning, he singled to drive in one run, and then Prentice drove in Lemcool with a hit to trim J-L's deficit to 5-3.

Lemcool continued J-L's comeback effort in the next inning. His one-run single cut East Jordan's lead to 5-4 and shortly afterward, Shimel singled to help Nathan Fox race home and knot the score.

Then Kierczynski doubled to center field, helping Lemcool and Shimel cross home plate and give the Cardinals the lead once and for all.

Fox scored on a passed ball in the fifth while East Jordan earned the final run with a single one inning later.

After his rocky start, Shimel went the distance and finished with one strikeout to register his first varsity win.

"That's good for him as a freshman," Guild said. "He held his composure after that second inning.

"It was good for him, and our kids backed him up with our defense."

Of course, Lemcool, who played in both left and right field, was one of those players behind Shimel, and backup duty is something he's familiar with now that he's responding to emergencies in Vienna, where his father, Alfred, has been the fire chief for nearly a decade.

"Because I'm a cadet over there, I can't legally go in and do burning buildings and what not, so we're basically everybody's gofers," he said. "They'll say, 'we need this, go run around and grab it.'

"But the coolest thing was this fire hit this shed one time. My dad told me to come behind him and help him with the hose. We acted like a team, and it was just perfect. It's one of the reasons why I want to keep doing it."

Huff homers as Cardinals rebound in sweep of Bulldogs

INDIAN RIVER — After four ugly losses to start the week, the Cardinals took their aggression out on their opponent Thursday.

Logan Huff smacked a two-run home run, and J-L defeated host Inland Lakes 15-1 and 9-1 in a Ski Valley matchup.

In the first game, Huff, who was 2-for-4 with three RBIs, homered in the second inning to break open a close contest.

Brandon Huff helped the Cardinals, who finished with 10 hits, by batting 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Logan Huff started on the mound, giving up five hits and three walks but striking out eight Bulldogs.

He continued that effort in Game 2, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and driving in two runs to lead J-L's offense.

Haase was 3-for-3 while Prentice and Brandon Huff (two doubles, one RBI) notched two hits apiece.

Kierczynski pitched, gave up no hits and struck out seven batters.

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Clean sweep: Nowicki's heroics push Snowbirds past Cardinals
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Senior leaders such as Adam Nowicki come through in the most dramatic moments.

Few moments are as dramatic as the one the St. Mary senior found himself in Monday at Johannesburg-Lewiston.

In the fourth inning, with the Cardinals facing two outs and the Snowbirds nursing a 4-3 lead, J-L's Logan Huff rocketed a line drive that was almost sure to speed past Nowicki at shortstop.

Nope.

Nowicki quickly reacted and dove toward the screamer, knocking down what would have been a two-run single for Huff and flipping the baseball up to second baseman Nick Torsky to record the third out.

The play shifted momentum into St. Mary's favor for good, allowing the Snowbirds to down rival J-L 6-3 and 9-5 in a Ski Valley doubleheader and move into first place in the league standings.

"That was huge," St. Mary coach Matt Nowicki said. "That's not a play somebody makes every day.

"That was a momentum killer for Joburg. It obviously worked out for us."

Adam finished 2-for-3 batting, scored two runs and drove in the game-tying score to make it 3-3 during the second inning.

One at-bat later, Torsky doubled to center field to help Adam cross home plate and record the winning run.

Neither play was as crucial as Adam's dive two innings later, though.

"It was huge," he said. "I've made a few plays, but against this team and in this setting, it was awesome, and it's No. 1 on my list of my best defensive plays."

However, Adam didn't stop there.

The Cardinals (19-6-1, 10-2 Ski Valley), which dropped to second in the league standings, garnered an early 3-1 lead in the first inning.

Orin Kierczynski singled to score Brendan Prentice, a hit pitch advanced Joel Kussrow to home plate, and then Huff stole home with the bases loaded.

For the first two innings, it looked like J-L had gotten into the head of St. Mary sophomore Drew Long, who entered the matchup 5-0 while starting on the mound.

Adam nipped Long's struggles in the bud between the second and third innings.

"They got a little bit in my head," Long said. "I was getting mad because I couldn't locate the pitches good.

"Adam Nowicki came and talked to me in the dugout and told me that we are OK. And then Coach told me I had defense behind me, and that I didn't need to strike everyone out. They told me just to throw strikes. If they (J-L) put it in play, we have guys who can make a play."

Long regrouped and pitched a complete game, lasting six innings, striking out five Cardinals and walking only one.

Most importantly, he kept his record undefeated as well as St. Mary's record (16-4, 10-0 Ski Valley) in the conference.

"I went up to him and just grabbed him," Adam said. "I said, 'Drew, we're going to pick you up, man. It's a team game. You can't get down.'

"Everyone just picked him up and helped him out. He just knew it, and he trusted us."

Gage Andrews singled to center field to score Josh Nowicki and Billy Koenig in the fifth inning, giving St. Mary a pair of insurances runs.

"We got some people on base and had some timely hits," Coach Nowicki said. "That's a good baseball team, but I keep telling my kids that we're a pretty good team, too."

