Brother Rice High School opened its doors in the fall of 1960 to the first-ever class of in-coming Freshmen. Over the next 53 years, Brother Rice High School has established itself as one of the top schools in the state of Michigan in terms of both academics and athletics. From humble beginnings, the Brother Rice Warriors baseball program has slowly and steadily improved. As of today, Brother Rice is widely regarded as one of the premiere baseball programs in the state ofMichigan.
The First year that Brother Rice fielded a Varsity baseball team was 1964. Brother Crimmins piloted the Warriors to a (2-5-1) record on the season. It took 4 tries before Rice was able to register their 1st-ever victory: a 5-3 win over Benedictine. After the season was over, Br. Crimmins handed the reigns over to Brother Wielatz who took the helm as the head coach. His1965 team finished with a (4-7-1) record on the season. Not bad considering the school had just opened up 5 years earlier to Freshmen-only.
Just 3 years after starting the baseball program from scratch, the Warriors found themselves playing at Tiger Stadium for the 1966 Catholic League Championship. Although Rice fell short by losing their 1st-ever CHSL Championship game to St. Ladislaus 6-2, the path to future success was starting to be laid. Brother Wielatz ripped off 3 more consecutive winning seasons before passing the torch to a young up-and-coming coach from Royal Oak Shrine named Albert Fracassa. Bro Wielatz finished his 5-year stint as the head coach of the Warriors with a (44-27-1) record, which included 1 CHSL Runner-up trophy.
In the Spring of 1970 Al Fracassa brought a new energy to the Warriors baseball program. He led his teams to a combined 24-13 record over his 1st 2 seasons as the coach. From 1972-1974the team hovered just above the .500-mark. In 1975, a new era of success began for Rice; just 10 years after the Program had been born. It proved to be a 5-year span of unprecedented success for the Warriors on the baseball diamond.
In 1975 the team posted their best record ever by going 24-8 on the season. Behind strong pitching from Mark Kochanski, and stellar outfield play/hitting of Mike Cullen, Vic Ray, and Mike Jamieson, the Warriors played their way into their 2nd ever CHSL Championship game. This time they were able to come out on top by defeating Bishop Gallagher 2-1 to win their 1st CHSL title.
The following year, much of the same roster remained and the Warriors had another outstanding season. They finished 19-5 and fell just short of winning back-to-back CHSL Titles as they lost to Aquinas 6-1 at Tiger Stadium. After a steady season in 1977, Rice was able to win 2 Catholic League and City Championships in a row. The Warriors beat St Alphonsus 2-0 in 1978 and then shutout Bishop Foley 4-0 in 1979 to win their 3rd Catholic League Title in 5 years. The pitching trio of Tom Wurster, Eddie Lynch, and Colin Haffey gave the team a number of dominant performances over a 2-year stretch. They had a strong supporting cast around them led by Mike Walsh, Joe Puertas, Bruno Petrella, Dennis Clarke, Marty Martinez, and Alan Kochanski. The team went 40-15 during the 2-year span.
After the strong group of players graduated, Rice went through a rebuilding process over the next 4 seasons. In 1981 Coach Fracassa decided to hang-it-up on his baseball coaching career so that he could focus entirely on Football. He finished with a (187-121) overall record (Winning %: 0.607), which included 3 Catholic League Championships as well as 1 Runner-up trophy. Obviously, it worked out well for him as he is currently the winningest coach in Michigan High School Football History with over 400 wins on his resume.
In 1982 Ron Kalczynski, after being an assistant coach for 7 years, stepped in as the school’s 4thVarsity head coach. He inherited a team that was low on talent, relative to the late-1970’s. However, his vision of playing the game the right way started to show just a few short years after he took over. Coach Kal believed in the philosophy of giving younger players a chance to prove themselves in the hopes that they’d eventually develop into impact players by the time they were upper classmen. After a pair of losing seasons to begin his tenure as head coach, his philosophy began to pay dividends:
In 1984 the young kids finally matured and put up a solid 22-11 record on the season. The following year, in 1985, Rice found themselves once again in the CHSL Championship game at Tiger Stadium. With his son Brian as the bat boy, Kal’s squad led by Doug Kaiser, Bob Riker, Gary Zwolinski, John Timko, and Joe Arends lost to an over-powering Bishop Gallagher squad by the score of 8-3. During the game however, (Senior SS and U of Michigan-bound) Doug Kaiser slammed 2 Home Runs into the Left Field stands, the 2nd of which bounced off of the facade of the upper deck. The 1985 team finished 28-8 with 5 of their losses coming to Bishop Gallagher, who won the State Championship.
