STATE CHAMPS: Bridgman completes improbably run with D3 title
Published 5:22 pm Saturday, June 17, 2023
EAST LANSING – There’s exceeding a coach’s expectations, and then there is exceeding the expectations Bridgman head coach Justin Hahaj had for his team when the 2023 season started.
“I went through the schedule and thought we’d be a .500 baseball team,” Hahaj said.
Bridgman ended up being 24 games — and a Division 3 championship — better than that.
The Bees ended up 33-9, with the last win a 7-1 victory over No. 1-ranked Algonac in the final on Saturday at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium.
The title was Bridgman baseball’s first since 1987.
“This is a miracle what happened with this group,” Hahaj said. “It’s just a testament to what happens when people play for each other.”
Nolan Roberts (2) and a teammate celebrate. It was the second time Hahaj had coached Bridgman in final, with the first in 2013 when the Bees lost to Madison Heights Bishop Foley.
Bridgman hadn’t been beyond the District round of the MHSAA Tournament since, with hurdles such as 2022 Division 3 champion Buchanan and Brandywine always standing in the way during the opening week.
In a district final this year, Bridgman used an incredible comeback against Brandywine to get past that barrier. The Bees rallied from a 9-1 deficit to beat Brandywine in 10 innings, 10-9.
Bridgman then recorded one-run wins in a regional final (4-3 over Grass Lake), quarterfinal (4-3 over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in nine innings) and semifinal (3-2 over Standish-Sterling) to earn a shot at Algonac.
“The team that comes out of that District — because we play such good baseball against each other — is just primed and ready for tournament runs,” Hahaj said.
Bridgman completed its long tournament run thanks to the pitching of sophomore Charlie Pagel. By no means a hard thrower, Pagel confounded Algonac with guile and an assortment of breaking pitches, tossing a 3-hitter.
He struck out five and walked one.
“I don’t throw very fast, so I just wanted to keep them off-balance with the off-speed and that was about it,” Pagel said.
Making its first appearance in a Final, Algonac finished 38-4.
Bridgman’s Charlie Pagel delivers a pitch.In addition to not being able to figure out Pagel, defensive miscues also proved costly for the Muskrats.
“You know every pitcher is going to be a strike thrower when you get to this situation,” Algonac head coach Scott Thaler said of Pagel. “I thought he did a nice job of getting strike one over. His curveball was working, so he was able to get some groundballs. We didn’t really do a good job of adjusting to those curveballs and off-speed pitches.”
Bridgman opened the scoring with three runs in the bottom of the third inning, taking a 1-0 lead after loading the bases with one out.
An infield popup eluded Algonac and landed fair, and while the batter was out due to the infield fly rule, a run was able to score. Senior Riley Gloe then singled up the middle to score two runs, one of which was earned and another unearned following an Algonac throwing error. Senior Nolan Roberts then blooped a double down the right-field line to score a run and make it 4-0 Bees.
Bridgman added two runs in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Roberts and a fielder’s choice. Algonac finally broke through in its half of the sixth, cutting Bridgman’s lead to 6-1 on an RBI single by junior Evan Sadler. But Bridgman got that run back in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI double by Pagel to make it 7-1.
Pagel, Gloe, Roberts and junior Alec MacMartin each had two hits to lead the 10-hit attack for Bridgman.
(By Keith Dunlap, special to MHSAA.com)