Huff threw six innings, struck out six Snowbirds and walked three. The loss while pitching was his first of the season.

"I don't think Logan was as sharp as normal," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "But to their credit, they hit the ball well, too.

"Today they were better than we were, for sure."

In the second game, St. Mary once again nursed a 4-3 lead entering the fourth frame.

That inning saw a single by Adam score one run, a double by Long score Ethan Szymanski and Adam, and then a ground out by Josh score Torsky to give St. Mary four runs and a commanding lead.

It was a lead the Snowbirds never relinquished.

"It's hard to beat Joburg twice, and I think that's been proven by the last time we've taken two from them was, I think, in 2007," Coach Nowicki said. "We've split the last several years and couldn't get over that hump."

Torsky led the Snowbirds by finishing 3-for-3 batting with a walk and four runs scored while Adam and Long (four RBIs) each were 2-for-3.

Torsky also earned the win pitching. He went six innings, struck out seven batters and walked five.

Kierczynski pitched for J-L. He fanned three Snowbirds and walked seven.

Kussrow helped J-L by finishing 3-for-3 batting with two runs scored. Kussrow, Fox and Kierczynski each drove in one run while Prentice doubled to record the Cardinals' lone extra-base hit.

"They outplayed us and out hit us (11 to five in hits)," Guild said.

"We hit the ball hard in basically both games, but they hit the ball better all the way through their lineup."

With upcoming games against Inland Lakes and Forest Area, a clean sweep of both squads will give St. Mary the Ski Valley title outright.

"Nobody in the league is good enough to beat them twice," Guild said.

Cardinals suffer letdown against Ramblers

JOHANNESBURG — One day following their losses to rival St. Mary, the Cardinals suffered a pair of letdowns to visiting Boyne City during non conference play Tuesday.

The Ramblers took advantage of J-L's sloppy defense to edge the Cardinals, 10-5 and 10-9.

"We played the worst defense we've played all year," Guild said.

In the first game, a four-run second inning gave Boyne City a 8-5 lead the Cardinals couldn't overcome.

J-L's Cody Haase and Kussrow each had two hits and one RBI while Brandon Huff drove in one run.

The Cardinals' comeback in the second game fell short by just one run. They had trailed 10-3 at one point of the matchup.

Logan Huff was 3-for-4 batting with three RBIs and two doubles while Kussrow (two RBIs), Prentice (one RBI), Brandon Huff (one RBI), Haase and Fox each had two hits.

"It wasn't like we played poorly in the second game," Guild said. "They were a good team and are a bigger school."

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Huff, Kierczynski pitch Cardinals to wins over Warriors
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

FIFE LAKE — It was business as usual for Logan Huff and Orin Kierczynski, Johannesburg-Lewiston's one-two punch pitching.

Together they struck out 17 batters, and the Cardinals swept host Forest Area 15-0 and 12-3 in a Ski Valley baseball doubleheader Thursday.

In the first game, Huff pitched three innings and fanned six Warriors to earn the win for the Cardinals (19-2-1, 10-0 Ski Valley).

Kierczynski relieved Huff in the final inning, striking out two batters to ensure J-L got the surrender rule victory.

Huff led J-L's offense by driving in three runs and doubling once while Brendan Prentice and Nathan Fox each had two hits and one RBI.

In the second matchup, Kierczynski lasted three innings, struck out four Warriors and allowed two hits and one unearned run.

Huff, who was 3-for-4 batting and drove in four runs, fanned five batters in the final three innings.

Brandon Huff was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Jacob Smith, Cody Haase and Kussrow had two hits and one RBI apiece.

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JV players lead Cardinals past Lancers in doubleheader
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

ELLSWORTH — In the middle of a three-day slate of games, Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Rick Guild rested his starters during a non conference baseball doubleheader Wednesday.

Doing so allowed the Cardinals (17-2-1, 8-0 Ski Valley) to give a bulk of their underclassmen and junior varsity players some playing time.

The up-and-comers didn't disappoint.

Tanner Shimel and Dylan Agee each earned wins pitching, and the Cardinals topped the Lancers 17-3 and 18-7 on the road.

"It was good to get the young kids in," Guild said. "I played the older kids a bit in the first game to keep them sharp, but it wasn't a big deal.

"It was just nice to get some of the younger guys some playing time."

Jett Ewing led the Cardinals with three hits while Agee had two.

Shimel went the distance pitching in Game 1. Agee did enough to earn the win in Game 2 before Tyler Madej relieved him.

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Magical win: Cardinals rally late to grab Val Kapture tournament crown
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — For a team to enjoy a magical season, it makes sense it would need a little magic along the way to garner wins.

Johannesburg-Lewiston (14-1-1, 8-0 Ski Valley) emptied its top hat during Saturday's annual Val Kapture baseball tournament.

Orin Kierczynski smacked a walk-off triple to right field, helping the senior-led Cardinals comeback from a four-run deficit in the final inning and defeat Mancelona 13-12 in the tournament championship.

The Cardinals topped Mio 16-2 in the semifinal round, but it was their act against the Ironmen that closed the curtain with a standing ovation.