In 1986, the team was still loaded with talent. An early-season injury to top hitter John Timkoplayed a factor in the team struggling out of the gates, but in the end, the team caught fire behindTimko, Dave Gerraghty, and the Pitching of Steve Schutz. Rice marched its way all the way to the State Championship game in Kalamazoo, but eventually lost 6-5. It was the furthest the team had advanced in the State Playoffs in the school’s 22-year baseball history.
1987 and 1988 saw another pair of winning seasons for Rice as they continued to establish themselves as an up-and-coming program to watch. In 1989, Coach Kal put his philosophy to the test and made the decision to go young again, and as a result the team lost 21 games. The 1989squad started 8 freshmen and one Sophomore at times. The question remained, would the gamble payoff in the future??
1990 saw Rice return to respectability as the group of (primarily) Sophomores pulled off a 20-17season. The modest success gave the team hope that better things were still to come. In 1991the team finished with a stellar 26-9 record on the year. Things were falling into place for the group of Juniors who had now been playing together for basically 3 years. The 1991 season also marked the return of Bob Riker (Class of 1985) as an assistant coach after his college and Minor League Careers were over.
1992 turned out to be a magical year for the Warriors. The Freshmen of 1989 were finally Seniors. Their motto for the season was “Have a Vision, be Demanding”, as their thoughts were focused on winning the school’s 1st State Championship in baseball. The team underwent some turmoil as the team’s #1 pitcher from the 2 previous years was replaced by a hard throwing new-comer (Junior LHP) Chris Smolky. Although the team failed to make it to Tiger Stadium, they circled the wagons and ran off a string of 5 victories in the State Tournament, which allowed the team to advance to Battle Creek. Led by a tight-knit group of Seniors: Derek Fox, Matt Fleury, Matt Greene, Charlie Goode, and Tim McKeone, as well as the dominant pitching of Chris Smolky, Brother Rice beat Jenison in the Semi-Final and then dispatched Lapeer East (15-11) in the State Final to win the school’s 1st State Championship in baseball.
After a winning season in 1993, Rice had visions of greatness in 1994. The team was eerily similar to the 1992 squad in many ways. They were led by a Junior Pitcher in Marty Weymouth. They also had a tight-knit group of Seniors led by Jamey Palazetti, Jon Taggart, Joe Werner, and Brian Kalczynski. Oddly enough, the team featured 3 sets of brothers asJimmy Taggart, Angelo Palazetti, and Joe Kalczynski were also on the team. Just like in 1992, the Warriors fell short of reaching their goal of playing in Tiger Stadium as they lost 3-2 to Divine Child in (arguably) one of the best high school baseball games of all-time. The team gathered itself and re-focused its attention on winning a State Title. The Warriors rode the powerful right arm of Marty Weymouth who pitched 10 innings in the Districts, 7 more in the Regionals the following week, 7 more in the Quarter-Final on 2-days rest, and then 7 more in the Semi-Final on 2-days rest again to get Rice to another State Championship game. (Sophomore RHP) Mike Pisani threw a complete game in the State Final as Rice destroyed Southgate Anderson 15-3 to win their 2nd State Championship in 3 years, and finish (32-8) on the year.
1995 & 1996 saw the return of Brother Rice to Tiger Stadium after missing out for the previous 9 years. The Warriors lost to Divine Child 8-0 in 1995, but then came back in 1996 and beat Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 3-0 to win their 1st CHSL Title in 17 years. Those squads were led by the solid pitching of Marty Weymouth, Angelo Palazetti, Mike Pisani, A young Tommy Marx, and Shawn Wilson. The team’s combined record during those 2 seasons was an impressive 65-9, which is tied for the best 2-year stretch in the school’s history.
The Spring of 1997 turned out to be Coach Kal’s last season as the head Coach of the Varsity Program. He chose to step down so that he could watch his 2 sons play college baseball: Brian at the University of Michigan, and Joe at Michigan State University. The MHSAA Hall of Fame coach finished his coaching career with the school’s first 2 State Championships in baseball. He also was State Runner-up one year, and CHSL Champion one year (2 Runner-up trophies as well). His overall record during his 16-year tenure was (368-196) for an overall winning Percentage of 0.652%.
