By Adam Biggers/@AdamBiggers81
With a 6-0 win during the 2014 MHSAA Region 1 Final, the Bay City Western Warriors stamped out the Flushing Raiders’ dreams of reaching the state quarterfinals—which ended up being the precursor for more punishment down the road.
Earlier this past season, the Warriors, winners of back-to-back state championships, sent another forceful message by slamming the Raiders--by a combined score of 23-3--during a doubleheader in April (10-0, 13-3).
Those losses hurt, but they let the Raiders know that they had “better get their stuff together if [they] were going to beat this team.”
As luck would have it, they’d get another chance, this time during the 2015 regional finals. It was a shot at redemption for the Raiders, who finished 29-9, and it was an opportunity for senior right-hander Nick Donley to make the most of the biggest moment of his athletic career.
“The whole team really just had that feeling—‘We’re going to pull this off and win this game,’” said Donley, who became the Raiders’ No. 1 pitcher midway through the year.
In hindsight, Donley admits that a pregame scouting trip may have not been the best idea. But he and the Raiders had to face the music sooner or later.
“We went over to the batting cages when they were hitting, and I mean, all of these kids were just huge. I think their shortest player was 6’2"..." he said. "They were roping the ball in the cages—it’s an intimidation factor, really. They were killing the ball. Of course, we all know they won state titles in back-to-back years, so we were intimidated and all of that. But once we just got on the field with them, we realized that we could play with these guys. We needed to play our best baseball. That’s all I could have asked for.”
The 6'2," 195-pounder got it, too.
Whether through defense, or via clutch hits from Mitch Albert and Alex Bowden, Flushing indeed played at its peak on June 6, beating the Warriors 1-0 in the regionals and inching one step closer to the quarterfinals for the fourth time.
It almost didn't happen, though.
“Really, what sticks in my head is they had a guy on first, and there was one out, and he took off early—it was right as I started my pitching motion and everybody was screaming, ‘He stepped off! He stepped off!' I balked, actually," said Donley, who, during the commotion, missile-d the ball at the backstop, resulting in the runner advancing to third. However, due to the balk, the runner was moved back to second.
One hit from disaster, Donley had to regroup or endure another heart-breaker.
“Man, I thought I threw the game away right there, but then I struck out the last kid to get out of the seventh,” said Donley, who was on second base (HBP) when Bowden spiked a fastball up the middle into shallow center. The walk-off scored Cal Endicott, who pinch-ran for Albert, who started the rally earlier in the inning.
As expected, after coming full circle, the Raiders followed by “rushing the field and going nuts.” They had just avenged a loss from 2014, righted “getting the crap beat out of us” back in April, and shocked most in the Flint area by disposing of coach Tim McDonald’s always talented Warriors.
But there was more, specifically for Donley, who had retired 15 straight to end the game.
Seventy-five pitches, three hits, one walk, and an hour and 15 minutes later, Donley, who had “a couple of four-pitch innings,” had also completed one of the finest seasons (9-1, 1.16 ERA) thrown by a Flint-area pitcher in recent memory. In 2011 former Davison superstar Mike Dolloff went 7-1 with a 0.65 ERA, en route to repeating as the Flint Journal’s Player of the Year.
As a senior, Dolloff won the Mott Bruin Club’s Mr. Baseball Award, the same award given—and given unanimously—this season to Donley. Dolloff's teams also advanced to the quarterfinals. However, this year, the local paper’s POTY honors somehow eluded the best player in the county.
The spring of 2015 was indeed a dream season for Donley, who has pitched since age 8.
Proud of personal accomplishments? Sure. But he was more proud of the way Flushing notched a program-defining win for coach Stephen Burdis.
“I’m not too concerned about winning all of those awards,” said a matter-of-fact Donley. “If you ask me—the thing I’m going to remember forever is playing with my team and pitching against Bay City Western... and beating them. I mean, whatever awards [that I get] will just add on to that experience, but I don’t worry too much about those. We had a great year, and I was happy to be a part of it.”
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