"We came back with the heart of our seniors," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "It was all senior leadership, and our seniors got the medals as the MVP's of the tournament.

"We didn't deserve the win, especially in the first four innings. We didn't play well defensively, and we gave up so many runs that we shouldn't have given up."

The Cardinals had trailed Mancelona 12-8 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, and then the magic started.

With the bases loaded, Logan Huff drew a walk that scored Hayden Paffi, and then a sacrifice fly by Brandon Huff scored Joel Kussrow.

A Jacob Smith shot to center field allowed Logan Huff to cross home plate. Kierczynski's tripled pushed Smith in for a run and during the play, a passed ball allowed Kierczynski to get the winning score.

"The last few innings, they played like we have all year," Guild said. "It looked a lot like Joburg baseball, and we had them in check.

"I thought we played the worst baseball we've played defensively during the first four innings. We did everything wrong and had too many errors. Our kids came back and showed a ton of heart. They played really well."

Logan Huff was 3-for-3 batting and drove in five runs while Kierczynski and Kussrow each had two hits.

Mason Kortman earned the win on the mound for the Cardinals.

"Mason threw a little better in the last two innings," Guild said. "We settled him down. He was ineffective early on as far as hitting batters, and his curve ball broke on the wrong side of the hitter.

"We played better defensively behind him. In the fifth and sixth inning, we played defense how we have done so the whole year."

In the semifinal against the Thunderbolts, J-L's first eight batters scored runs, and then the Cardinals substituted in nearly an all-junior varsity lineup to finish the last four innings.

J-L freshman Tanner Shimel started and struck out seven batters.

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Huff tosses no-hitter as Cardinals down Trojans in doubleheader
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston has relied on its starting pitchers to cruise through its schedule this season.

But the Cardinals (14-1-1, 8-0 Ski Valley) have also played stout defense.

Logan Huff threw a no-hitter, and the Cardinals swept visiting Central Lake 12-0 and 6-0 in a Ski Valley baseball doubleheader Thursday.

"I don't think we hit as well as we should have a couple of times, but I thought we played outstanding defense," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "We did a lot of things right. We did very few things wrong.

"We've been playing good D all year. If we keep playing like that, and Logan and (Orin Kierczynski) keep throwing like that (two shutouts), we're going to be a tough team to beat."

In the first game, Huff pitched a complete game and struck out 10 Trojans to earn his no-hitter.

The Cardinals' bats were equally as powerful, as they garnered a 4-0 lead after the first inning and closed the door on Central Lake by scoring seven times in the fourth and final frame.

Jacob Smith kicked off J-L's scoring spree in the first inning. He grounded out to second base, but he helped Brendan Prentice score.

Shortly afterward, Kierczynski blasted a two-run single to left field that scored Joel Kussrow and Huff.

Nathan Fox, who highlighted J-L's defensive effort, rounded out the inning by singling to advance Kierczynski, who then raced home following a passed ball.

"I thought our defense would be pretty good, but one kid filled in the spot I needed, and that was Nate," Guild said. "You saw the plays he made tonight. He's there with everything he does.

"He made a couple of plays, and he has been doing that all year. He has only one or two errors all season."

Cody Haase scored in the third inning, and then the Cardinals put on a hit parade in the fourth.

Kussrow led off with a one-run double that scored Prentice, and then Brandon Huff and Haase had back-to-back one-run singles.

A little later, Kierczynski slapped a two-run single to center field that pushed Brandon Huff and Haase home.

Tanner Shimel's line drive to right field later scored Kierczynski, and then Mason Kortman got the final run on a Central Lake balk.

In the second game, Kierczynski struck out seven batters and pitched a complete game to pick up his fourth Ski Valley win of the season.

"I thought Orie pitched another outstanding game," Guild said.

"He hasn't allowed an earned run and has had one hit."

Offensively, Brandon Huff's single that scored Kussrow in the first inning garnered the winning run.

The Cardinals added two more scores in the second inning.

Haase singled to put Fox in scoring position, and then Fox raced home on a passed ball. Haase later made it home on a stolen base.

J-L added its final three runs in the fourth inning.

Logan Huff singled to score Kussrow, and then Brandon Huff's sacrifice fly allowed Logan Huff to cross home plate.

Kierczynski scored the final run on an error.

"We hit the ball all the way through the lineup again," Guild said. "We didn't hit as well as we do in some games, though."

The two wins kept J-L atop the Ski Valley standings.

"It feels great to be in the driver's seat of the conference race because this is these kids' last year," Guild said.

"They've been outstanding leaders. Like I've said before, they're outstanding students. The umpire even said as much. I want them to finish the way they started it and keep rolling."

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Kussrow homers, Cardinals get past Hornets' ace pitcher
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

PELLSTON — Johannesburg-Lewiston knew it'd have its hands full with Pellston pitcher Will Friend.

Friend struck out 14 batters while throwing a no-hitter April 26 at Mackinaw City and then gave St. Mary all it could handle in a 4-1 matchup April 29, fanning four Snowbirds in a tight game.

The Hornet was as advertised Monday.

