EAST LANSING — Payton Schuster can finally wash his uniform.
The Madison Heights Bishop Foley senior outfielder made the proclamation following his club's 3-0 victory over Traverse City St. Francis in the Division 3 state title game June 17.
Schuster began the streak following a Ventures victory over Macomb Lutheran North May 8. His black jersey hid most of the mud and sweat of the span, but his once-white pants showcased the entire playoff run, boasting caked on dirt and dust from several different venues.
"I have to wrap up my leg before every game because of how big the hole is," Schuster said, gesturing towards a gaping rip in his left pant leg. "I stink, I know I smell real bad, but I'm a really superstitious person. I've played baseball my whole life, and I'll do whatever it takes."
Schuster convinced several of his teammates to join in on avoiding the washing machine, but he was the only one to do it with both his jersey and pants. His superstitions do have a certain limit, however.
"I even wore the same brand of underwear this whole time," Schuster laughingly added. "Now, it's not the same pair, I do wash those, but I wear the same brand for every game."
The lucky lack of laundering paid off, as Bishop Foley (25-12-1) capped off a dominant postseason run. In order to win the program's first title since 2013, the Ventures needed seven playoff wins, doing so by a 73-3 margin.
The Ventures accomplished the feat under second-year coach Greg Fettes. Only 24, the Madison Lamphere and University of Kentucky baseball standout was thrilled to be at the helm of a champion.
"This is just amazing, my voice is gone from screaming," Fettes hoarsely whispered in the post-game celebration. "I never did this as a player. As a coach it is even more sweet, you take your career out of it and then you put it into these guys. They play their butts off, that's all I can ask of them."
Fettes credited the win largely to his starting pitcher, senior Justin Campbell. A Tulane University commit, the lefty hurled a complete game, striking out eight in the shutout.
"When Campbell is on the mound, I'm very, very confident that we're going to win the ballgame," Fettes said. "Now, I knew that (St. Francis) was a good team, and they came out swinging. But he wasn't nervous, you can see what Campbell is, they got three squared up early but he got out of it, and then the momentum switches."
Campbell allowed three hits in the first inning but was able to end the inning without allowing a run. From then on, he allowed three more hits in the contest.
"I noticed in the first inning that my fastball was really flat, and I wasn't getting much curve on my curveball so I needed to make an adjustment," Campbell said. "I put my arm slot down a little bit, and I started to throw my curveball as hard as I could and that seemed to work. I was able to locate my pitches and do my thing."
While he was keeping the St. Francis (38-4) batters at bay, Campbell's run support struggled to show itself. A two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth provided the game's only offense.
"We knew we could break it open, but before that inning I told the guys in the dugout, 'Hey I need help, you need to pick me up here,' because I needed something," Campbell said. "They came back with three runs. I love this team more than anything.”
The club's ninth hitter in the lineup, junior Evan Ludwick delivered a single to start the flurry. Schuster, batting in his usual leadoff spot, followed with his own single. A sacrifice fly advanced the runners, setting the stage for junior Mason Minzey.
The junior catcher drove the ball to deep center, causing the St. Francis center fielder to turn and fall, losing his balance. The ball trickled all the way to the wall, with Minzey standing on third, collecting two RBIs.
"I told one of my assistants early on, 'This game is going to be won on a mistake,'" Fettes said. "The center fielder lost his footing, that's what won us the game. When you have two great teams battling it out, something like that is usually the difference."
"I saw a fastball right down the plate, and I just picked it out and put a good swing on it," Minzey said. "Right when (the outfielder) fell, I was rounding first and knew it could be a triple with the deep fence back there."
Campbell then strolled to the plate, giving himself insurance with a single that scored Minzey.
"I couldn't have done it without Mason, he comes up with those two runs with two outs," Campbell said. "Without him I can't get up to bat. This is fantastic, there are no words to describe it. I've never made it to regionals. To make it all the way and win this game is unbelievable."
Minzey was quick to reverse the praise, citing his battery mate as the reason for the trophy.
"I've never caught someone as great as Justin, the guy is incredible," Minzey said. "He's committed to Tulane for a reason. He shuts down every opponent that he faces. He's just unstoppable, an awesome pitcher."
The title marked the first banner for Bishop Foley since a D-3 three-peat from 2011-13. Longtime coach Buster Sunde helmed those championship rosters, and once again he was watching the Ventures win it all, this time supporting in the stands.
"To take the reins from Buster, that was tough to do," said Fettes, who played club baseball for Sunde. "I see him as a dad to me. For him to be up there watching today, it means the world. He's helped me so much and means so much to this team."
Only a few years removed from his playing days, many of the current Ventures believe Fettes could oversee another dynasty.
"Coach expects a lot out of us, but he's young so he understands what being a kid is like," Schuster said. "He makes practices laid back and easy, so once we get out on the field we play the same way, ready to roll. What won it for us was that be believed in each other. We're the tightest-knit family you'll ever find on a baseball field."