By BRIAN EVERSON
Rochester’s ace in the hole didn’t fail to deliver Saturday afternoon in Clarkston.
The Falcons backed up the mound work of senior Albert Nagy and delivered an eight-run seventh inning to defeat Brother Rice 10-2 and win their second consecutive Division 1 regional championship.
An audible early in the day in the semifinal allowed the repeat winners to save some added firepower for when it counted most. Rochester jumped out in the first inning to a lead over Royal Oak behind multiple hits from Thomas Loftus and Tyler Frankhouse, and after four runs had been scored, Falcons head coach Eric Magiera and his staff made the call to deputize junior Luke Kastran, the team’s No. 3 starting pitcher, and hold off on using Nagy.
It turned out to be the right call; Kastran tossed a one-run complete game in an 8-1 victory.
“That’s one of the toughest situations to get thrown into,” Rochester coach Eric Magiera said. “You’re a guy who’s a No. 3, and you show up for regionals and think (you’ll) maybe never see the field, and all of a sudden in the first inning of Game 1, you’re thrown into the mix. That’s not easy, and a lot of guys won’t respond to that. He went out there, fought all the way through and got us the ‘W’.”
In the regional title game, Rochester took an early two-run lead, but Brother Rice, who won its own semifinal 9-0 over Lake Orion, scratched back in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 2-2.
The Falcons provided the immediate response they needed in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with no outs. Senior Ryan Gladstone connected on a single that Brother Rice’s third baseman couldn’t reach that scored Matt Hawke, and after a pop fly that followed, the run-scoring faucet opened up. Freshman Noah Stout drove in Loftus, whose younger brother Drew proceeded to add to the hot hitting with a bouncing single that scored two more teammates.
The three-time state champions were unable to halt the damage as a walk and a hit-by-pitch allowed two more Falcons to cross home plate before Frankhouse hit a single to shallow left field that drove in another pair to cap off the scoring.
Senior Jacob Jackson came on for the final three outs to close the door in relief of Nagy, who walked just two batters and struck out three in his six innings of work.
Nagy implied he was more than happy to make the accommodation to pitch later in the afternoon rather than against Royal Oak in the semis.
“It was really cool just to come out and get both wins,” he said. “We played great in the Royal Oak game, and we came back and prevailed against Brother Rice. It’s an honor to pitch in the title game. We’ve been fighting the whole year, and to get back to the quarterfinals like we did last year, it’s truly amazing.”
“I had my best stuff against Eisenhower [in the district semifinal], and I had better stuff today.”
Magiera didn’t play down how critical saving his best pitcher was to Saturday’s victory.
“It was huge,” Magiera said. “We have faith in our No. 2 and think that he could’ve gotten the job done, but Nagy I legitimately think is the best pitcher in the state. I don’t know how his numbers match up with everybody — they’re probably better than most of the guys out there — but I’m telling you if it was between him and any other pitcher in the state, I’d want Albert Nagy on the mound. Being able to add him into this championship game was a life-saver. I think we could’ve won it using somebody else, but that was a game-changer for us.”
Magiera noted that the experience of making it to the final eight teams last season has crafted a different mindset for this year’s run.
“Last year, you were almost playing with house money,” Magiera said. “No one expected us to get through districts, so you get into regionals and are just hoping for the best when you do it. This year, we’ve been here before. Getting to regionals is great, but now we’re here, let’s do it again and win this thing.”
The Falcons, state champions in 1997, will look to make it a second and head to East Lansing with a win over Northville.