Bobcats, Sabers, Lakers make All-League list

Brethren’s Jake Riggs (above), Manistee Catholic Central’s Mateo Barnett (below) and Bear Lake’s Colin Sanderson (below) were named All-West Michigan D League for their performances this past season. (News Advocate file photos)

Manistee County was well represented in West Michigan D League all-conference voting this season, with 14 area athletes earning postseason honors.

Brethren baseball went 17-1 in WMDL play en route to a conference title. The Bobcats had a strong postseason run that saw them win a Division 4 district title and fall just short of a regional crown.

Brethren’s roster was full of talent, and a total of nine Bobcats earned all-conference honors. Jake Riggs, Hunter Wojciechowski and Skylar Wojciechowski made the first team, Gavin Asiala, Mason Stapley and Troy Macurio were named to the second team and Jalen Guenther, Tyler Guinan and Adrian Dean received honorable mention.

Jake was a monster on the mound, finishing the regular season with a 12-0 record and an ERA of 0.33 while striking out 140 of the 205 batters he faced.

“Jake has a unique ability to not be rattled,” said Brethren head coach Julie Riggs. “He could be in some pretty high stakes situations and be as cool as you would want a kid to be. That’s not anything that you can coach or teach — it’s just how he is. He doesn’t let things rattle him.”

No slouch at the plate either, Jake hit .689 in the regular season and .714 in the postseason. In 88 at-bats, he finished with 61 hits, 18 doubles, seven triples and 10 home runs while tallying 62 RBIs, crossing the plate 51 times and only striking out four times.

“He’s always had a good swing, but this year he was just a powerhouse at the plate,” Julie said. “He only had four strikeouts for the entire year.”

Skylar posted a .474 batting average in the regular season and hit .500 in the postseason. He finished with 42 hits, five doubles, two triples and 16 RBIs, scoring 39 runs while striking out only six times in 88 at-bats. Skylar posted a 3.69 ERA en route to a 10-0 record.

“Sixteen RBIs for a lead-off guy is pretty good,” Julie said. “He was a lead-off sophomore and he only struck out six times all season, which is phenomenal. He put the bat on the ball.”

Skylar was able to handle the big moment, too, as he demonstrated with a game-opening double in the biggest game of the Bobcats’ season: The regional championship.

“When he took that first pitch and sent it flying during regional finals — I can’t even put a word on it,” Julie said. “That was just phenomenal. He took the first pitch of a regional final and just sent it flying out in the outfield and it was like, ‘Oh boy — here we go.’

“To take the youngest guy in a nine-man lineup and have him lead off and know that he’s going to be your backup if Jake gets into a bind, that’s quite a bit of pressure,” she continued. “I thought Skylar handled himself like a champ.”

Hunter posted a .546 batting average for the Bobcats, and was an asset as a catcher and second baseman.

“Hunter is just that steady, even-keeled, mechanics kind of guy,” Julie said. “Leadership just oozes out of him. He’s very much a rule-follower. So he’ll have fun, but then it’s, ‘We have to get down to business.’ He was a good, level-headed guy to have on the team.”

Asiala batted .466 in the regular season and is another senior leader the Bobcats will sorely miss next season.

“I was disappointed Gavin didn’t make first-team,” Julie said. “I thought he deserved it, being our catcher, and when he wasn’t catching he played shortstop. … He did a great job for us.”

Macurio hit .455 in the regular season and finished with 38 steals.

“Troy Macurio was the steady man in the left field all season long,” Julie said. “… Troy had a great night against Forest Area — he hit a home run. Against Pine River, he had an inside-the-park home run. He had some good at-bats. … He is so fast that if he focused on contact, once he got on base, he could steal himself around. … He was just super quick.”

Stapley was an asset to the Bobcats both at the plate and in the field and would do whatever was asked in order to help the team.

“He switched between right field and second base,” Julie said. “When Hunter couldn’t throw, Hunter would DH for Mason, and it was just a role play at that point — Mason had a terrific bat. He came through for us several times when we needed him to. He didn’t miss too many balls at all in the outfield.”

Guenther provided Brethren with steady play at first base all season long.

“Jalen played first base for us,” Julie said. “He did a nice job for us. First basemen always have a tough job because they have to pick and dig out of the dirt. A lot of the time, throws are not right to you, so he had to work for it. He would get frustrated quite a bit at the guys, but it was just part of the job of playing first base.”

Guinan was a versatile player who played at third, second and catcher when called upon. Julie said his upbeat attitude was a blessing in the dugout.

“He is a comedian,” she said. “He and Jake could take the show on the road. Tyler keeps the dugout light and keeps the field light at practice. He and Jake could just break into song. They’re not afraid to laugh at their own mistakes and move on with the game, which is super cool. … Baseball is a short-term memory game and if you get too serious, you’re not going to have fun. Tyler definitely helped us make it fun.

“… He was our only left-handed hitter on the team and he came through for us early in the season,” Julie continued. “One of his absolute clutch, game-saving plays was a walk-off double in the Lake City tournament which propelled us into the championship game. That was all Tyler. Bases loaded, pressure on, two outs, do or die, and he cracked one right up the middle and it was just a highlight. … You want those kind of moments for your kids.”

Dean was more than willing to play any position and bat anywhere in the lineup. His work ethic allow him to develop into a key contributor for the Bobcats.

“Deano played center field for us and he played shortstop when Jake was pitching — anything we needed him to do,” Julie said. “He batted all over the place in the lineup — wherever we needed him to be — and he did a phenomenal job. He closed quite a few games for us. … It was really nice watching him mature.

