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Published On: August 13th, 2023


For the fourth time in franchise history and second-consecutive year, the Kalamazoo Growlers are headed to the Northwoods League playoffs. In a 5-1 victory over the Battle Creek Battle Jacks on Thursday, Aug. 10, Kalamazoo clinched their first-ever second-half division championship punching a ticket to the Great Lakes East Subdivisional Championship Series. The Growlers 25th win of the second half also broke the franchise record for wins in a half while extending the record for wins in a season at 46. The Growlers 5-4 victory over the Traverse City Pit Spitters on Sunday, Aug. 6 checked off two achievements onto what has already been a historic ledger for the Growlers. The win not only secured the Growlers their first ever winning record against Traverse City to claim their first 131 Rivalry Jug but also secured a Growlers franchise record 43rd win of the season. Following their first NWL title in 2022, the Growlers didn’t bring that momentum to the start of 2023, going 7-8 in the first two weeks. In 56 games (55 games resulting in a win or loss) since then, Kalamazoo flipped the script and proved to be the best team in the Northwoods League. With an NWL-best 40-15 record since June 14th, K-Zoo is in a prime position for another lengthy playoff run. Across this 55 game-stretch, the Growlers have outscored opponents 401-263, averaging 7.29 runs per game. After building momentum following a four-game road trip to Wisconsin in mid-June, Kalamazoo ended the first half with an eight-game winning streak. This is tied with the Wilmar Stingers for the longest streak of any team this season. The 21 first-half wins were the second-most ever in a half by the franchise while the .613 winning percentage was the highest in team history. The momentum has continued into the second half as Kalamazoo has won 31 of their last 42 games and 11 of their last 15. K-Zoo ended the second-half with a winning percentage of .694, the best in franchise history.


In his second season with Kalamazoo, Anthony Stephan, a.k.a. “Everybody’s Favorite Italian” has produced night in and night out. On a 13-game hit streak and 23-game on-base streak (21 of which he’s gotten a hit), Stephan’s two-hit performance Saturday night was his 14th multi-hit night in 33 games and eighth in his last 12. Across his 23-game on-base streak. Stephan is hitting .408 (40-98) with eight extra-base hits, 12 walks and 32 RBI.  The sophomore from Virginia was awarded the NWL Hitter of the Night on July 21st going 4-7 with 7 RBI vs Kokomo and continued his dominance over the Jackrabbits with a 4-8 series to start off the week. In 15 games against the Jackrabbits, Stephan batted .470 (31-66) with five doubles, two triples, 10 walks and 17 RBI. He continued his stellar resume against Battle Creek, In 12 games played vs the Creek, Stephan batted .377 (23-61), scoring 22 runs with three doubles, a triple, a home run, 20 RBI and seven walks. This effort was capped off by a 3-5 day on Wednesday, Aug. 9 with a double, two singles and three RBI. Stephan has continued that dominance up against the Growlers’ other in-state rival and upcoming postseason foe in Traverse City. In 16 games across two seasons against the Pit Spitters, Stephan has hit .276 (16-58) with three doubles, a home run, six walks and 10 RBI.


Kalamazoo’s pitching staff this season has been anchored by a dynamic duo of Mason Meeks and Eamon Horwedel. The two starters are first (Meeks: 7) and second (Horwedel: 6) in wins this season and are both in the top 10 in the Northwoods League in ERA (#2 Horwedel 2.30, #7 Meeks 3.93). Horwedel’s 19th win of his career on Monday against the Kokomo Jackrabbits ties him for the most by a single pitcher in franchise history. The two starters have also thrown more innings than any other pitchers in the Northwoods League. Horwedel’s 78.2 innings pitched stands at second all time in franchise history for innings thrown in a single season with Mason Meeks’ 75.2 innings at third.