Friend struck out nine batters, but the Cardinals defeated host Pellston 14-4 and 4-0 in a Ski Valley baseball doubleheader.

"This kid, especially early on, threw as hard as most the kids we've already faced," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "I don't know what he's timed at, but in the early innings, he must've thrown in the real low 80s (mph).

"He wasn't near that in the middle innings, but he was throwing high 70s and low 80s in the early innings."

The Cardinals (10-1-1, 6-0 Ski Valley) relied on their senior bats to halt Friend's bid in the second game.

In the first inning, Friend walked Brendan Prentice, and then Prentice stole a base to get into scoring position. Shortly afterward, Joel Kussrow's single drove in Prentice for the winning run.

J-L added two insurance scores one inning later. A one-run single by Orin Kierczynski scored Nathan Fox, and then Prentice hit a single that allowed Kierczynski to cross home plate.

The Cardinals notched their last run in the third. Brandon Huff got on base with a double, and then Jacob Smith smacked a single to score him.

Friend gave up eight hits and five walks, but J-L credited its success against him with its experience playing against other elite pitchers.

"We've played some pretty good pitchers already this year," Guild said. "We saw a kid from Charlevoix that was good. Lincoln Alcona had a kid that was good, too. The kid from Bellaire (Nic Underwood) was good.

"So we've faced some pretty good pitchers and are used to seeing them."

Kierczynski started for the Cardinals on the mound, striking out four Hornets and allowing only two hits and one walk.

Logan Huff pitched the final three innings. The senior fanned six batters and allowed three hits and one walk.

Pellston could have used Friend in the first game.

Kussrow was 3-for-3 batting with a walk, two doubles and a two-run home run he blasted in the fifth inning which put any chance of a Hornets' comeback out of reach.

"He got it all," Guild said.

Logan Huff drove in four runs to help the Cardinals, finishing with a double and triple.

Also batting well were Prentice, who was 2-for-3 with one RBI, and Tanner Shimel (double, RBI).

The Cardinals started Brandon Huff at pitcher, and the senior gave up three runs in the first inning and one in the second before his cousin, Logan Huff, pitched the remainder of the inning in relief.

Mason Kortman threw the final three innings, striking out three Hornets and allowing no runs.

The two wins kept J-L's Ski Valley title hopes alive.

However, it knows it has tough competition on the horizon.

"It was important we keep with the other teams that are at the .500 level or better," Guild said. "We've got to beat everybody to win the Ski Valley, but these were big wins to keep us rolling forward."

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Photo Courtesy of GHT

Big arms: J-L's Huff, Kierczynski deal Onaway 2 losses in Ski Valley play
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Entering this week, no pitcher in Otsego County had thrown as well as Logan Huff had in his first two starts.

In those outings, the Johannesburg-Lewiston senior pitched 12 innings, struck out 17 batters and allowed only two unearned runs.

He had another solid performance Thursday, but it was his teammate, Orin Kierczynski, who proved Huff isn't the only top pitcher around.

Kierczynski struck out seven batters, and J-L swept visiting Onaway 9-2 and 1-0 in a Ski Valley baseball doubleheader.

"When he's on, he's on, and he was on today," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "He threw strikes and mixed his pitches up well.

"You couldn't have asked for a better pitching duel."

Kierczynski did his damage in Game 2, lasting all six innings and giving up only two hits and one walk.

He was most impressive in the final frame. J-L led Onaway 1-0, and Kierczynski could have easily blown the lead, especially after pitching Wednesday at Lincoln Alcona.

The senior instead struck out the final two batters he faced to preserve the win and push the Cardinals to 8-1-1 and 4-0 in the league.

"That was huge (he went six innings) because he was rested," Guild said. "He pitched well from the first inning and all the way through. He never really got into trouble the whole game.

"Orie was just lights out. He's got a good arm and has been throwing well. We saved him and pitched him for two outs yesterday, and he closed against Charlevoix for one out (April 22), so his arm was fresh."

While Kierczynski's curve ball was hard to hit, he said the key to the win was his team's defense.

"The curve ball was definitely working for me, for sure," Kierczynski said "I threw a lot of curve balls.

"But the defense was everything, and that's what won us this game was our defense. We had little errors, and that definitely was it."

Huff scored the game-winning run after getting on base with a single during the fourth inning.

Trailing 1-0 in Game 2, Jacob Smith smacked a two-run single that scored Joel Kussrow and Brandon Huff to give J-L the game-winning run in the first inning.

J-L extended its lead to 4-1 in the third and fourth innings, as Logan Huff's pop single scored Kussrow, and Nathan Fox stole home on a passed ball.

J-L put the game out of reach in the fifth inning by scoring five runs.

On the mound, Logan Huff improved to 3-0 after striking out five, despite playing injured.

The senior also picked off four base runners.

"Logan threw well," Guild said. "He wasn't as sharp today as he has been, but he still has got that groin pull (suffered against Bellaire on April 18). If you watch him on the bases, he doesn't have quite the mobility and won't for another week or so."

