2016-17 Milan varsity basketball roster

No. / Name / Height / Position / Year

0 – Trevor Ballard – 5’11” – G – Jr

1 – Maxwell Milliken – 6’4″ – F – Sr

3 – Dante Hurst – 6’0″ – G – Sr

4 – Demetrius Barnes – 5’11” – G – Sr

10 – Jeremy Morgan – 6’3″ – F/G – Sr

13 – Ethan Wood – 5’11” – G – Sr

15 – Kyle Briggs – 6’1″ – F – Sr

23 – Jarius Hamiton – 6’4″ – F – Sr

24 – Gage Feeman – 6’1″ – G – Jr

32 – Kenari Moore – 5’11” – G – Sr

33 – Tristan Hines – 5’11 – F – Fr

34 – Desmond Walker – 6’1″ – F – Sr

35 – Antonio Walker – 6’1″ – G – Jr

Head coach – Chris Pope (3rd year, 36-13 coaching record entering season)

Asst. coach – Jeremy Morgan (1st year)

Basketball season preview: Promise and high expectations motivate Big Reds as season nears

As a new season for the Milan Big Reds boys varsity basketball team approaches, few faces could show the promise of a new campaign brighter than that of team head coach Chris Pope.

Milan head coach Chris Pope (center) prepares his team with a play during a timeout of a game last season. (File photo by Paula Dotson)

Milan head coach Chris Pope (center) prepares his team with a play during a timeout of a game last season. (File photo by Paula Dotson)

Heading into his third year at the helm, and armed with the knowledge gained over his previous two seasons, a relaxed look is on his face as he explains the team’s expectations for the upcoming campaign.

“(I’ve learned to) appreciate the process and to enjoy the journey,” he said in a recent interview. “Each team is going to be different, and you have to find what clicks with each group. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve been able to learn.”

Last year, the same could not be said for the group. Despite 10 of 14 players being seniors, leadership issues and a lack of varsity basketball experience for many of the players hampered the season. The Big Reds rode highs and lows to a 12-10 finish – their worst record since 2009-10 – and did not defend their four straight seasons of winning the Huron League title, losing the crown to SMCC.

Back to the team are junior guard Trevor Ballard, senior guard Kenari Moore, senior forward Maxwell Milliken and senior hybrid Jeremy Morgan. Ballard and Morgan have the most playing experience of the returners. Milliken played sparingly last season, while Moore was on the varsity roster but missed part of the season due to a broken wrist.

New to the team are freshman Tristan Hines, juniors Gage Feeman, Ethan Wood and Antonio Walker, and seniors Demetrius Barnes, Kyle Briggs, Jarius Hamilton, Dante Hurst, and Desmond Walker.

dsc_0051

Trevor Ballard (0) drives down the court during a game against Flat Rock last season. (File photo by Paula Dotson)

There is also a new assistant coach on the bench; Jeremy Morgan, the father of the senior player, is taking over the duties from Ron Tarrant.

Despite the overhaul in parts of the program, the focus of achieving success remains.

Pope envisions the starting five being Ballard, Hamilton, Morgan, Milliken and Antonio Walker. “With that starting five, we can compete with anybody,” he said. “I think Trevor and (Jeremy) are going to be our leaders this year. Antonio is going to be the glue that holds us together. I’m going to ask Jarius and Maxwell to do the dirty work inside – rebound and be our interior force.

“When we bring in our subs, we’re going to a small and quick lineup. We are probably eight, nine … maybe ten deep. It’s just a matter of finding the right combinations each game, and the kids have to buy into that. One game they might get playing time, and the other they might not. We have a lot of good athletes we can put on the court at one time.”

Jeremy Morgan (white jersey) drives for a basket in a game last season. (File photo by Paula Dotson)

Jeremy Morgan (white jersey) drives for a basket in a game last season. (File photo by Paula Dotson)

Cohesiveness will also be more of a strength than last season. “When we brought the kids in, we broke the roles down and told them what we expected out of them,” Pope said. “Hopefully they have a better understanding of who to get the shots to and who to pass to. As long as they stay within the boundaries, we should be successful. There’s going to be a give-and-pull with me as a coach to let them be able to make mistakes and still be able to keep going.

