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High School | General | 2/19/2020

Strong start in St. Mary's sights

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Logan Wood (courtesy The Oakland Press)

Midwest Region HS Preview | High School Preview Index

It’s a storyline that seems to play itself out more often than many people may think, even those inclined to pay close attention to the national high school baseball scene.

Here’s how it shakes out: A team is coming off a deep run into the previous season’s state tournament bracket, returns a solid core of seniors along with a deep pool of talented youngsters which creates high expectations for the coming season. But, as fate dictates, said team sputters out of the starting gate and doomsayers busy themselves composing premature obituaries.

The Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s Prep Eaglets were a case in point in 2019. Based on the results from 2018, hopes were high going into the season, but after the Eaglets won just seven of their first 16 games through mid-April, few folks outside the program were engaged in any state championship conversations. A 7-9 start just isn’t very conducive to creating such talk.

“We got some preseason notoriety leading into last year and I think that kind of got into the kids’ heads a little bit – we were under-performing based upon our talent,” St. Mary’s head coach Matt Petry told PG this week when asked about last year’s slow start.

“We couldn’t really string our best games together those first 16 games or so,” he said. “We would hit well but we wouldn’t get good pitching, or vice versa.”

Just like the Michigan weather in late winter/early spring, that worm turned in a hurry, and less than two months after the sluggish start St. Mary’s was being crowned Michigan Division 2 state champions. That original storyline had been re-written into a storybook finish whether anyone saw it coming or not.

Now it’s up to the Eaglets to avoid a similar roller-coaster ride this season, and expectations are even higher in 2020 than they were in 2019. St. Mary’s, with seven NCAA Division I signees/commits and counting, is ranked No. 19 in the 2020 Perfect Game High School Preseason Top 50 National Rankings, which makes it the highest ranked team in PG’s six-state Midwest Region.

Making a repeat run to a state championship is never easy, of course, regardless of the state in which the defending champ plays. But this Eaglets team seems to have the right mix, the right blend of old and new that could translate into it having the right stuff once play begins in late March. It’s a collection of players that seems well-suited to getting out of the gates in a hurry.

“I would still say our lineup is very young this year; we’ll probably only start two seniors,” Petry said. “It’s our pitching staff that is extremely experienced for us with three out of the four guys in our rotation this year being seniors.”

He was talking about left-handers Logan Wood and Anthony Fett, and right-hander Mikey Gall. Wood, a Michigan signee, has been one of the top pitchers in Michigan the last couple of years with PG ranking him as the No. 2 overall prospect and No. 1 left-hander in the state (Nos. 323/32 nationally).

Fett, an Akron recruit, is ranked a top-500 national prospect and No. 18 in his home state; Gall is a Saginaw Valley State signee. Outfielders Kyle Murphy (HF), Grant Henson and Kameron Arnold, and middle-infielder Cooper Mills (Kalamazoo) are other seniors who Petry will look to this season.

Middle-infielder Alex Mooney, a Duke commit, is the undisputed leader of St. Mary’s junior class and PG ranks Mooney as the No. 14 overall prospect in the class of 2021 (No. 2 Michigan). He doubled, singled twice and drove in two runs in last year’s state championship game and has been named to the Top Prospect List at each of the last two PG Great Lakes Indoor Showcases held in Rossford, Ohio.

“Speaking about Alex Mooney, he’s our best player; he’s outstanding,” Petry said. “He’s kind of the straw that’s going to stir the drink as far as our lineup’s concerned, and he was that last year as a sophomore, too.”

Right-hander/corner-infielders Thomas Allman (Nos. 491/10) and Jake Keaser (t-1000/30) and catcher Coleson Titus (Army, t-1000/35) are among a handful of other top juniors.

The top sophomore prospect is Nolan Schubart, an outfielder and right-handed pitcher who is already well-known among PG scouts (full transparency alert: PG national scouting supervisor Brian Sakowski helps with the team when his schedule allows).