Cardinals battle Tigers for 1 win in non conference play

HARRISVILLE — Timely hitting helped the Cardinals beat host Lincoln Alcona 6-1 in Game 1 of a non conference doubleheader Wednesday while the Tigers fought back late to force a 9-9 tie in Game 2.

In the first game, a three-run third inning pushed the Cardinals past the Tigers.

In that frame, Brandon Huff, who was 2-for-4 batting with 2 RBIs, drove in one of those runs with a single while Tanner Shimel and Hayden Paffi each drove in one run with a single as well.

Logan Huff, Brendan Prentice, Cody Haase and Fox each finished with one hit and one RBI.

Defensively, Kierczynski made eight stops at third base while Brandon Huff pitched and gave up four hits, six walks and one earned run.

"Orie made plays," Guild said. "I can never remember a kid making that many plays at third base, and he made them easily.

"Brandon pitched fairly well. He was a lot better than what he had been doing (in previous games). He kept them off balance."

In Game 2, the Cardinals had led 9-7 in the sixth inning before the Tigers used two singles and a throwing error to score two runs, knot the score and force the tie.

Brandon Huff was 3-for-4 batting with two doubles and two RBIs.

Tanner Shimel, a freshman, and Mason Kortman each pitched three innings for the Cardinals.

"We struggled pitching," Guild said. "I started Tanner. He had a little trouble with control and threw OK, but he struggled at times."

Alcona's Brock Franklin was 2-for-2 batting in the first game and 3-for-3 in the second.

"Alcona was an outstanding team," Guild said. "They made some excellent plays defensively all night.

"The Franklin kid was one of the better hitters I've seen in awhile. He's a stud. It didn't matter if it were a curve ball, fastball or change-up, he hit it and hit it consistently. He hit it hard, too."

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Photo Courtesy of GHT

Huff's pitching, Paffi's walk-off allows Cardinals to sweep Rayders
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — What a finish for Johannesburg-Lewiston.

In the sixth inning of Game 2, Hayden Paffi's walk-off double scored Nathan Fox and ensured the Cardinals swept visiting Charlevoix 4-1 and 4-3 during a non conference baseball doubleheader Friday.

"It was a good couple wins for us, and we played against a solid Charlevoix team that had seven seniors," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "They're hitting the ball all the way through the lineup.

"(Cody) Haase had a big day, Paffi got the big hit and Fox is starting to hit."

It was Logan Huff who ensured J-L (5-1, 2-0 Ski Valley) defeated Charlevoix in the first game.

The senior struck out eight Rayders and walked one, giving up only an unearned run Charlevoix scored in the fourth on an error and double.

Huff's effort was admirable as he battled a hamstring injury, which he suffered April 18 against Bellaire, throughout both games.

"He's throwing well," Guild said. "He pitched with his leg wrapped because he pulled his hamstring in the Bellaire game.

"He threw pretty well, and it's pretty hard to be off to much better of a start than he is having. He's given up two runs altogether, and it's all unearned in the 14 innings he's pitched.

"Other than Fox, he's the fastest kid on the team and best base runner. I had to use a courtesy runner for him in the first game and used him as our DH in the second because of his hamstring."

Offensively, Brandon Huff led the Cardinals by batting 3-for-3 and driving in two runs, one in the first inning and another in the fifth.

A single by Haase scored a run that put J-L ahead 2-1 in the second inning while a sacrifice shot by Tanner Shimel scored the Cardinals' third run during the fourth.

"We had outstanding hitting from Brandon," Guild said. "He's just tearing the cover off the ball.

"He started in the gym and was hitting better than I've ever seen, and he hasn't quit. He's just clobbering the ball."

In the second game, Charlevoix garnered a 2-0 advantage in the second inning before J-L stormed back to regain the lead.

A sacrifice shot by Alex Lemcool scored Haase to put the Cardinals on the scoreboard in the third.

J-L took a 3-2 lead two innings later. Logan Huff's double allowed Shimel to cross home plate, and then a single by Brandon Huff helped Logan scoot home to grab a one-run advantage for the Cardinals.

Charlevoix mustered the game-tying run in the top of sixth, but Orin Kierczynski came in to pitch the final out and closed the door on the Rayders by forcing a ground out to second base.

In the bottom of the sixth, Fox got on base with a single before Paffi, who was also the starting pitcher, drove him home with his game-winning double.

The Cardinals played just as well defensively.

"We did a lot of things right," Guild said. "We had a couple errors, and you'll have a couple errors in a game. We did a lot of things that made a difference.

"Defensively, we had two double plays and two pick offs. We ran a couple of special things we did right with two run downs, and the entire outfield was involved on the run downs. You wouldn't have gotten that without a senior team that has played a lot."

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PHOTO COURTESY OF GAYLORD HERALD TIMES

Pocket aces: Huff deals Underwood loss as Cardinals edge Eagles in pitching duel
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — A pitching duel for the ages headlined Johannesburg-Lewiston's final baseball game last season.

Hillman pitcher Ty Jones edged J-L's Logan Huff in the Division 4 district semifinal, helping the 10th-ranked Tigers beat the Cardinals 1-0 before winning the championship.