“It’s going to be a balancing act on my part.”

Pope notes that he believes the chemistry is better between the players, and that will drive them to more success. “I think they’ll be able to pick each other up and play off each other better,” he said. “Understanding the offense and defense puts them in a better position to be more successful this year than last year.”

The coaching staff also has new offensive and defensive schemes this season, a point that Pope says was part of the problem last year. “I tried to force some of our kids into our old system when I could have tweaked it,” he said. “For the team we have (this year), we’ve built a system around them – and if I get them in the right positions, they can (make plays). It turns into wins and improves their confidence.”

The main issue for Milan will be their lack of height, Pope says, since the tallest players on the team are Hamilton and Milliken at 6-foot-4.

Despite that, the third-year coach attributes conditioning to be a catalyst of better athleticism. “We need to be in better shape to be able to play, and that’s one of the things we’ve worked on,” he said. “We’re going to play more zone this year, just for the simple fact of lack of height, but it can keep us in games. I feel we can disrupt some things, and it’s easier to teach the zone concept rather than man-to-man.”

The 19-game regular season schedule includes nine home games and 10 road games. Five non-conference opponents will play against the Big Reds; four of the five contests are prior to conference play. The campaign begins with a home opener against Lincoln on Dec. 9.

Road contests against Onsted (Dec. 13) and Chelsea (Dec. 22) wrap up the December slate. 2017 begins with a home game against Tecumseh on Jan. 6; the final regular season contest is March 2 at Dexter.

“(The first four games) will give us a gauge to see where we’re at,” Pope said. “Lincoln’s going to have athletic players. Onsted has some bigs. If we can go 2-2 or 3-1 out of that, I’ll be pleased.

“Going up against the other competition is where I think we’ll really get our test to see where we are as a squad.”

(At the time of this writing, the initial season opener at Saline on Dec. 6 was cancelled. The Hornets have a game against Northville scheduled for that night. No makeup date has been announced. The regular season is a maximum of 20 games, and without that contest, Milan is set to play 19 games. This article will be updated if there are any changes.)

In game situations, Pope aims for his team to score 60 points and places an emphasis on defense. “If we can’t hit a basket, we can still defend,” he said. “I think we’ll find ways to score. We have a couple scrappy kids that can get into a game and get us baskets in transition. If we can score 60 points and hold teams under 55, we can have success.”

The Huron League portion of the schedule will begin and end at home; Milan begins the conference battle on Jan. 10 against SMCC and plays the finale against Grosse Ile on Feb. 24.

Last year, the Big Reds – who had a 10-4 record in the conference – finished in a tie for second place with Grosse Ile. Since the 2010-11 season, SMCC and Milan have been the only two schools to win Huron League championships.

“SMCC is head and shoulders above everyone else in the league,” Pope said. “They’re going to be the favorite to win the league, and until you beat them, they’re going to stay the favorite. I think we can compete with them this year. We’ll see.”

Milan High School will also host regional playoffs, beginning on Monday, March 13. The playoffs start the prior Monday, with the Big Reds beginning the district playoffs at Carleton Airport.

Prior to the start of practices, Pope and the elder Morgan had players write down individual and team goals on 3-by-5 index cards. “One of the team goals was to win the Huron League,” Pope said. “One of the other team goals is to win districts so we have a chance since we host regionals. If you can get into regionals when you have a home game, anything can happen. We’d love to have a chance to play for a regional title at home.

“If we can get 15 wins and win a Huron League championship, or have it come down to the last game against SMCC, that’s what I’d like to see. If we could compete for a district championship, that’s where I’d like it to be. The biggest thing would be if we could get back to Milan and (play) in the regional – I think everything else would pale in comparison. By the time the year ends, hopefully we’re playing (our) best basketball.”

