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High School  | General  | 2/16/2021

Strong Jr. class rocks PGHS Midwest

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Nolan Schubart (Perfect Game)

Nearly two months before the 2020 Michigan high school baseball season was set to begin (spoiler alert: it never happened) Head Coach Matt Petry from nationally-prominent Orchard Lake St. Mary’s let Perfect Game in on what was probably the worst-kept secret in the PG High School Midwest Region.

“Our sophomore class is something that is very special,” Petry told PG during a telephone conversation last February. “There will be five guys that will see significant playing time...and I think there are five guys in that class that have Division-I capabilities.”

The events of the last 11 months remind us that those talented young players who have settled into roster spots at OLSM in West Bloomfield Township northwest of Detroit never had the chance to enjoy their sophomore seasons in 2020, and that was a shame.

It was to be a season in which the Eaglets chased after a second straight Michigan High School Division 2 state championship while building on a 28-game winning streak they had compiled over the latter part of the 2019 season. The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans and those goals couldn’t be reached in 2020, but everyone’s optimistic they’ll be attainable once again in the spring of 2021.

Senior middle infielder Alex Mooney (No. 13-ranked ’21, Duke commit) leads OLSM but he’ll get plenty of help with the return of top juniors in outfielder Nolan Schubart (No. 7 ’22, Michigan), right-hander Brock Porter (No. 18, Clemson), second baseman Jake Dresselhouse (t-500, Michigan State), third baseman Jack Crighton (t-500, Michigan) and shortstop/right-hander Ciaran Caughey (t-500, Kent State).

And in a perfect example of the rich getting richer, the Eaglets added the talents of junior catcher/first baseman Ike Irish (No. 164, Auburn) to their roster after he transferred in over the summer from a school in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Perfect Game National Scouting Supervisor Brian Sakowski is a member of the coaching staff at OLSM and he’s watched first-hand as these underclassmen have established themselves as the backbone of the program.

“The results sort of speak for themselves so far on just how absurdly talented they are,” Sakowski said. “Those are kids who all, for the most part, played big roles on the state championship team in 2019.”

What’s interesting here is that the five juniors at OLSM are representative of a trend of sorts in the PGHS Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin) which has two teams in the PGHS Preseason National Top 50 Rankings: No. 7 OLSM (Michigan) and No. 44 Brother Rice High School (Illinois).

When PG Vice President of Player Personnel David Rawnsley compiled his 14-player Midwest Region “Dream Team” he included six juniors on the roster: OLSM’s Schubart and Porter; Milton HS (Wis.) shortstop Gavin Kilen (No. 13, Louisville); Oswego East HS (Ill.) left-hander Noah Schultz (No. 14, Vanderbilt); Liberty Union HS (Ohio) right-hander Jacob Miller (No. 29, Louisville) and Brother Rice HS (Ill.) outfielder Jack Lausch (No. 67, uncommitted).

And that’s not the end of it when it comes to highly-ranked class of 2022 national prospects from the region. There’s also Brebauf Jesuit Prep (Ind.) right-hander Andrew Dutkanych IV (No. 35, Vanderbilt), LaSalle-Peru Township HS righty Julius Sanchez (No. 47, Illinois), New Albany Senior HS shortstop Tucker Biven (No. 49, Louisville), LaSalle HS (Ohio) outfielder Devin Taylor (No. 69, Indiana), Whitefish Bay HS (Wis.) outfielder Michael Lippe (No. 86, Louisville), home-schooled Illinois shortstop Logan Wagner (No. 102, Louisville) and Trinity HS (Ind.) outfielder Korbyn Dickerson (No. 130, Louisville).

It’s obvious that Louisville Head Coach Dan McDonnell and his staff has taken note of these prep 2022s who are maximizing their opportunities in what is basically his front yard. Seven of the top 15 juniors in the Midwest Region, all ranked in the top-152 nationally, have committed to the Cardinals.

There’s top talent from the class of 2022 all across the country but it just seems more pronounced in the PGHS Midwest. As Sakowski pointed out, there are cycles to everything in baseball but this seems like it’s more than a cyclical occurrence; it has the feel of something more permanent.

In the country’s cold-weather states like those in the PG Midwest, there’s long been the perception that a player’s development is hindered because he’s not able to get outside and work on his game year-round like the guys who live in warmer-weather states.