Another hotly-contested pitching duel highlighted J-L's Ski Valley opener Monday, but Huff was on the winning side this time around.

Huff struck out nine Eagles and allowed only two hits, and the Cardinals defeated visiting Bellaire 4-1 in Game 1 of a doubleheader that pit Huff against Bellaire ace Nic Underwood, the preseason favorite by most coaches to be the best arm in the league.

The Cardinals (3-1) also downed the Eagles 13-5 in comeback fashion to earn the sweep of Bellaire in Game 2.

"It's good to beat Bellaire twice," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "We figured they'd be one of the better teams in the league, and we knew we had to get at least one (win), and we got two.

"I thought Underwood threw really well, and then he lost composure a little bit. He's as good of a pitcher as we'll see in most of the league."

With the score tied 1-1, Brandon Huff singled to score Mason Kortman and record the game-winning run during the third inning of Game 1.

"Brandon got that first RBI, and then he got the second one," Guild said. "He's been hitting the daylight out of the ball.

"Brandon's hits were huge."

The Cardinals had trailed Bellaire 1-0 after Douglas Verellen ripped a triple that scored Michael Niepoth in the first inning. However, Brandon Huff's shot to center field scored Logan Huff to knot it 1-1 in the bottom of the inning.

With the bases loaded twice, J-L seniors Nathan Fox and Joel Kussrow each walked to add a pair of insurance runs in the fourth.

Then Logan Huff stepped up big on the mound, recording two strikeouts in each of the final three innings to secure the victory.

"Logan was dominating," Guild said. "He was lights out, and they never touched him. Logan is the pitcher to beat in the league this year.

"He lost to Hillman 1-0 last year, and he did all that he could do. But he's so smart. He's a salutatorian, and he's so smart with his pitches. He's not dominant with his fastball, but he moves his pitches in and out. As long as he is consistent, he can usually hit his spots. He is effective."

Logan Huff's experience playing travel baseball last summer helped him prepare for his first official start. The Eagles' 5-2 and 6-5 sweep of J-L last season also inspired his play Monday.

"I had lots of repetition coming in, and I'm glad the summer ball paid off," the senior said. 'I just had control of my pitches, and I was hitting my spots. That's what was getting me these strikeouts.

"It felt like last year in our playoff game. It was just fun to be out here again and enjoy the good weather. I just came out here and did my thing. It feels great to get some revenge on those guys. We just have to take care of business and not take any opponent for granted now."

Runs by Underwood, Jackson Goodwin and Verellen gave Bellaire a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning of Game 2.

J-L bounced back to tie the score 3-3 in the bottom of the inning, as Logan Huff, Brandon Huff and Kortman each crossed home plate following a two-run single by Orin Kierczynski.

A one-run single hit by Brandon Huff put the Cardinals ahead Bellaire 6-3 in the second inning.

J-L put the game out of reach with a seven-run fifth inning that saw Kierczynski, Alex Lemcool, Brendan Prentice, Cody Haase, Logan Huff and Brandon Huff (two RBIs) each bat in runs.

"They were relentless," Guild said. "They're all seniors, and they've played for me for three and four years. They know what it takes, and they're not going to get down because we had a bad first inning.

"They came back, tied it up 3-3 and then went ahead. They never looked back and kept fighting the whole game. I'm extremely proud of them, and I want this to be a great year for the seniors."

The Cardinals return to the diamond Thursday, April 21 when they visit Mancelona for a Ski Valley game.

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Cardinals' Guild 7th coach in MHSAA history to claim 800 wins
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Rick Guild had never expected to coach baseball at Johannesburg-Lewiston for this long.

But with a group as special as this season's seniors, he knew he needed to return this spring to coach for his 41st season.

Of course, a tenure that long has to yield some milestones, and Guild captured another one following J-L's 4-1 win over Bellaire during a Ski Valley doubleheader Monday.

The victory marked Guild's 800th win, making him only the seventh coach in MHSAA history to have 800 or more career wins.

But after beating Bellaire, Guild made one thing clear: the only numbers that matter to him are the ones his players have on their transcripts.

"I promised these kids I'd come back and see them through their senior year," Guild said. "It's going to be a fun year this year because they're such great kids.

"We got a valedictorian, salutatorian and about five or six other kids with 3.5 GPA's or better. They're great kids who love the game, and they work hard."

There's no questioning this group of seniors' dedication to not only playing baseball but competing at a high level.

The Cardinals narrowly lost to 10th-ranked Hillman 1-0 during the Division 4 district semifinal last season. The game featured the ultimate pitching duel between J-L's Logan Huff and Hillman's Ty Jones, who now plays for Delta College.

Two years ago, it was J-L who upset Hillman 11-10 in nine innings of the district semifinal en route to a district title. The Cardinals eventually fell to Rudyard 3-0 in the regional championship.

Their dedication isn't restricted to only the postseason either.

"They were here all day yesterday (Sunday) working on the field and practicing, and we had played Saturday (at Hillman)," Guild said. "Every kid was here, and you can't ask for more than that."

