The Rudyard baseball team had already been eliminated in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 4 state baseball semifinals the day before, but it had one big motivation to stick around town before making the roughly four-hour trek back home to the eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula.
The next day, Rudyard players and coaches lined up along the fence in right field at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium to witness for themselves what might have been the best baseball story in Michigan this spring (especially with how the Tigers have played).
Watching with adoring eyes as if they were viewing a big-league team, the Rudyard squad studied every move made by the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s players while St. Mary’s warmed up for its Division 1 semifinal.
Rudyard really got a show when St. Mary’s senior ace Brock Porter, a likely first-round selection in next month’s Major League Baseball draft, warmed up just a few feet in front of them.
“We’ve got to watch the No. 5 player in the country,” Rudyard sophomore Kallon Lawler said.
No question, Rudyard wasn’t alone in terms of people wanting to check out St. Mary’s this spring.
Whenever any high school baseball rankings come out, it’s hard to ever see a team in those rankings not from states such as Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, Mississippi or Georgia.
But for most of the year, St. Mary’s was ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps.
Baseball America had St. Mary’s at No. 3 in the country in its last poll in May, while Perfect Game had St. Mary’s ranked No. 2.
Of course, such a ranking probably made teams and players in the South snicker.
Surely, a team from the cold, snowy North can’t be as good as US!
But after St. Mary’s finished off an unbeaten season with a 1-0 win over Grosse Pointe North in Saturday’s state championship game, there is evidence suggesting St. Mary’s is worthy of such high praise.
First of all, St. Mary’s is filled with players committed to college programs, most notably Porter.
A flamethrower who has been clocked with a fastball at over 100 miles an hour this year, Porter, a Clemson commit, threw five no-hitters and is projected by some outlets as a top-10 pick in the MLB draft.
He was recently named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year for prep baseball.
Senior catcher Ike Irish has committed to College World Series participant Auburn and is also a candidate to be drafted high.
Junior Blake Grimmer has committed to Tennessee, seniors Jack Crighton and Nolan Schubert are committed to Michigan, while senior Jake Dresselhouse will play in college for Michigan State.
There are numerous others committed to smaller colleges, or are underclassmen who will commit to prominent programs over the summer.
Both Irish and Porter said they go back-and-forth and do some good-natured trash talking with future teammates and travel ball colleagues in the South, insisting that this team is as good as what the rankings say.
“When you play travel, most kids down South think they can beat us, but I’d put Brock up against anybody in a one-game series,” Irish said.
As fickle as baseball is, any team going unbeaten in a season is hard, no matter how talented it is.
But St. Mary’s pulled that off by winning a state-record 44 games in one season this spring and is on a 66-game winning streak overall.
The Eaglets only lost one game last year.
The coach is Matt Petry, a former player at Michigan who is the son of former Major Leaguer Dan Petry, a member of the Detroit Tigers 1984 World Series winning team.
More than trying to live up the ranking, Matt Petry said he hopes his team has just been able to showcase that there can be top-notch prep baseball played in the North.
“There are a lot of really good players and a lot of really good teams,” he said. “It’s nice to have recognition for the state of Michigan.”
The matter of whether St. Mary’s is the best in the country is rooted in debate and opinion.
But what’s rooted in fact and the history books are the accomplishments of a St. Mary’s baseball team that might never again be seen again in the cold, snowy North.
“I think this team is going to go down as one of the best ever,” Irish said. “It’s going to be awesome to tell everybody in 20 years that we were on that team.”