2016-17 Milan varsity boys basketball schedule

Black – away   Red – home   Blue – neutral site

All games at 7 PM unless otherwise stated

* * *

December

Fri 12/9 vs Lincoln (season opener)

Tues 12/13 @ Onsted

Thurs 12/22 @ Chelsea

January

Fri 1/6 vs Tecumseh

Tues 1/10 vs SMCC (first Huron League conference game)

Fri 1/13 @ Jefferson

Tues 1/17 @ Airport

Fri 1/20 vs New Boston Huron

Tues 1/24 vs Riverview

Fri 1/27 @ Flat Rock

Tues 1/31 @ Grosse Ile

February

Fri 2/3 @ SMCC

Tues 2/7 vs Jefferson

Fri 2/10 vs Airport

Tues 2/14 @ New Boston Huron

Fri 2/17 @ Riverview

Tues 2/21 vs Flat Rock

Fri 2/24 vs Grosse Ile

March

Tues 3/2 @ Dexter – regular season finale

Mon 3/6 – districts begin at Airport

Mon 3/13 – regionals begin at Milan

Big Reds take in special day at Comerica Park: JV victorious, varsity suffers tough loss against Detroit Country Day

For any ballplayer, regardless of age, playing in a Major League ballpark can be a unique experience.

The Big Reds played at Comerica Park on Monday, with the Tigers scoreboard making it official. (Photo by Joel Dotson)

The Big Reds played at Comerica Park on Monday, with the Tigers scoreboard making it official. (Photo by Joel Dotson)

The junior varsity and varsity teams for Milan and Detroit Country Day shared that on Monday; the JV team won their game 5-2 in six innings, while varsity surrendered the lead late to lose 8-6 in regulation.

Both teams were allowed free substitutions throughout the contests. All 18 players for the junior varsity entered the game at various points and positions, as did the varsity’s roster during their match. Each of Milan’s teams used six pitchers in the games.

The matches, however, were close to not being reality.

The staff of the Tigers did not tarp the field despite rain on Sunday night, not realizing that high school teams were to play there the following afternoon. Games with other high schools, that were supposed to follow the two contests with Milan and Detroit Country Day, were cancelled as a result of the mix-up.

The players on both teams had to play under special conditions due to the issues with the field. Only pitchers were allowed to wear cleats, while position players were limited to wearing tennis shoes. To shorten game time in each contest, each at-bat began with batters having a 1-1 count.

The JV game got underway nearly an hour-and-a-half behind schedule, and due to time constraints, had a shortened contest.

Milan struck early, scoring two runs in the first inning. A walk, three hits and two Yellowjacket errors aided the inning.

Four hits, an error and sac fly led to three Big Red runs in the 5th. Country Day responded with two runs in the bottom half of the inning.

The Yellowjackets stranded two runners in the 6th, giving Milan the three-run victory.

JV coach Steven Price was thrilled at the experience, both for him and his players. “It was once in a lifetime,” he said by text message. “It’s something I never expected to experience as a coach. As a staff, it was a chance for us to feel like we were a kid – 10 years old – and remember why we coach. We all love the game, and seeing the kids get a chance to express that tonight was incredible.

“Winning was icing on the cake. As much talk as there is about experience, you get in that dugout and in the coaching box – and the competitive juices start flowing. We got two runs in the top of the 1st and the nerves were gone. It was another game you wanted to win. To have 18 kids play the way they did today and contribute to a win here is something special.”

The varsity, like their counterparts, took a commanding lead midway through their game.

Trailing 1-0, Milan combined for 5 runs in the 3rd and 4th innings. Jared Grubke hit a key two-RBI single that followed three straight hits – by Aaron Taylor, Brendan Ferenczy and Jaden Riling – that began the rally.

Milan added an insurance run in the top of the 6th, taking a 6-2 lead into the bottom half, but things slipped away during the latter part of the inning.

Country Day began the inning with a leadoff walk and back-to-back singles, loading the bases for leadoff hitter Steve Mann. Mann drove a ball into the left-field corner to narrow Milan’s lead to 6-5, but was thrown out attempting to advance to 3rd base for the first out of the inning.

Yellowjacket rightfielder Mike MacLean drove home a run on an RBI triple that tied the game at 6, with Will Krushena giving Country Day the lead in the next at-bat. Three batters later, Jeremiah Tyler – who began the inning with the leadoff walk – drove Krushena home to extend the lead to 8-6.

