GLADSTONE - It took eight innings Friday, but the Gladstone Indians found a way to grind out a 5-4 American Legion baseball victory over the Eastern U.P. Travelers in the opening round of the Gregg Johnson Memorial tournament.
Blake Ballard scored the game-winner on a fielding error, enabling the Indians to improve to 22-2.
With the Travelers' Lew Krupa on second base to start the top of the eighth on the international tie-breaking rule, Addison Kennedy attempted to bunt him over to third.
Justin Jurek of Gladstone scores in the sixth inning on an RBI single from his brother Peyton Jurek Friday against Eastern U.P. (Sault, Mich.) during the Gregg Johnson Memorial Tournament at Gladstone.
Winning pitcher Ballard, however, fielded the ball cleanly and tossed it to third-baseman Justin Jurek to force the lead runner into the first out.
Ballard then retired the next two hitters, setting the stage for a dramatic conclusion.
"Blake shut them down," said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. "We knew we needed to do that and Blake did a nice job. There are no easy games in this tournament. They're all tough games."
Ballard, who relieved Jake Pearson with the Indians trailing 4-1 in the second inning, struck out five, walked three and allowed just two hits. Pearson fanned two, walked three and gave up four hits.
The Sault Ste. Marie-based visitors gained a 2-0 lead in the first on back-to-back singles to rightfield by Devon Dear and Dakota Zuhlke.
Pearson then trimmed the deficit in half by ripping a double to right in Gladstone's half of the first.
In the second, John Rosebrock's bunt single gave the Travelers a 3-1 lead and Jared Clark's single to right made it 4-1.
Jurek's single to left pulled the Indians within 4-2 in their half of the second and Pearson's single to left trimmed their deficit to 4-3 in the third.
The teams combined to strand 20 baserunners, including 11 by the Indians.
"We played rather sloppy early," said Groleau. "We left too many runners on base. We couldn't get the big hit when we needed it. Yet, I'll give our kids credit. They dug down and found a way to pull this one out."
Jagger McCudden absorbed the loss despite allowing no hits through 2 1/3 innings in relief of Jake Harrison. He also didn't strike out or walk any of the six hitters he faced.
Harrison, who worked 5 2/3 innings, fanned three, walked six and surrendered four runs on eight hits.
"I thought we played pretty well defensively, but we hit the ball at people," said EUP manager Greg Rambo. "This is the first time we had kids from all three schools (Sault, Rudyard and Pickford). The two kids who aren't here would have started, but that's all right. All our kids got a chance to play today. We came here to play good teams, and we'll be better for it."
Pearson and Hayden Hardwick had two hits each for the Indians. Clark had a pair for the Travelers.
"We're real young, but we have a lot of good kids," said Rambo. "We're happy with what we're doing."
The Travelers (6-5) committed three errors and the Indians had two.
Gladstone played Ash Port, Wis. in Friday's late game, which was still in progress at press time.
The Indians are hosting Midland Berryhill today at 12:45 and Sault, Ont. at 5:15.
Ash Port was to face Waterford Chief Pontiac Friday afternoon. But that contest was rained out and tentatively rescheduled for Sunday morning.
Semifinal games and the championship contest will also be played Sunday.
In Friday's opener, DePere, Wis. scored three times in the seventh to earn a 5-2 triumph over Chief Pontiac. Michael Caprario collected three hits for the winners. Trey Ryan, Collin Arndt and Jameson Dickert had two apiece.