GRAND BLANC — Clutch pitching, timely hitting and a whole lot of hugs lifted Grand Blanc varsity baseball to its first state championship in school history on Saturday.
Grand Blanc (33-11) captured its first championship crown by defeating #2 ranked Portage Central, 8-3, in the Division 1 state final at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium. The Bobcats jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, anchored by bursts of scrappy offense and six strong innings from starting pitcher Nate Helms.
Nathan Fedelino got the scoring started for the Bobcats in the first inning with a bloop single to drive in Jonah Meleski, and Hunter Ames stole home on a wild pitch to put Grand Blanc up 2-0.
Grand Blanc left the bases loaded in the fourth inning but roared back with six runs in the fifth inning. Meleski, A.J. Maxwell, Ames, Tim Welch and Connor Cooper each singled in the frame and Notre Dame commit David Lally knocked in an RBI double to give the Bobcats an 8-0 lead.
On the mound, Helms threw six strikeouts for Grand Blanc while allowing just five hits with one walk.
Grand Blanc Coach Kevin Hubbs described Helms as a “throwback” with a knack for stymying batters with off-speed pitches.
“Nate doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but he locates all of his pitches and throws a ton of strikes,” Hubbs said. “He’s also mentally tough and keeps hitters off-balance and guessing. He doesn’t let the moment get too big for him.”
Portage Central finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single from Nick Ford and a two-run homer from Gavin Brasosky. But the Mustangs’ rally fell short as Helms closed out the inning with a strikeout and a lineout.
Welsh then moved from first base to relieve Helms in the seventh inning and struck out the side to seal the win for Grand Blanc.
Enroute to the victory, Grand Blanc capitalized on six Portage Central errors, while only committing one error and stifling one of the top offenses in Division 1. During their championship run, the Bobcats relied on dominant pitching and defense, surrendering just seven runs through their seven-game playoff stretch.
“Our pitchers threw strikes, our defense made plays and we didn’t make an error in our last 12 or 13 games,” Hubbs said. “All season long, we kept preaching to our players that pitching and defense will keep you in the game. They definitely bought into that.”
Team chemistry also played a big role in Grand Blanc’s run to glory. Before the start of each inning Saturday, Bobcats players gathered at the pitching mound for a group hug.
“Our guys started a practice of giving each other quick hugs and words of encouragement, as a way to calm nerves and keep each other relaxed and loose,” Hubbs said. “They knew they could always rely on each other.”
Grand Blanc kicked off its championship run by eliminating Flushing, 2-0, in the district semifinal and topping Fenton, 5-2, to win the district championship. The Bobcats then defeated Lapeer, 10-1, and Utica Ford, 5-0, in the regional rounds before knocking off Grosse Point North, 2-0, in the state quarterfinals.
Grand Blanc advanced to the state championship with a convincing 10-1 win over Brother Rice in the state semifinals.