Guild has instilled that type of compassion in his players since he started coaching the Cardinals, according to J-L assistant Troy Huff.

"He's been a coach for as long as I can remember," Huff said. "I played for him back in 1983 to 1987, and he was my coach and the coach for both my boys (Coalton and Logan Huff).

"He's a heck of a mentor to bring up young student-athletes as well as a coaching staff. He makes us all better coaches around him."

That's certainly true.

Coach Huff just led the J-L boys basketball team to an 18-3 finish, one of the best seasons the school has had in nearly a decade.

Guild's other assistant, junior varsity coach Doug Kussrow, has been an institution at J-L, coaching the JV football, basketball and baseball teams and preparing each player for varsity-level competition.

"Rick's intense as a lot of people know, and opposing schools don't know how to take him," Coach Huff said. "But the kids love him to death, and they praise the world of him, and that's special.

"He pushes students academically and has always been that way, even when I played for him 30 years ago. It's nice to have a bunch of academically smart students. It's easier for you to coach, and he definitely stresses that."

Guild is currently tied for sixth with former Jenison and Grand Rapids West Catholic coach Gary Cook for all-time wins (801).

Should J-L complete the dream season it expects to have this spring, Guild could end the season No. 5 on the all-time wins list.

But all those records mean only one thing to Guild.

"Getting 800 wins just means that I'm old," he said. "This is my 41st year coaching, and I was the AD for 15 years. I didn't think I'd be coaching this long.

"They all congratulated me after the game. I think they were pretty proud of beating Bellaire twice, and it was fun for them. It was fun for me, too. It means I've been doing it a long time, but it's kind of nice to have 800 wins, I guess."

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Kortman's pitching helps Cardinals beat Tigers in season opener
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

HILLMAN — With a pivotal Ski Valley matchup against Bellaire awaiting Monday, Johannesburg-Lewiston elected to use seven different pitchers in its season opener Saturday at Hillman to ensure its starters will be ready to pitch as many innings as needed when the Eagles visit.

Mason Kortman threw two shutout innings, and the Cardinals topped the Tigers 9-5 before Hillman regrouped to defeat J-L 5-1 in the second game of a non conference baseball doubleheader.

The Cardinals (1-1) used five pitchers to capture the win in Game 1. That included Kortman earning the win after striking out four Tigers and allowing only one hit.

"We used five kids, so we can have them ready for Bellaire," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "We limited each of them to under 30 pitches.

"Mason Kortman came in and got the win in the last two innings, and he pitched very well for us."

The Cardinals garnered a 6-0 lead following the first and second innings.

A sacrifice fly by Joel Kussrow scored Nathan Fox. Logan Huff, who ended with three hits and a double, scored Kussrow with a single, and then a Brandon Huff single scored Logan before Orin Kierczynski knocked in a run with a single as well.

The Tigers cracked the scoreboard in the fourth inning when they scored three runs on a handful of walks.

However, Alex Lemcool smashed a two-run double to open the fifth that gave the Cardinals insurance runs before Kortman entered the game and kept the Tigers off the base paths in the final two frames.

As a unit, the Cardinals pitched well.

"I thought Brandon threw pretty well," Guild said. "Mason Kortman threw really well, and I was happy with him.

"Logan shut them down in the first two innings. He only threw 20 pitches, and they never got a hit off him."

A run scored by Fox on a sacrifice fly in the first inning was the only one the Cardinals could muster in Game 2. A walk and Kussrow single put Fox into scoring position before the senior raced to home plate.

The Cardinals out hit Hillman 7-6, but their sporadic pitching hindered their chances to slow down the Tigers.

"I used a lot of pitchers," Guild said. "I thought we played better in the second game than in the first, but it was your sloppy, typical never-been-outside game because we've been in the gym.

"We just didn't capitalize on the big hits when we needed it."

Sloppy defense and pitching marred the Cardinals in the second game, but Tanner Shimel pitched well in his varsity debut.

"Some of the other guys didn't throw as well as I had hoped, but we're a small school using seven kids," Guild said. "I thought our defense was very sloppy. I thought that'd be a high point, and I think it will be, but we had a lot of miscues I didn't think we'd have.

"Our freshman, Tanner Shimel, came in during the last two innings of the second game and gave up one run on one hit. I was happy for him."

J-L returns to action when it hosts Bellaire for a Ski Valley game Monday and then visits Mancelona for a conference game Thursday, April 21.

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Cardinals' Fox returns to baseball for senior season after 3-year hiatus
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Like many seniors, Nathan Fox had the realization that graduation was right around the corner, and it left him with only a few more weeks to make memories with his best friends this spring.

That's why Fox returned to baseball for the first time since the eighth-grade. The Johannesburg-Lewiston senior wanted more memories with his best friends, Logan Huff and Brandon Huff, and to rekindle his love for playing the sport competitively.

"I've missed the sport ever since I quit playing it," Fox said following J-L's 4-1 and 13-5 sweep of Bellaire on Monday. "Having one more sport with my friends, Logan and Brandon, kind of convinced me to play.

"I kind of got the urge to go back and play some baseball because I play slow pitch softball in the summer, and I missed being on the field playing."

