BRIGHTON — For most of this season, Brighton’s baseball team often bludgeoned teams, either at the plate or with the 1-2 pitching combination of Cameron Tullar and Rudy Ramirez.
On Wednesday, the Bulldogs played a lot of small ball, didn’t hit as well as they expected, and saw both of its main pitchers struggle.
And it didn’t matter.
The Bulldogs swept Grand Blanc twice by 4-1 scores and clinched their fifth KLAA West title in six seasons and ninth overall league title in 12 years.
“This team has gone through a lot of (adversity) this year,” Ramirez said. “Not every game can be your best, not every game can be your worst. When one kid is down, this team picks that kid and puts him on its back.”
Trevor Hopman was selected to put “2017” on a poster on the Brighton backstop that listed the program’s championships dating back to 1980, when the team was in the old Kensington Valley Conference.
He climbed the ladder, applied the sticker, then ignored the catcalls from his teammates as he carefully removed the plastic covering.
Asked which was tougher, the sticker or playing shortstop, he smiled. “I don’t know,” he said. “Both are pretty tough.”
Tullar had trouble finding the plate early and struck out just three hitters in the first four innings.
“Early on, he was missing his pitches high,” catcher Chad Rensi said. “He wasn’t following through. I think midway through the second inning he found his stuff, started following through and threw really well.”
Tullar got into trouble in the sixth, loading the bases with one out before getting a flyout and a strikeout, but finished in an economical 82 pitches.
That came in handy in the nightcap.
Ramirez also struggled, allowing the first two hitters to reach in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
“Rudy was in some stressful innings,” coach Charlie Christner said. “He had guys on and situations to tie the game or take the lead. I felt comfortable with where he was at and where Cameron was at.”
This year, pitchers are limited to 105 pitches in a day, and Christner didn’t hesitate to bring Tullar on in the seventh.
Unlike the first game, when Tullar struggled, he struck out the side to pick up his first save of the season.
The Bulldogs won the game despite getting only three hits. Brighton took the lead in the nightcap with two runs on one hit in the first. Austin Ford walked, went to second on Hopman’s single, and both moved up when the ball went through Grand Blanc leftfielder Dan Heisenreich’s legs for an error. They scored on consecutive sacrifice flies by Ramirez and Tullar.
Brighton’s third run came on a successful squeeze bunt by Jack Krause.
“We did some things we haven’t done a ton of,” Christner said. “We squeezed today, moved some runners with some bunts and scored two runs with one hit.”
And, when Grand Blanc tried to create some offense with bunts, the Bulldogs fielded them flawlessly.
There was no dunking of Christner after the game, but the Bulldogs celebrated for a few minutes before taking care of field maintenance.
“It’s great,” Ramirez said. “I look at all of those numbers up there, all the years. Some great players have gone through this school, and when I grow up and have children I can come back and show them this is the year I played. It will be a great time.”
The Bulldogs will be home against Pontiac Notre Dame Prep on Friday, and Christner will use it both to get his regulars ready for Monday’s Lakes Conference title game and get others some playing time.
“We’re going to take a look at a couple of guys,” he said. “Our regulars will get some opportunities, but we’ve got some guys who need to get some innings on the mound and behind the plate and out in the field.”