EAST LANSING - Games aren't played on paper - the adage of the underdog - a comment made frequently in the pregame.
In high school baseball, it's often one that doesn't come true. Except for the Gladstone Braves, it did in Friday's MHSAA Division 3 baseball state semifinal at McLane Stadium at Michigan State University.
The theoretically overmatched Braves battled toe-to-toe with perennial powerhouse Decatur through eight innings. But in the end, the Raiders simply made more plays as they eliminated Gladstone with a 2-1 victory.
"All-in-all, I thought we did enough at times. We didn't hit enough ground balls though. It was always up in the air, and when it was on the ground, they booted it," Braves manager Don Lauscher said.
The game was a scoreless tie through the first four innings as Braves pitcher Sam Pouliot stifled the vaunted Decatur lineup.
There was Matt Botti, who two games ago had a three hit, six-RBI performance, striking out and flying out. There was Cody Huston striking out, grounding out and flying out his first three times up.
"I gave it all I could, I'm just proud of my team," Pouliot said. "Although we didn't win, there's really nothing you can do but credit (Decatur). They're a really good team and they smacked the ball around."
Pouliot struck out nine. He also gave up eight hits, scattering many of them until the eighth inning.
"Sam Pouliot pitched an outstanding game. We couldn't ask for anything more from him," said Lauscher.
Huston, the Raiders' ace, looked every bit the part on the mound. He had a no-hitter going until Justin Jurek's single in the fourth. It would prove to be the Braves' lone hit of the game.
Huston struck out five, but was able to force many flyouts and a few ground outs.
Gladstone had seven baserunners on two hit batters, two walks and two errors. Though the Braves' opportunities were slim, they made the most out of one of them in the seventh.
Down 1-0 and with one out in the top of the seventh, Christian Groleau drew a walk. After a couple attempts by Huston to throw Groleau out on the tagback, Groleau quickly darted for second on the throw, safely stealing.
He then advanced to third on a throwing error. Pouliot then hit a grounder to left and Groleau dashed for home, tying the game at 1-1.
The run gave Gladstone new life as Pouliot resumed his spot on the mound in the bottom of the seventh. He promptly struck out the Raiders' 7-8-9 hitters in order.
In the bottom of the eighth, Carter Smith led off with a single and was advanced to second on a ground-out by Joby Kawaski.
Cole Southworth then grounded out, bringing up Matt Botti, who was intentionally walked.
With Smith at second base, Huston helped himself and his team with a roaring hit to deep right field. That scored Smit.
For the Braves, it was a matter of a defensive miscue and a lack of hits that proved to be their downfall.
"We talk about these things, doing the fundamental things right," said Lauscher. "We didn't get our bunts down, we made a few errors, and ultimately, that's what cost us."
Following the game Pouliot sounded at peace with the way the season went. Gladstone is a second-year program and took Decatur (24-6) to the limit.
"I'm just proud that we got here. I actually think we did a great job," Pouliot said.
Lauscher was a little more defiant in his postgame comments and vowed to return to East Lansing. The Braves (29-5) are a young team with only four seniors and three juniors.
"Gladstone baseball is going to be around for a long time and ultimately, we'll just continue to be down here, hopefully," Lauscher said.