A comeback prior to regionals lifted Michigan

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Michigan's Reggie Sharpe warms up during a game against Hawaii on Sunday afternoon at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

Those who watched Grosse-Pointe, Michigan rampage through the Great Lakes Regional tournament and reach the Little League World Series could not help being impressed. Grosse-Pointe outscored four teams, 46-6, and hit a U.S.-high seven home runs.

But those outside Grosse-Pointe likely missed one big fact. It was miraculous that Grosse-Pointe was even still playing.

Two weeks earlier, Grosse-Pointe trailed Bay City Northwest by four runs in the sixth inning. Only two outs remained and nobody was on base. A year after Grosse-Pointe played at the Series, it appeared the repeat hopes were over.

Then Jake Martin singled. Then Jarren Purify hit a 3-run home run two batters later. Ryan Knaebel followed with a game-tying home run that forced extra innings and, against long odds, Grosse-Pointe won, 5-4 in eight innings. It captured the state title a day later, romped through regionals and now is the third team from its league since 2013 to play at South Williamsport.

Grosse-Pointe has continued showcasing its resiliency at the Series, twice overcoming 4-0 deficits.

“That was one of the best teams we played. We knew they were good and we knew we were good and that easily could have gone the other way,” Grosse-Pointe manager Kurt Barr said. “Thank God we came out on the right end of it.”

Grosse-Pointe fans probably were appealing to a higher power when the score remained 4-0 with one out in the sixth. Little had gone right for Grosse-Pointe that night and any team, let alone a group of 11 and 12-year olds, could have felt demoralized. Instead, Grosse-Pointe kept fighting and delivered a performance that symbolizes exactly who it is.

It was not just that Grosse-Pointe won. It was how it did so that might have paved the way to Lamade Stadium.

“In every tournament you always need a game like that. There are games that you are going to have to grind one out and the kids in that last inning put amazing at-bats together and hit some home runs,” 2017 Grosse-Pointe manager Jason Hill said. “That game was a turning point and gave the kids a lot of confidence and then they really got hot at right time and here we are.”

Everything had come fairly easy for Grosse-Pointe before meeting Bay City Northwest. The Great Lakes champions outscored five district opponents, 71-9 and won their first four state tournament games by a 55-4 margin. They were smashing teams and doing it in style as another Series appearance started coming into focus.

Then Bay City Northwest showed up.

Grosse-Pointe had long ago proven how talented it was. This game proved how tough it was. Had Grosse-Pointe breezed through states, maybe the regional tournament would have gone different. Now this team has a belief that it can overcome an obstacle no matter how difficult it appears.

“We needed that game. We needed a close game to be able to have a wake-up call to show that there are teams that can compete with us and that we have to be to handle adversity,” Grosse-Pointe coach and league president Melissa Henderson said. “You’re not going to come out and score five runs in the first inning against every team we play. We have to be able to come from behind. We have to keep our heads up when things are not going well”

Grosse-Pointe learned those lessons well and applied them less than 18 hours later. The Great Lakes champions had a quick turnaround and a day after the night game against Bay City were playing in the late morning against Rockford. Whether it was Rockford being so strong or Grosse-Pointe being flat coming off an emotional high, Grosse-Pointe fell behind 7-2. Again, it did not blink. Again it rallied and pulled away, winning 12-7.

Grosse-Pointe went into overdrive from there.

“They didn’t quit. We’ve played pretty much another full season at this point and we’re still getting better each day and learn from each game and talk about what we learned from each game,” Barr said. “Our approaches, our never say die attitude and our pitching all came together and we started peaking at the right time. Teams can always get better and we’re always striving to get better.”

Now Grosse-Pointe has become one of the world’s best teams again. Achieving something great never comes easy. Grosse-Pointe learned that against Bay City Northwest. Instead of folding, this team came back stronger.

The Minnesota Vikings have the “Minneapolis Mircale.” Grosse-Pointe will always have the Bay City Miracle. It is a game this and future Grosse-Pointe teams can always point to when things look bleak.

Just keep fighting. Look at what can happen if one does.

“That showed them right there that they are never out of a game,” Henderson said. “It was extremely emotional and stressful, but they came through. They are a special group.”