Niles wins first regional championship since 1999

Published 12:30 pm Sunday, June 12, 2016

STEVENSVILLE — The formula for winning baseball games is quite simple. You need to get solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting.

Unfortunately, putting all three of those things together on a single day escapes many teams and makes coaches old and gray.

Veteran Niles coach Mike Vota does not have any hair on his head, but if he did, it probably would have been all one color after his Vikings stormed to the school’s second regional championship at Lakeshore High School Saturday.

Niles (22-15) used two great pitching performances from brothers Jakob and Drew Huffman, tremendous defense and plenty of offense to sweep No. 1-ranked Coldwater 5-1 in the Division 2 regional semifinals and then defeated Sturgis 12-1 to win its first championship since 1999.

The win over Sturgis avenged a 10-0 loss to the Trojans June 1.

Niles only had won one other regional title. It came in Vota’s first season at the helm in 1999.

There was little doubt that it was going to be the Vikings’ day after the opening inning against the
top-ranked Cardinals.

Coldwater (29-11) already had a run on the board when a ball hit into the hole to Niles shortstop Bryce Lake’s right. Instead of trying to gather himself and make a throw to first, Lake went to third to Drew Huffman who applied the tag for the final out of the inning.

It was all Niles from there.

While Jakob Huffman was fashioning a four-hitter with six strikeouts and two walks, the Niles offense was tuning up against Coldwater’s Brayton Rzepka.

After Rzepka sent the Vikings down in order in the bottom of the first, including a pair of strikeouts, Niles gathered itself and tied the game with a run in the bottom of the second on a passed ball.

Austin Curran started the inning with a double off the right center field wall and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Cody Glick.

Three more runs in the third inning broke the game open and gave Niles total control.

A pair of infield singles sandwiched a sacrifice bunt and a fly out to center field. Curran then singled to drive in Dawson Clemens and Glick singled to score Jakob Huffman.

The final run of the inning game on a throwing error by the Coldwater first baseman on a botched pick-off play.

Jakob Huffman handled things from there.

He retired the last 13 batters he faced on only 37 pitches, 26 of which were strikes. He would finish with six strikeouts, including all three batters on called third strikes in the top of the seventh.

The Vikings would add a run in the sixth on a double by Drew Huffman, a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice ground ball by Jake Lalone to drive in the final run of the game.

“We really stepped up,” Vota said of Jakob Huffman’s pitching performance. “He struggled his last couple of outings, but felt like this was a pretty good match up for him. We felt like he was the right guy to get us to game two.”

Vota also noted that it was the execution of the little things that moved the Vikings into the championship game.

“This time you have to because it is a different platform,” he said. “As a team we worked real hard on it all week. We worked on different situational hitting and it becomes less about battle practice and more about mental situations. Our guys take it seriously in practice every day and fortunately we were able to come out and execute.”

Sturgis never stood a chance against the red-hit Vikings in the championship game.

In the third inning the Viking offense really started to heat up. Curran led off the inning with a 350-foot solo home run. Three straight singles from Glick, Drew Huffman and Jacob Hamm followed by a Jake Lalone force out gave Niles a 5-0 lead.

Sturgis skipper Drew Rutenbar pulled his pitcher before Lalone’s out.

Sturgis was able to score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning on a Niles error.

It didn’t take long for Niles to get the run back though as Lalone knocked in Trey Scott on a force out.

The sixth inning solidified the championship for Niles.

The Vikings batted around in the frame, accounting for eight hits and one hit by pitch. Curran knocked in Neumann and Bryce Lake, Glick knocked in Jakob Huffman, Hamm plated Curran, Lalone drove in Drew Huffman and Clemens and Neumann finished out the RBIs.

“We like to use our athleticism to make plays,” Vota said. “And today we were able to do that.”

Drew Huffman went a quick 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning to finish off the Trojans.

“I thought he pitched well in the final,” Vota said. “He was pounding the zone. The velocity was there. The one run he gave up was unearned and had nine punch-outs. These guys were hungry to win a regional championship. They didn’t care who they played. They stayed focused all day, and I’m really proud with how they played.”

Drew Huffman tossed a three-hitter with nine strikeouts and just two walks.

Niles banged out 16 hits, including a 4-for-5 performance with a double from leadoff hitter Keegan Neumann and a 2-for-4 performance by Curran, including a home run and three RBIs.

Glick was 3-for-3 with an RBI, while Drew and Jakob Huffman both had two hits, including a double. Jacob Hamm had two hits and two RBIs, while Lalone drove in a pair of runs.

Niles will now travel to Grand Rapids to face Holland Christian, a 2-1 winning over Forest Hills Eastern, in the Division 2 quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. at Davenport University.



At Stevensville


Coldwater      100      000      0 – 1 4 1

Niles                 013      001      x – 5 8 0

Brayton Rzepka (L), Mitchell Duda (6); Jakob Huffman (W, 4-4).

2B: Collin Torrey (C), Austin Curran (N), Drew Huffman (N).

Varsity record: Coldwater 29-11.


Championship game

Niles               203      016 – 12 16 2

Sturgis           000      100 – 1 4 2

Drew Huffman (W, 4-3); Tristen Stewart (L), Brecken Stewart (3).

2B: Drew Huffman (N), Tristen Stewart (S), Jakob Huffman (N), Keegan Neumann (N),

HR: Austin Curran (N).

Varsity records: Niles 22-15, Sturgis 24-12.