From his own observations, Sakowski feels like that knock has become a bone of contention among those cold-weather players and they’re taking it personally. If I can’t go outside to get my work in, the thinking goes, then I’ll just work twice as hard as everyone else indoors.

“It’s kind of starting to resonate nationwide and part of that is kids who are being exposed to high-level coaching and the proliferation of the indoor facility and the training facility,” Sakowski said. “it’s not just coming in to take lessons, it’s player development. I think there’s an element of that at play.

“Guys are getting better than they would have 10 years ago because the coaching is better,” he added. “But that being said, these are still the guys with the talent and they’re still the ones doing the work.”

And, Sakowski believes, that trend promises to continue as coaches, instructors and facility operators gain more access to the wide array of new technologies that are proliferating throughout the game. Coaches will refine their philosophies and techniques to fit and to better understand what the new data is telling them, and that’s to the benefit of the players in all nine PGHS regions.

“There are particulars to that argument, obviously,” Sakowski said. “I’m sure kids in the south on average are better at fielding ground balls off of dirt than the kids in the north are, but everybody plays on turf now so who cares if it’s inside or outside. There are arguments one way or the other but in reality with all things being equal, I don’t see any stop to this at all.”

The cancelation of the 2020 season was heart-breaking for everyone, especially for the graduated seniors who won’t get a do-over. The underclassmen, on the other hand, like this current junior class, got back to work as soon as they were allowed to and funneled their efforts into the 2020 PG tournament and showcase circuits seemingly no worse for the wear.

There are 14 position players and six pitchers ranked in the top-20 of the PGHS Midwest Region’s class of 2022 and Sakowski said you could make the argument that each one of them were a little rusty when they first came into the 2020 summer season.

But once the hitters got acclimated to live pitching again and everyone kind of got their feet back underneath them, they were really ready to turn it on by mid-summer and that carried over into the fall. Players as highly-ranked and as highly-regarded as these guys would never allow themselves to fall behind, not when they’ve already worked so hard to reach the upper level.

Led by Mooney – the MVP at the PG All-American Classic played in Oklahoma City last Labor Day Weekend – and its outstanding junior core, there should be no stopping Orchard Lake St. Mary’s this spring if, in fact, the season is allowed to play out in full.

Sakowski said things are “in a bit of a holding pattern” right now because the winter sports teams only started their seasons recently. The common thought is that the start of the season will be pushed back a week or 10 days and if that scenario does indeed come to be, that will be considered a win for everyone.

In the meantime, don’t fault anyone associated with OLSM for continuing to have fond recollections of the 2019 season.

It is kind of remarkable to look back on what was this current crop of juniors’ freshman year. Schubart, the MVP at the 2019 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival in Fort Myers, Fla., hit in the four-hole in the lineup, Porter started and won the state championship game and was the No. 2 starter the entire season, Crighton was the starter at third base and Dresselhouse played on the varsity but wasn’t yet a starter; Caughey played primarily with the JV team that spring. They may have only been ninth-graders but they were key contributors.

“They all came in and kind of saw the culture that had been created at St. Mary’s by the classes that had gone before them,” Sakowski said. “It all culminated in a big way team-wise, obviously, their freshman year and since then it’s been about personal development; personal work ethic to get better. They’re always honing their crafts.”

And they’re also not afraid to spread it around, either. Dresselhouse, Crighton and Irish are all two-sport athletes with Dresselhouse and Irish mixing it up out on the football field and Crighton doing the same on the basketball court.

They’ve put themselves in position to possibly challenge for a Perfect Game High School national championship, an "on paper" title usually claimed by a school from a warm-weather state.

As an example, the Eaglets are joined in the top-10 of the national rankings by schools from Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Texas; that’s telling. It’s certainly been a fun ride and one that doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon - think of those juniors coming back for yet another go-around in 2022.

“Obviously, I get to track their development through PG; even if I wasn’t their coach I’d be watching them play during the summer,” Sakowski said. “It’s been fun to see that and it’s a testament to them, to their families and to the culture at St. Mary’s that even with no high school baseball they took it upon themselves to get as good as possible, to get better, to focus on the things they needed to focus on. The results have spoken for themselves to a degree, for sure.”