NEW LOTHROP – If the sport involves a ball, bat and glove, no school in the Flint area has been more successful this year than New Lothrop.
Six Flint-area baseball teams will take the field in pursuit of regional championships this week and five local softball teams will do the same thing.
But New Lothrop is the only school that still has its baseball and softball teams in the hunt for state championships.
Of course, that shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows Flint-area sports.
Few if any schools have enjoyed more athletic success over the years than the Hornets of Shiawassee County. New Lothrop has won two of the last three Division 7 state football titles, the wrestling team has won a record 15 state championships, and both the baseball and softball team have won state titles.
The baseball team has also won 10 consecutive Division 3 district championships.
“Our baseball teams have always been competitive here,” said junior Brady Birchmeier, whose team is ranked No. 8 by the coaches. “Winning 10 straight, it’s hard to do in any sport. It doesn’t matter what division you’re in. You have to have a good team. You have to compete as a team.
“It’s a thing that every time we walk on the field – no matter if it’s a basketball court or football field or baseball field or softball field – we’re expected to win. We’re expected to compete no matter the team we’re facing.”
The Hornets have certainly done that in baseball this season, putting together a 29-5 record entering Wednesday’s regional semifinal game vs. host Mt. Morris.
Seven players are batting at least .400 led by Birchmeier’s .590 average. He also leads the team with a whopping 15 home runs, 73 RBIs and 24 doubles.
Baseball is Birchmeier’s only sport these days after he decided to give up wrestling last winter because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen so I practiced baseball all year and that’s why my numbers are what they are,” he said.
But the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Bowling Green commit does more than just hit the ball. He also has a 10-0 record as a pitcher with a 1.17 ERA in 14 appearances. His fastball has been clocked at more than 80 mph.
Julius Garza gives the Hornets a capable No. 2 pitcher with a 7-0 record and Cam Orr, who quarterbacked the football team to the state title, is 6-2 on the mound.
“If our pitching holds up, we can make a nice run,” said coach Ben Almasy. “We can always hit the ball. We hit 1 through 9. We’re always putting balls in play and we’re scoring lots of runs. We play good defense, which people don’t see because we score lots of runs.
“It’s going to come down to the pitchers. If the pitchers step it up a little bit, I think we can make a nice run.”
The softball team’s method of success has been the same – strong hitting and outstanding pitching led by one player who does both better than anyone else on the team.
The girls have at least seven players batting at least .400 led by junior Jersey Hemgesberg’s .563 average. She also leads the team with 12 home runs and 71 RBIs.
Sounds a lot like Birchmeier, eh?
As a pitcher, Hemgesberg has a 25-4 record and 1.81 ERA in 35 games.
“She’s a once-in-a-generation talent,” said softball coach Tom Birchmeier. “She’s got the complete package, really. She pitches, she’s a great fielder and when she’s not pitching she plays third base. She throws hard. She’s not afraid to challenge hitters.
“Honestly, if she would have gotten the chance to play last year, by the time she’s done she would have rewritten all our varsity records.”
The funny thing is Hemgesberg isn’t a pitcher by trade and that’s not even her favorite position. When she plays travel softball in the summer, she doesn’t pitch. She plays third base or first base.
Hemgesberg basically pitches out of necessity for New Lothrop.
“Travel ball, I love playing third and first,” she said. “But school ball, I will play any position they need me.”
Hemgesberg’s fastball has been clocked at 59 mph and Birchmeier likes to sub in Samantha Birchmeier for an inning here and there to throw off opposing hitters since the latter throws less than 50 mph. That keeps hitters off balance.
The Hornets will take a 33-7 record into Saturday’s regional tournament at Shepherd, where they’ll play unranked Laingsburg at noon for a spot in the 2 p.m. championship game.
New Lothrop received honorable mention in the latest coaches rankings but the Hornets have only lost to one Division 3 team (Cass City) all season. The rest of their setbacks have been against Division 2 teams Clio, Owosso, Frankenmuth and Imlay City. All received mention in the D2 rankings.
Add it all up and Tom Birchmeier is optimistic about the Hornets chances during the remainder of the tournament.
“If we bring our best game who knows how far we can go?” he said.