Of the decades of senior contingents who have proudly represented the Northville High School baseball program, none have followed a more challenging path to their final season than the Class of 2023.
One of the smaller groups of seniors Northville Head Coach John Kostrzewa has guided during his 19-year career, the quartet of Cullen Foley, Gabe Clark, David Clark and Leo Miksitz entered their freshman year at NHS in the fall of 2019 with sky-high enthusiasm and top-shelf skills that were honed from T-Ball through upper-echelon travel ball experiences.
But the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March of 2020, wiping out their entire ninth-grade season and switching their mode of learning to a virtual setting for the remainder of their freshman year and a good chunk of their sophomore year.
Thanks to some gold-standard perseverance, the foursome have made the best of their three-year prep careers and are among those leading the Mustangs’ charge toward what has the potential to be a special post-season stretch.
Heading into Saturday’s Division 1 District tournament, which it will host, Northville will be riding the momentum it earned after completing an undefeated KLAA West Division schedule and winning the conference title with a convincing victory over Hartland.
“Collectively, there is definitely quality of person and player in each one of them,” Kostrzewa said. “They’re all highly respected in our building as being great students, great people and great student-athletes.
‘Super responsible, very talented’
“They’re the type of young men I’d invite into my home to watch my kids. They’re super-responsible, nice and very talented — and they’ve all been super-committed since they came into the program as freshmen.”
Foley, Miksitz and Gabe Clark joined the Mustangs’ varsity squad as sophomores, while David Clark has logged two successful varsity seasons.
Foley, who is headed to Michigan State University in the fall, set the school’s all-time single-season hit record as a junior (55) and is hitting around .300 this spring.
“One thing that makes this program special is that we focus on the little things at practice rather than the huge things,” Foley said, when asked about Northville’s widely-respected and hugely-successful baseball culture.
Commitment to ‘little things’
“A lot of times, it’s the little things that win games. For instance, we spend time at practice on bunt defense and different kinds of coverages that give us an advantage in games.”
What will Foley miss the most once he takes off his orange-and-black jersey for the final time?
“Chilling in the dugout, laughing and spending time with my teammates,” he said. “I’ll miss the simple things like taking grounders on this field, taking batting practice. It’s been a big part of my life the last few years and I’ve built some great memories.”
Miksitz, who is headed to Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology in the fall to play baseball, said the Mustangs win more than most high school teams because of the culture Kostrzewa and his coaching staff has instilled.”
“It’s a very close team; I love playing with such great teammates,” said the sure-handed infielder. “I think we make each other better.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was a little kid and I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like this. There’s a lot I’m going to miss.”
Gabe Clark will be playing baseball beginning in the fall at Hope College, where he will pursue degrees in psychology and kinesiology with an eye on eventually securing a career as a physical therapy.
He said playing youth baseball with several of his current teammates was a huge bonus.
“I think I played with 10 of my 14 current teammates for the Broncos travel teams,” Clark said. “I think that has been instrumental to our success because when you’re playing with your friends — kids you’ve known since you were young — it can’t help but be a positive.”
David Clark, a two-year varsity outfielder with a sterling 3.8 grade-point average, echoed his fellow seniors’ thoughts on how important good chemistry can be for a team as talented as the Mustangs.
“Our team motto is, ‘Great teammates make great teams’, which is something everybody on this team embodies,” Clark said. “You’re not going to reach your biggest goals — ours is winning a state championship — unless you have a great team behind you.”
Much of the Mustangs’ success can be attributed to behind-the-scenes work that often goes unnoticed by most people not closely connected with the team.
Beginning in January, the players meet for 5:45 a.m. workouts at least three times a week and they’re all committed to working out in the school’s massive weight room beginning each fall.
“Last year, we made it to the state quarterfinals, so we fell a little short of our goal to win a state championship,” Foley said.
“Hopefully, all the hard work we’ve put in will help take us all the way this year.”