Schubart, a Michigan commit ranked the No. 11 overall national prospect in the 2022 class (No. 1 Michigan), was the MVP at last year’s PG 14u Select Baseball Festival in Fort Myers, Fla. Other top-tier sophomores include right-hander/utility Brock Porter (Clemson, Nos. 75/2), infielder/catcher Jack Crighton (Michigan, Nos. 387/7) and middle-infielder/leadoff hitter Jake Dresselhouse (Nos. t-500/10).

“Our sophomore class is something that is very special,” Petry said. “There will be five guys that will see some significant time. Three of those guys are already committed … and I think there are five guys in that class that have Division I capabilities.”

St. Mary’s Prep sits in Orchard Lake Village, a small city located about 30 miles northwest of downtown Detroit and mostly surrounded by West Bloomfield. The school has around 475 students and is co-educational but also co-divisional, a model that offers single-gender classrooms.

Petry is starting his 10th season heading-up the program and he’s enjoyed a lot of success, particularly over the last five seasons. The Eaglets, who won D-2 state championships in 1998 and 2003 before Petry arrived, also won in 2015 before last year’s magical run.

That 2015 team finished 32-13 with the 2016 club going 26-14 before a rebuilding year in 2017, which saw the Eaglets play to an 18-21 mark. Things picked up again in 2018 when St. Mary’s reached the semifinal round of the D-2 state tournament and finished 28-13. 

The head-scratching start in 2019 forced the Eaglets to reboot less than a month into the season, and a trip down to Ohio over spring break provided that jump-start.

They opened with a pair of wins over Toledo Central Catholic in Toledo before moving on to Cleveland. Once there, St. Mary’s settled for a 1-1 tie with Cleveland St. Ignatius (the Wildcats ended up winning the Ohio D-I state championship) and then beat Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward before heading home.

“That kind of kicked it off for us,” Petry said. “Just getting the guys together and away from the distractions at school and what life at home brings. … That brought the team closer and we were able to figure some things out; obviously, the rest is history.”

And what does that history tell us?  Well, the 3-0-1 swing through Ohio set in motion an unbeaten streak that reached 28 games (26 wins, 2 ties) after the Eaglets topped Grand Rapids Central Catholic, 8-1, in the D-2 state championship game played June 15 in East Lansing; they finished 34-9-2.

St. Mary’s now brings that 28-game unbeaten streak (and 21-game win streak) into a new season and the players have been working hard during the offseason on their strength and conditioning in an effort to extend it well into the coming spring. Talented guys being around other talented guys on an almost year-round basis should only lead to more good things to come.

“Even with our lineup being on the younger side, they’re still very experienced,” Petry said. “We have three or four guys in there that played a lot as freshmen, so while they’ll be young they won’t be inexperienced.”

It’s worth noting that Matt Petry is the son of former MLB All-Star right-hander Dan Petry, a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the 1976 MLB June Amateur Draft who went on to enjoy a 13-year big league career, all with the Tigers, from 1979-91.

Dan Petry, a member of the Tigers’ 1984 World Series Championship team, currently works for Fox Sports Detroit as a pre- and postgame analyst for the Tigers’ weekend games. Dan had helped his son quite a bit with the St. Mary’s team before accepting the broadcasting gig in 2018, and still spends time with the Eaglets when time allows.

“When I took this job I was 23 years old and I had never really coached, so just having him here with all of his experience in the professional game was very beneficial," Matt said. “Learning some stuff with our pitchers and how to handle those guys has been great for me and for the kids as well. Anytime you can learn from a guy who played 13 years in the big leagues, that goes a long way, especially with our pitchers.”

The St. Mary’s Prep program is in a pretty good place right now. The team’s preseason goals in 2020 are the same as they’ve always been, and that’s to win the Catholic Central League regular-season and tournament championships, and then win another Michigan D-2 state title. Petry feels like those goals are both realistic and attainable.

“This year, obviously, coming off a championship season and getting some of the national attention that we’ve received, that’s not good enough to think that you can just throw your gloves and bats out there and you’re going to win,” he concluded. “We’ve still got work hard and we’ve still got to play together as a team and hopefully we don’t get off to the slow start that we did last year.”

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