To add onto the statistical dominance, the two additionally sit in the top ten in strikeouts with Horwedel (56) in fourth and Meeks (49) in 10th. The strikeout totals have come vastly due to their high-degree of getting ahead in counts. The two sit second and third in first-pitch strike percentage with Horwedel a team-best 70.8% and Meeks at third at 68.8%. In the 22 combined starts between the two, the Growlers have only lost four games by more than two runs. Eamon Horwedel is set to start game one on Sunday before Mason Meeks toes the rubber at home on Monday for game two.


Kalamazoo this season has been known to put up runs in spurts. The Growlers have scored four or more runs in an inning 37 times this season and 30 times in the last 43-game stretch. Of the 12 games played between the Growlers and Pit Spitters this season, four have combined for double-digit runs. Kalamazoo has won all four of those games while putting together seven different 3+ run innings.The Growlers’ biggest crooked numbers of the year have been up against Battle Creek. Across their ten wins over the Creek, K-Zoo has had 13 four-plus run innings, more than any other opponent. July 10th’s 10-run ninth vs the Creek past the previous season’s high of nine runs in an inning when they did it against Battle Creek on June 1st. A close third is the seven-run seventh the very next night against Kokomo. In 2022, the Growlers scored a franchise record for runs against a single team in a single season at 120. This season, the Growlers scored 112 runs both up against Kokomo and Battle Creek, slotting in at second most all time. 


In four seasons against the Traverse City Pit Spitters, Kalamazoo has not had the shiniest of resume’s against their 131 Rival. At a record of 19-31, the Growlers started off slow against the Pit Spitters. Kalamazoo’s sweep last season in the Great Lakes East Championship Series however looks to have change the tide. K-Zoo’s four-game stretch at Turtle Creek Stadium from August 3rd to the 6th extended K-Zoo’s momentum. Winning three of four games, the Growlers’ secured the 131 Rivalry Jug and their fourth win against TVC in their last five games, both achievements happening for the first time in franchise history. Today’s start of the 2023 Great Lakes East Championship Series will write the next line on the brief yet intense resume build between these two squads.


In historic fashion Wednesday night, Banks Tolley contnued his dominance over the Battle Creek Battle Jacks. Going 4-4 with two doubles, two walks, five RBI and a home run, Tolley was just a triple shy of the first cycle in Growlers history and totaled 10 bases. Tolley’s eighth home run of the season against Battle Creek to start off the Growlers most-recent nine-game road trip put him in the record books as the single-season and career record holder for home runs by a Growler. In seven games against Battle Creek, Tolley hit 11-25 (.440) with nine runs, three doubles, three home runs and 16 RBI. Tolley’s four-hit, five RBI day on Wednesday was both his tenth multi-hit and tenth multi-RBI game of the season


Kalamazoo continued their late-game theatrics this past series with seven runs in the final three innings. Across their recent nine-game road trip, the Growlers scored 21 runs in the eighth and ninth innings. Of their league-leading 493 runs scored this season, K-Zoo has scored 149 runs in the eighth inning onward. In the final two frames, the Growlers have had 33 different multi-run innings, making for some exciting finishes. In total, 30.2% of the Growlers’ runs have come from the eighth inning or later. 


In 2023, the Growlers have had 18 different returners on their roster from their 2022 Northwoods League Championship team. 10 remain on the K-Zoo postseason roster with all but one outfielder in their second-season as Growlers. The 10 include: P #17 Mason Meeks, P #18 Carson Byers, P #20 Eamon Horwedel, P #25 Jake Paymaster, P #28 Jerad Berkenpas, P #29 Nolan Milliman, OF #3 Myles Beale, OF #11 Anthony Stephan, OF #27 Korbin Griffin and OF #37 Banks Tolley. Growlers seventh-year manager Cody Piechocki spoke on the returning core after the playoff clinching win on Thursday stating “Those guys want ot defend their title. It’s neat to see them have pride in their summer organizations. I’s something you just don’t see in many places. We always preach about doing what other people aren’t willing to do and for them to come back here and to pass up on opportunities to go to the Cape because they want to win Kalamazoo, that speaks so highly of them. They’re loyal, they’re hard workers and they really just deserve this moment.”