Milan attempted to rally in the 7th, when Jordan Hendricks hit a one-out double, and the next two batters drew walks. Antonio Walker was then called out on strikes, and Dan Armstrong ended the game with a groundout to short.

Despite the loss, varsity head coach Adam Gilles was happy with the overall experience. “It was pretty fun,” he said after the game. “It would have been fun to win, but we played pretty well. We talked about coming into last Friday’s game with a little bit of juice to get things flowing a bit. I think we’re going to leave today with that juice, which is what we need with a bunch of games coming up.

“We got a good learning experience from it. We hung in there with (Country Day). They have five Division I athletes on their roster, and they threw their ace pitcher for four innings – and we hit him. That’s what’s good for us; we needed to see that.”

The coach – in his 15th season with Milan – said his players had fun. “The kids came in… running down in the tunnel, trying to go in the batting cages,” he said. “I’m just happy that the kids got to experience this. It was pretty sweet.”

Gilles played at Comerica Park as part of a “Field of Dreams” summer camp in the past, and had the opportunity to coach in the visiting 1st-base dugout on Monday. “I can say I’ve been in both dugouts and played and coached here now,” he said. “I was in the 3rd-base dugout with the Field of Dreams, and now I’ve coached in the 1st-base dugout.”

Grubke said that he and his teammates had a fun experience. “It was awesome,” he said. “Everybody played real excited, and we were happy to be here and have fun. We played real well and that helped us. We haven’t played real well (lately), but we came out here and had fun.

“The hits that Chase (Riling) and Jordan (Hendricks) had would have been out on any other field and that gives us a lot of confidence – knowing that we’re going to come out and put the ball in play no matter who we play.”

Grubke said the overall experience was surreal. “It’s crazy to think about, being in the dugout that MLB players (have been) in,” he said. “My great-grandma is a huge Tigers fan, and I can’t wait to talk to her about it.”

 

Milan to host baseball district

The Milan Big Reds will host a baseball district at the end of May.

The teams in the district are Adrian, Chelsea, Onsted, Tecumseh and Milan.

The Big Reds have faced Adrian and Chelsea in the playoffs over the last two seasons. Milan lost to Chelsea in a pre-district game in 2014 but defeated them in last year’s playoffs, while Adrian defeated the Big Reds in last season’s district final at Chelsea.

The bracket for the 2016 district is as follows:

Adrian vs. Tecumseh – Tuesday 5/31, 4:30 pm start — winner plays Chelsea on Friday 6/3 at 2:30 pm

Milan vs Onsted – 6/3, 5 pm

District final – 6/3, 7 pm

2016 baseball walkup songs

Organized by jersey number. Players with two jersey numbers will be at the bottom.

Josh Hall (No. 1) – “Work” / ASAP Ferg

Antonio Walker (No. 2) – “Really Really” / Kevin Gates

Eric Price (No. 3) – “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'” / Kanye West

Chase Riling (No. 5) – “6 Foot 7 Foot” / Lil Wayne

Dan Armstrong (No. 7) – “Bricks” / Migos

Jared Grubke (No. 8) – “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” / Big & Rich

Jackson Pahle (No. 11) – “Get Like Me” / David Banner

Jaden Riling (No. 13) – “Maad City” / Kendrick Lamar

Brendan Ferenczy (No. 15) –“Bickin’ Back Bein Bool” /  YG

Zach Allen (No. 16) – “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” / Kanye West

Daniel Norzaimi (No. 17) – “Ain’t No Time” / Future

Denver Jackson (No. 18) – “Undefeated” / KB

Jordan Sparks (No. 4/23) – “Electric Body” / A$AP Rocky

Aaron Taylor (No. 6/12) – “Loud” / T Mills

Jordan Hendricks (No. 21/9) – “P.I.M.P” / 50 Cent

2016 baseball preview: Big Reds aim to keep winning

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article stated that Milan won the Division 2 state title in 2009. The error has since been corrected.

The 2015 Milan Big Reds baseball team had a successful season, winning the Huron League title for the first time in 6 years and winning the second-most games in program history. The team’s 30 wins were only four shy of the 2009 Big Reds.