“He worked really hard his freshman and sophomore years to earn that center field position,” she continued. “Early morning workouts at school at 6:30 or 7 a.m., working out and trying to better himself. In the end, it really payed off. Adrian was a solid one of our nine.”

Bear Lake was able to field a varsity team for the first time in over a decade and finished 5-12-1 in conference play. Colin Sanderson earned second-team all-conference honors while Jake Griffis and Levi Ledford received honorable mention.

Sanderson had an ERA of 4.67 in WMDL play, giving up 29 hits, 35 runs and 22 earned while striking out 50 in 33 innings of work. He had a fielding percentage of .917, committing just five errors in 60 chances. Sanderson posted a .453 batting average and finished with 15 RBIs and three doubles in 53 at-bats.

“Despite having a sore elbow and shoulder pretty much the whole year, he did a great job for us,” said Bear Lake head coach John Prokes. “He was very consistent. He was our key pitcher. At the bat, we put him No. 3 in the lineup and he produced RBIs all year and was a consistent hitter both in and out of conference. And also, he was one of our co-captains as a junior.

“He’s coming back next year and we’re looking for a lot of improvement with him,” Prokes continued. “And he’s been working hard. He worked hard in the offseason, too. I think his arm was sore because he worked out so much with the weights for football. That’s what kind of screwed up his arm a little bit, so we’ll have to make some changes next year for him. We’re going to rely on him to be our key pitcher, so we have to protect him.”

Griffis hit .423 in league play and had nine RBIs and three doubles in 52 at-bats while finishing with a .824 fielding percentage.

“In the conference, Colin was our leading hitter, but all-around, overall, Jake was our leading hitter,” Prokes said. “For a freshman, that was huge. He had the fewest strikeouts on the team. He was our leadoff hitter, so he was in a very key spot. We counted on him to get on base all the time. He led a lot of our rallies because he has good speed. He was one of our leaders in stolen bases this year.

“He could get on base consistently, had a high average, he could play infield, he could catch, he did an excellent job on the mound and as a freshman, the future is extremely bright for him.”

Ledford posted a .352 batting average and led the team in triples and RBIs with five and 17, respectively.

“He couldn’t play in the field because of a dislocated shoulder,” Prokes said. “He played with that all year, but he was able to bat, so we had him DH. He was our longball guy. He had two home runs, which doesn’t sound like much, but I tell you what, if he didn’t play at our field which has a mile-long in the outfield, he would have had a few more home runs for sure.

“… He was a great kid — a great leader to have on the team,” Prokes continued. “… He did a good job leading and mentoring the kids and helping us coach the whole year. He was disappointed that he couldn’t play the field, but he did an excellent job at DH. He was our longball guy. He hit for average and he hit for power. He was our cleanup hitter and one of the leaders in our RBIs as well.”

Manistee Catholic Central finished 8-10 in the WMDL and a pair of sophomore Sabers earned all-conference honors. Mateo Barnett was named second-team all-conference and Blake Johnson received honorable mention.

MCC head coach Dillon Rankin said Barnett’s athleticism served him well on the diamond.

“Mateo is an athlete, for sure,” Rankin said. “He does track, basketball and football, so he’s always active. I was really happy to see that he was a baseball player. He’s really fast — very quick. I think once he learns the game of baseball a little bit more, the sky’s the limit for him. He’s very coachable. He listens well. I think if he sticks with baseball, it’s going to be great.”

Barnett’s blazing speed made him a terror on the basepaths. As the season progressed, he learned to read the defense to enhance his ability to get on base.

“He puts the ball in play really well,” Rankin said. “He was our leadoff guy. In the beginning of the year, he had a little trouble bunting, but throughout the year he got much better. I think he had a couple base hits just by putting it down the first or third base line and that was really good to see. Sometimes he did it on his own, which was really cool.

“We had talked about that,” Rankin continued. “If the first or third baseman is playing back, take a peek and see if you can put one down and get on base. Because once he gets on base, it’s very easy for him to steal second or third. I was very happy to see him get second-team all-conference.”

Johnson was happy to do whatever it took to give the Sabers the best chance to win, and Rankin was grateful for his willingness to catch both games in doubleheaders.

“He’s the kind of kid who says, ‘What do you need me to do?’ As a coach, that’s always an awesome thing to hear,” Rankin said. “We don’t really have a true, solid catcher on our team. It was split between Blake and Mateo. There were a few times where Blake had to catch both games and if you don’t really love that position and are a diehard catcher who has been working at it for a really long time, it can be difficult.

“Both of them are pretty good catchers, so I was very happy to see Blake kind of take on that role of having to catch back-to-back games sometimes,” Rankin continued. “He does well back there.”

Johnson’s confidence behind the plate made him a threat to pick off baserunners at any point in a game.

“He’s not afraid to throw the ball when he’s behind the plate, and that’s huge,” Rankin said. “Some guys are not sure. ‘Oh, can I throw it down to first and pick this guy off?’ They make a bad throw back to the pitcher and all of a sudden somebody takes an extra bag.

“Blake’s very confident back there,” Rankin continued. “For me — I have a catching background — that’s awesome to see. … He’s a student of the game. Puts the ball in play and he’s a confident catcher. I think he deserved all-conference and it was really good to see.”

Rankin was happy two Sabers received all-conference recognition, as the WMDL was full of talent.

“It was tough for both those guys,” he said. “It was very competitive this year, I thought. This is my first year coaching, so I wasn’t too familiar with the whole process, but there were a lot of guys out there who were hitting .400 or .500. We didn’t have anybody hit even .400. They were high .300s, which is still pretty good, but I was very impressed by how competitive it was and how many good baseball players are out there.”

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