Fox quit playing baseball following his eighth-grade season because of travel basketball, a sport that he has dominated in since joining the J-L varsity as a sophomore three seasons ago.

His extra time spent playing basketball during those springs helped J-L finish 18-3 this past winter, one of its best seasons in nearly a decade.

With basketball out of the way, Fox was excited to return to the diamond, but now he is contributing to the team more than anyone could have imagined.

Fox starts for the Cardinals and has played an integral role in pushing J-L to a 3-1 start already this spring.

"He's a phenomenal athlete, and he's picked up anything that I've told him in baseball right away," J-L coach Rick Guild said. "It's pretty impressive what he's done so far with the plays he has made. He hasn't made an error yet in the field, and he has played first base, second base and third base."

Fox scored a crucial run that allowed the Cardinals to top host Hillman 9-5 in the season opener Saturday, and then he walked with the bases loaded Monday, driving in a run that helped J-L beat Bellaire 4-1.

"I like supporting the team as much as I can," Fox said. "I know that after a strong season last year, I can help them out that much more, and we're off to a fast start already."

The Cardinals lost a heartbreaker to 10th-ranked Hillman 1-0 during the Division 4 district semifinal last season.

His athleticism — as exemplified by his infield play — should push the Cardinals further in the postseason this time around.

"I'm catching on, and it feels like I haven't missed much," Fox said. "I picked up where I left off in eighth grade.

"I'm more of a utility player for whoever is pitching, and I go in and take their spot and do their job. I can cover so much ground on the infield (because of my speed), and it's just ridiculous. They (J-L's coaching staff) can put me down on one side, and I'll be a lock down defender."

The only improvement Fox wants to make is his approach to hitting.

But other than his at-bats, the team has enjoyed his early-season production.

"I like his attitude," Guild said. "He'll listen, and he has tremendous speed.

"We got to get him hitting a little bit better, but that'll come with experience."

Added Fox: "I just got to start being more aggressive at the plate, swing away and get back into a rhythm."

The Cardinals are hoping to win their second district title in three seasons and appear in another regional championship.

Fox should assist them while they pursue those goals.

"It's a huge help having him," Logan Huff said. "It gives us another infielder, and he's a fast guy. When you have fast people, it's a lot easier to score.

"It's awesome watching him (contribute), but I've had faith in him the whole time from the start because I knew what he had in the tank from when he played with us up until our eighth-grade year."

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Major key alert: Guild says Cardinals' senior leadership to determine success
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor

JOHANNESBURG — Senior leadership.

That's what Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Rick Guild has identified as the key for his baseball team to compete for its second Division 4 district championship in the past three seasons.

The Cardinals didn't lack leadership last spring, despite falling to Hillman 1-0 in the district semifinal. Guild's just excited his once junior-laden roster is a year older and even more ready to compete for another district title.

"We've got a lot of seniors back," he said. "They're excellent leaders. They've been doing a good job in practice. We got a lot of senior leadership, and they're a good group of kids."

The Cardinals lost only three starters from last season — Dan Nieman, Jac Bandt and Trevor Pickelmann — and have a host of seniors who should come together to make J-L one of the deepest teams in the Ski Valley.

That includes Logan Huff, who competed with Central Lake's Simon Spaulding and Bellaire's Nic Underwood as the top pitcher in the league.

In the district semifinal, Huff struck out five Tigers, walked three and hit one batter. It was a promising outing for Huff, as Hillman entered the tournament ranked and started Ty Jones, one of the state's best pitchers, against the Cardinals.

Also back to help J-L's pitching staff are seniors Brandon Huff and Orin Kierczynski as well as Mason Kortman and newcomer Nathan Fox.

"Logan, I expect him to pick up where he left off," Guild said. "I think he will, and he's been an outstanding leader for us.

"Our pitching should be strong. We have a lot of returning players who have pitched before and one new one (Fox), and he'll be a big plus. He's got an awful strong arm."

Key returning seniors in other positions include Brendan Prentice and Alden Nickert (outfielders) as well as Kierczynski, Joel Kussrow, Brandon Huff and Logan Huff (infielders).

"They're all three- and four-year players," Guild said. "Brandon and Joel Kussrow have been with us for awhile. Brendan Prentice has been a three-year player in the outfield for us.

"Orin is playing well and throwing well, and we have a lot of seniors who are also outstanding students as well as good baseball players. They're smart and good leaders."

Among J-L's competition in the league, it'll compete against rival St. Mary, Bellaire and Central Lake for the Ski Valley championship this season.

Reigning champion, Mancelona, is expected to take a step back after long-time coach Jim Van Wagoner has since retired and assumed an assistant position with Gaylord.

Nevertheless, J-L knows it must play well in each Ski Valley matchup if it wants to claim a title and enter the postseason as the team to beat.

"We want to play as well as we're capable of," Guild said. "If we do, we hope to have a good run all the way through the league, and we'll see in the district. Anything can happen with one game, and you're done.

"I'm happy with all aspects of our game. We have a good team, and we can hit the ball well throughout the lineup."

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Updated 8/21/16