Last season ended in a district final loss to Adrian at Chelsea High, marking the second straight campaign that wrapped up on the Chelsea baseball field.

The Big Reds will have to replace the contributions of Isaac Grubke, Beau Hotz and Thomas Lindeman; Grubke and Hotz were key pitchers for Milan in 2015 – throwing the second and fourth-most innings, respectively – as well as producers on the offensive end; Lindeman was a team leader in six offensive categories.

In addition, Cody Brierley and Konrad Jeppesen will not return to the team. Brierley decided to focus on his future in football, as he will play for Concordia University Ann Arbor next year, while Jeppesen injured his arm in the fall and needed Tommy John surgery. Brierley was a power threat for Milan in 2015, while Jeppesen was one of six Big Reds to pitch 23 or more innings last year and held the second-lowest ERA (1.28) of any pitcher.

Head coach Adam Gilles, now in his 15th season at the helm, has high expectations for his team. “We always have lofty expectations,” he said. “We were the (Huron) League champs last year, and that’s what we want to do again. Losing three of our top four hitters hurt, but we have a lot of experience coming back.

“Our pitching depth is the biggest question mark right now. We have a lot of guys who can throw, but only Zach (Allen), Jaden (Riling) and Eric (Price) are proven varsity starters. I think our defense and offense will be solid.”

Gilles is not concerned with the team’s positional depth. “We have a lot of athletes,” the head coach said. “When you have athletes on your team, that means they can play a lot of positions.”

The team will face some challenges heading into the season, as top pitchers Allen and Riling – who Gilles considers to be part of the top three in the rotation – have been dealing with arm fatigue. The timetable for their returns are unknown. Despite the questions with the rotation, Gilles is more concerned with the health of the duo. “We don’t know how long it will be until they’re ready (to play again),” he said. “Not knowing (when they will be back) is the issue. After that, we have a lot of guys who can pitch, but don’t have much experience.”

The head coach plans on using pitchers by committee until Allen and Riling return. Despite the uncertainty, Gilles hopes that they can each throw an inning on Saturday, when the Big Reds play a doubleheader against Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard. “I’d really like to have them back by April 11,” he said.

The Huron League conference schedule begins that day with a road contest against Monroe Jefferson.

The Big Reds will also be shorthanded heading into the first few games, as Aaron Taylor suffered a head injury in practice and will miss at least five days, ruling him out for the team’s first 4 contests.

The 2016 season is scheduled to begin on Wednesday with a road doubleheader against Ypsilanti; the opening contest is set for a 4 p.m. start.

The home opener against Taylor Kennedy on April 6 will also be at 4 p.m.

* * *

Coaching staff: Head coach Adam Gilles (15th season, 324-142-4 record), assistant coaches Blue Livingston, Vaughn Price and Randy Smith

Saying goodbye: Four seniors graduated from the 2015 squad, three of whom were major contributors. Isaac Grubke, Beau Hotz and Thomas Lindeman provided a lot of offense; Lindeman led the team in six offensive categories, while the former two were second and fourth in innings pitched in 2015.

Welcome back: Milan will feature 12 returning players: Aaron Taylor (P/UTIL, Sr.), Eric Price (P/OF, Sr.), Chase Riling (C, Jr.), Dan Armstrong (P/2B/3B/SS, Sr.), Jordan Sparks (P/2B, Sr.), Jared Grubke (C/3B, Jr.), Jackson Pahle (P/1B, Sr.), Jaden Riling (P/2B/3B/SS, Soph.), Brendan Ferenczy (P/OF, Sr.), Zach Allen (P/2B/SS, Sr.), Daniel Norzaimi (C/OF, Sr.), and Jordan Hendricks (P/1B, Sr.).

Ten of the twelve are in their second season playing varsity.

Allen and Chase Riling provide the most experience; Allen will be in his fourth year on the varsity level, while Riling will be in his third.

New faces: The Big Reds have three new players joining the varsity team – Josh Hall (OF, Sr.), Antonio Walker (P/2B/SS/OF, Soph.), and Denver Jackson (P/1B, Jr.).