EAST LANSING — Whenever a team starts a season with a record of 0-7, you can pretty much kiss playoff aspirations goodbye.
But for the Caro baseball team, it was just the beginning of a wild ride that would bring the Tigers all the way to Friday’s Division 3 state semifinals at Michigan State University.
Every ride has an ending though, and for the Tigers, the end came with a 3-2 loss to Madison Heights Bishop Foley at Kobs Field on the campus of MSU.
Tigers coach Victor Gomez acknowledged the incredible run his team put up and what it has meant to the community as a whole.
“It’s really huge for the program,” he said. “Back home, people are talking about it, and we look forward to many years of continuing this. Hopefully, (long trips in the playoffs) become a tradition for us.”
Caro (15-22) had no hits off Bishop Foley lefthander Ethan Hoffman through five innings. Hoffman retired 12 straight to begin the game; his first base runner came when Kyle Fetting led off the top of the fifth with a walk.
“He pitched a very great game,” said Gomez. “We knew coming in (the Ventures) were going to be tough. We just tried to get the bat on the ball and see what we could do.”
Early on, the Tigers did not make too much contact, as Hoffman struck out seven of the first 12 Caro batters. He finished the game with 11 strikeouts in seven innings of two-hit baseball.
The Tigers countered with senior Deven Hodder, who took the loss despite holding the Foley offense to just two earned runs on five hits and two walks.
“He worked really quick,” Bishop Foley coach Greg Fettes said of Hodder’s performance against his club. “His tempo was really fast and he smothered our hitters. Our guys were saying he had a little more on his fastball than we (thought).”
The Ventures (24-12) got to Hodder in the bottom of the first inning on a fielder’s choice, a stolen base, and a base hit that scored Max Stevenson.
Foley added a run in the third when Payton Schuster reached on an error, stole second, and then came in on another error by the Tigers’ defense.
The Ventures’ third run was scored in the fifth when Schuster doubled to center and then scored on a base hit to left by Justin Campbell.
Dylan Brown led off the sixth inning with a triple to the gap in right-center field for the Tigers’ first hit.
A successful squeeze bunt by the next batter, Conner Langenburg, scored Brown while Langenburg was credited with a single, making it a 3-1 game.
Langenburg moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Mason Campbell and then scored thanks to a pair of errors by the Bishop Foley infield, cutting the Ventures’ lead to 3-2.
A strikeout and caught stealing ended the threat and the Tigers went down in order in the seventh for the end of an unquestionably, unpredictable, amazing season. Caro entered the playoffs with a 10-21 record, after finishing tied for sixth in the eight-team Tri-Valley Conference East.
“It meant lot (for us),” Hodder said. “Since it was the first time we’ve been to the semis and won regionals, it’s been an awesome experience. Victor brought us together as a team and we started playing together after that. We became a good team when he started coaching us.”
After winning their first district championship since 1998, the Tigers rewrote the history book by capturing their first regional championship in school history. Caro earned its spot in Friday’s semifinal with a 2-0 win over Hemlock in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.