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PHOTO GALLERY: Mt. Pleasant's underclassmen, seniors create championship formula

  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant celebrates a state baseball championship after a 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant infielder Robert Backus starts a double play during the Oilers 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant's Aaron Leasher dives back to first during the Oilers 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant's Aaron Leasher delivers a pitch to the plate during the Oilers 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant's Dan Keller blocks a pitch in the dirt during the Oilers 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant celebrates a state baseball championship after a 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
  • JRC-MorningSunSkip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant celebrates a state baseball championship after a 7-2 win over Richmond in the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship game at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014. Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun Mt. Pleasant won the MHSAA Division 2 Baseball Championship with a 7-2 win over Richmond at Michigan State University Kobs Field Saturday, June 14, 2014.
EAST LANSING – Just about half of Mt. Pleasant’s starting lineup Saturday morning in the Division 2 state championship game could conceivably still be on the junior varsity team.

That is, they’d still be junior varsity baseball players if they were not so darn good.

All of the underclassmen who saw action in the state title-winning 7-2 victory over Richmond played a big-time role not only in helping the Oilers reach that stage but also in carrying them to that final victory and the massive celebration pile that ensued immediately after.

There’s sophomore third baseman Zach Heeke, whose sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first inning led Mt. Pleasant to its very first run.

To Heeke’s left on the infield, freshman Obie Ricumstrict was a midseason call-up from the junior varsity and immediately made a major impact with his bat and at shortstop. He merely went 2-for-3 in the biggest game of his life.

Sophomore Max Trucks has manned first base much of the time lately, although he was slotted into the designated hitter spot for the state championship contest. He took the ‘hitter’ title seriously, recording a flawlessly executed suicide squeeze bunt that accounted for Mt. Pleasant’s fifth run.

Sophomore catcher Dan Keller went 1-for-2 with a run scored and also gunned out a Richmond runner attempting to steal second.

Also in the conversation is the un-sophomore-like pitching performance in Thursday’s 7-1 semifinals win over Richland Gull Lake by Hunter Buczkowski, who is indeed a sophomore. He limited the opposition to just one earned run over seven innings to propel the Oilers to the title game.

“Don’t forget about our young guys. They’ve made some huge plays,” Mt. Pleasant coach Luke Epple said afterward.

It makes you wonder just how good the Oilers might be in about two years, although it is hard to be much better than the state champions they currently are.

That is not to say Mt. Pleasant’s team is just a parade of young players overshadowing the more experienced teammates.

Quite to the contrary in fact.

Aaron Leasher, the senior left-hander and ace of the Oilers staff, was nothing short of brilliant in shutting down Richmond until the seventh inning when the Blue Devils finally squeaked across a runs that did nothing more than close the final run differential to five runs.

Both runs against Leasher were unearned as he surrendered just four hits to go with seven strikeouts and three walks. In what was a 5-0 game in the top of the sixth, Leasher registered his seventh strikeout with two on base to put a nice bow on his wonderful outing.

“We believed right from the beginning that we could beat anybody with our pitching,” Epple said. “We just had to make plays, hit the ball around, and get better at knocking the runners in.”

He then went further in depth about Leasher.

“He is a kid that is continually getting better,” Epple said. “He didn’t play as a sophomore and then had a very good junior year before being a dominant pitcher for us this season. When he goes and plays baseball in college, I know he’ll continue to improve. He has a very high ceiling.”

There is also the glue of the infield in senior Robert Backus, a three-sport standout who put an offensive stamp on the front and back ends of the game.

Backus doubled to lead off in the bottom of the first and eventually scored on the Heeke sacrifice fly. In the sixth inning, it was his two-run single that provided some more insurance for Leasher to get through the always difficult final three outs.

After experiencing heartbreak as a junior when Mt. Pleasant blew a 5-1 lead in the quarterfinals against Chippewa Hills and fell 6-5, Backus and company used that as motivation going into this year.

“For us younger guys that (Chippewa Hills) game left a bad taste in our mouths and it finally paid off,” Backus said. “All of the seniors knew coming into this season what we could do and what we had. It was just a matter of putting it to work.”

Backus, who was also the Mt. Pleasant football quarterback in the fall and one of the Oilers’ hockey team’s leading scorers in the winter, now has the previously elusive state title to cap what has been a tremendous preps career.

“This is the best,” Backus added. “When that final ball was in the air I was saying, ‘Catch it, catch it, catch it. Alright, here we go.’”

It would also be a disservice to not mention a pair of other seniors in center fielder Joe Genia and right fielder Dean Marais, both of whom also were instrumental in the state championship run.

On Saturday, Genia had an RBI on a sacrifice fly and scored a run while also doubling up a runner off first on a ball hit to him in the outfield.

As for Marais, his left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup has been huge. In the semifinal, his crushed double that went high off the right field fence at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium set the tone for that rout.

He was again right in the mix versus Richmond with two hits including a double, scoring one run in the process.

All in all, the entirety of the Mt. Pleasant roster was key in creating a team worthy of hoisting the trophy as the top dogs in MHSAA Division 2 baseball.

And when you have that, championships can be won.

It is the third state championship in the illustrious high school coaching career of Epple and the first since 2007.

“I love to win because it allows me to see the kids so happy about winning,” added Epple. “I’ll enjoy this for them tonight. I have an open house (Sunday) for my middle daughter so I’ll be getting back to work as soon as I get home.”

Underappreciated entering the postseason, unranked Mt. Pleasant followed Epple’s modest and workmanlike demeanor all the way to East Lansing.

Undervalued no more as Mt. Pleasant can rightfully say it is the king of Division 2 baseball.









Last Updated: 6/14/2014 1:41:48 PM EST

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