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Saline senior’s 6th-grade letter to self: Win state title for Scott Theisen

Sean O’Keefe keeps his promise to Scott Theisen in the back pocket of his baseball pants.

Theisen, Saline High School’s longtime baseball coach, has finished runner-up five times since becoming Hornets coach in 1993. 

Three of those games were one-run losses, including last year’s 7-6 defeat to Warren De La Salle. He never has won a state championship.

“When I was in sixth grade, we had to write a letter to our senior selves in high school,” said O’Keefe, a catcher who batted .327 and hit 10 home runs this spring. “I just got the letter back a few weeks ago in May. The letter that I wrote said that seven of us current seniors have played travel baseball together since we were 8 years old and that, ‘Our summer baseball league is going well. I hope you guys continue to do well so you can win Coach Theisen a state title.’ …

“I keep that letter in the back pocket of my pants that I play in every game.”

O’Keefe is a key part of the senior class that has elevated the Hornets’ chances entering Thursday’s 11:30 a.m. semifinal game against Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett at Michigan State.

Saline’s roster includes Division I talent, and the Hornets have been great enough this season to become a fixture in state (No. 1 in Division 1) and national rankings (No. 12 in USA TODAY Sports’ Super 25).  

Now, the seniors are trying to make good on their six-year promise to win Theisen his first championship. 

“I don’t want them to feel any kind of pressure about it,” Theisen said. “But if we don’t win, they might take it harder than me.”

While some of Theisen’s players weren’t alive when Saline played in its first state final in 1998, plenty of his current upperclassmen have been lifelong Hornets fans.

O’Keefe said he attended most of Saline’s games growing up, idolizing former players Brad Guenther (Wayne State) and Mark Weist (Michigan State), 2009 and 2010 graduates who played professionally in the minors.

Their success served as motivation for Saline’s seniors.

Downtime was spent hitting in batting cages, and some players took private lessons from former Michigan baseball coach Chris Harrison at Michigan Sports Academy in Saline.

“Without a doubt, those past teams have inspired this group,” Theisen said. “Many of the teams in the past have said, ‘Coach, we’re going to get that ring for you.’ And my comment is always, ‘It’s for all of us – all of us together. We’re trying to do it together.’ “

The Hornets have the talent, including three players already committed or signed to play for Division I or II teams in the fall.

O’Keefe is headed to Western Michigan, and junior first baseman and ace pitcher Cole Daniels (.386 avg., six home runs, 42 RBIs) is committed to Kentucky. Senior infielder Jake Finkbeiner (.414 avg., 46 hits, 28 RBIs) signed with Wayne State in November.

Senior outfielder Ryan Foley, who hits .429 and leads the team with 51 hits and 16 stolen bases, rounds out the roster.

The players left last year’s state final with a sour taste in their mouths after blowing a 6-5 lead to De La Salle in the sixth inning.

“This group was bitterly disappointed after last year’s failure to get over the top after reaching the summit,” Theisen said. “But that has driven them to get back to it and finish it. It’s been something we’ve talked about, and they’ve worked hard to achieve it.”

Equally as motivating as a loss for O’Keefe is that letter he wrote to himself six years ago.

He said he’ll have it in his pocket when Saline takes the field tonight. 

“When I got that letter back this year, I had Coach Theisen’s physical education and lifting class the next hour,” O’Keefe said. “I sat in the locker room and read that letter to myself, and then I read it to him, and it was hard not to get emotional.

“My friends and I have talked about doing this for him for a long time. Now that we’re so close, we want to get that championship for him.”

MHSAA state tournaments

 

Baseball

Semifinals, at Michigan State, East Lansing

Division 1 – Thursday
Northville vs. Grand Haven, 9 a.m.
Grosse Pointe Liggett vs. Saline, 11:30

Division 2 – Thursday
Stevensville Lakeshore vs. Chelsea, 2:30 p.m.
Dearborn Divine Child vs. Bay City John Glenn, 5

Division 3 – Friday
Madison Heights Bishop Foley vs. Caro, 9 a.m.
Traverse City St. Francis vs. Schoolcraft, 11:30 a.m.

Division 4 – Friday
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Portland St. Patrick, 2:30 pm
Hudson vs. Gaylord St. Mary, 5

Saturday’s baseball championships

Division 1: 9 a.m.
Division 2:  11:30
Division 3:  2:30 p.m.
Division 4:  5 p.m.

Softball

Semifinals, at Michigan State, East Lansing

Division 1 – Thursday
Clarkston vs. Grandville, 3 p.m.
Macomb Dakota vs. Mattawan, 5:30

Division 2 – Thursday
Richmond vs. Escanaba, 10 a.m.
Stevensville Lakeshore vs. Ida, 12:30 p.m.

Division 3 – Friday
Monroe St. Mary CC vs. Shepherd, 3 p.m.
Gladstone vs. Napoleon, 5:30

Division 4 – Friday
Kalamazoo Christian vs. Indian River Inland Lakes, 10 a.m.
Ottawa Lake Whiteford vs. Coleman, 12:30 p.m.

Saturday’s softball championships

Division 1: 12:30 p.m.
Division 2: 10 a.m.
Division 3: 5:30 p.m.
Division 4: 3 p.m.

Girls soccer

At Williamston High School

Friday’s championships

Division 3: Freeland vs. Flint Powers Catholic, 1 p.m.

Division 2: Bloomfield Hills Marian vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 4 p.m.

Saturday’s championships

Division 4: Muskegon Catholic Central/Kalamazoo Christian winner vs. Grosse Pointe Woods/Lansing Christian winner, 1 p.m.

Division 1: Grand Blanc/Utica Ford winner vs. Saline/Grand Rapids Forest Hills winner, 4 p.m.

Article source: http://www.freep.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/06/14/saline-baseball-state-tournament/396951001/

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