In 1998 Bob Riker stepped in as the school’s 5th Varsity Head Coach. His coaching philosophy was similar to Coach Kal’s in many ways. His own personal experience as a player in Rice’s program (1982-1985), a college athlete at a Championship-level program (Central Michigan), and a former Minor League Baseball Pitcher (Detroit Tigers), added an element of credibility to his coaching style. Riker’s path as a coach proved to be similar to Coach Kal’s in that, he too, inherited a team that was down on talent relative to the early and mid-90’s teams.
After posting losing records in the 1st 2 seasons as head coach, Riker started to turn things around in 2000 by going (19-17). The Freshmen Class that arrived in 2000 and 2001 proved to be loaded with talent. In 2002 the team started a string of 3 consecutive CHSL Championship game appearances. Rice won the 2002 game by defeating Catholic Central 3-2 at Comerica Park. The team was led by the pitching of Mike Kirschenheiter and Matt Petry. (Sophomore) Doug Pickens was already starting to establish himself as one of the State’s top players. The 2002team finished (29-7).
The 2003 squad was arguably one of the best ever at Brother Rice. Although they fell just short in the State Championship game, the team finished (36-4) on the year and had 5 players (Dan Lentz, Matt Petry, Doug Pickens, Mike Kirschenheiter, and Cody Nolen) named to the All-State Team. They lost in the CHSL Final 1-0 to Divine Child that season.
2004 turned out to be another outstanding season for Rice. By now, Brother Rice was considered by most as one of the top baseball programs in the state based on the past 20 years of success. The team was led by Doug Pickens, Tim Kalczynski, Steve Antoniotti, Cody Nolen, Max Kelmigian, and Scott Beals. Rice lost 1-0 (again) to Divine Child in the CHSL Championship game, but recovered to make it all the way to the State Semi-Finals where they were shutout by Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Zach Putnam (University of Michigan, Cleveland Indians).
2005 proved to be a “down-year” for Rice even though they finished the season with a (27-12)record. Fortunately in 2006, another class of unusually talented baseball players arrived as Freshmen at Brother Rice. Combining the upper classmen with this new crop of talent proved to be a great mix, which led to a great amount of success over the next 3 years. Although the 2006 squad didn’t win any Championships, they paved the way for future success by giving the younger class a chance to prove what they could do.
The 2007 squad, led by Seniors: (2-time Gatorade Player of the Year) DJ LeMahieu, Joey Henry, Derrick Weiss, and Josh Rebandt, put together an outstanding season by finishing (27-9), which included a 12-2 blowout victory over St. Mary’s in the CHSL Championship game at Comerica Park. The team lost in the District final to a tough West Bloomfield team. They set the stage for 2008 by giving the Sophomore class a chance to taste the bitter disappointment of losing so early in the State Tournament.
The 2008 season proved to be one for the ages. More specifically, the Championship run at the end of the year was possibly the best baseball that had ever been played by any Brother Rice team over the previous 43-year history of the program. The team was led by Lone-Senior representative Andy Lentz. Lentz was surrounded by 10 Juniors, a handful of Sophomores, and a Freshman. The 1-2-3 combination of Andy Lentz, (Sophomore) Pat MacKenzie, and (Gatorade Player of the Year) Matt Conway provided Rice with the offensive fire-power they needed at the top of their line-up to jump out of the gates to early leads. The Pitching of Conway and Derek Kilmer helped hold their opponents in-check. The 2008 Warriors stormed to a 28-6 record heading into the State Playoffs.
During the Championship run, the Warriors won the 1st 4 games all by Mercy Rule by a combined score of 53-5. They went on to hammer Grand Ledge in the Quarter-Final 9-2, they beat Jenisonin the Semi-Final (just like in 1992), and then shutout Saline 8-0 in the Final game to claim their3rd State Championship. During the 41 innings of play that spanned 7 games, Brother Rice had the lead in 39 of those innings. The other 2 innings the score was tied 0-0.
This incredible season goes down as the most recent accomplishment of this storied Program. It was the 1st State Championship for Bob Riker, the 15-year Veteran Coach who as of June 15, 2012 has won a State Championship, 4 CHSL Championships, 3 CHSL Runner-ups, and has compiled a 392-156 Record (0.715 Winning %).