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June 8, 2013

Late-inning heroics lift Brother Rice baseball to first regional title since 2009

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Matt Ruppenthal went the distance against Walled Lake Northern in a 2-0 victory in the regional semifinal. Rice beat Northville High 3-2 in the final.

NOVI — On the first pitch, Nick Plummer began the game with a bang.

On the last pitch, Alex Malzone earned Birmingham Brother Rice a regional championship.

“This was one of those games that anybody could have won at any time,” Rice coach Bob Riker said after his guys beat Northville High 3-2 on a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh. “But that’s baseball. That’s high school baseball. You just hope for the big hit, and we got it.”

Plummer got the game going with a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the first.

The Warriors went up 2-0 in the second on a Sammy Stevens sacrifice fly, but the offense sputtered for the most part after that run.

Northville cut the deficit in half in the third inning, and then after an error at third base, which would have ended the sixth inning, the Mustangs tied the game at 2-2 when the next batter singled.

Northville had chances again in the seventh, getting runners to first and second with one out, but Karl Kauffmann entered the game at pitcher and got the next two outs.

Thanks to an error, an intentional walk and an infield single by Matt Ruppenthal, Rice loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, and Malzone singled up the middle on the first pitch he saw.

“As a coach, you can only hope he’s the guy that has the chance to win,” Riker said of Malzone. “When he came up, I knew he’d be the guy to get the job done.”

“I figured he’d give me a good pitch on the first one, and I just hung with it,” Malzone said smiling. “It felt great. To have all the guys chasing me down to celebrate. It felt awesome.”

Rice (30-8-1) beat Walled Lake Northern 2-0 in the regional semifinal on the heels of Ruppenthal’s complete-game shutout.

The Warriors face Lake Orion High in a 4:30 p.m. June 11 quarterfinal at Saline High.

“It comes down to pitching and playing defense,” Riker said. “We’re one of eight teams left now, and if you can do that, you have a chance.”

The regional title was the first for Rice since 2009.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.