ESCANABA - Was this a tournament game or what?
Pouring rain in the third inning backed things up for 45 minutes and by the time Escanaba tied it up in the bottom of the sixth inning, it felt like the beginning of a whole new ballgame.
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead, blew it, rallied back and rallied again before finally succumbing to the Kingsford Blues 7-6 in the ninth inning Friday afternoon at Al Ness Field during the Gregg Johnson Memorial American Legion baseball Tournament.
Cole Tengesdal of Kingsford slides to reach third base safely after the throw to Escanaba’s Trent Schwalbach isn’t in time. Tengesdal scored on the next play after a wild pitch Friday during the Gregg johnson Memorial Tournament at Al Ness Field in Escanaba.
There were big hits, there was dramatic swings in weather, there were mistakes - plenty of those, and there was two competitive baseball teams. The wild game gave Kingsford manager Kevin Murdock little pause when describing his mental state after the game.
"You can only coach so many games like this before you die of young age," he cracked.
Both teams went through three pitchers in the extra innings affair and both teams committed costly mistakes that led directly to runs. The Cubs took the brunt of the miscues, committing five errors to Kingsford's two.
Things began typically enough. The first inning wrapped up with no score, and Escanaba pitcher Trent Schwalbach rolled through a 1-2-3 second inning. Then the rain started coming down, and the crispness of the defense along with it.
Matt Jensen collected the Cubs first hit and Andrew Kausak was walked with one out. Justyn Doucette then batted in Jensen with a single. On the same play, Kausak ran home to score after a throwing error to third base.
The 2-0 lead didn't last long.
With the rain pouring at the start of the third, Kingsford's Dusty Nevens hit a 1-out single, bringing up the top of the order and Kyle Sexton. Sexton ripped one past the left field fence that sounded like a home run as soon as his bat made contact, and just like that it was a tie game. After C.J. Qualley got to first on an error and proceeded to advance to third on a pair of passed balls, Schwalbach walked Austin Murdock. It was at that point, the umpiring crew stopped the game due to lightning in the area.
When play finally resumed, Cubs manager Tom Ohman decided to make a pitching change putting Devin Olsen on the mound. The Cubs caught Murdock stealing at second base before Olsen struck out Matt Wittanen to end the inning.
The Blues weren't finished though. Kingsford took the lead in the fourth when Mike McCole hit a 2-out single. It was a pop fly that Cubs catcher Devon Barton called for. Barton didn't come down with the catch and Cole Tengesdal came home to score. McCole was safe at first. No error was charged on the play.
The play drew the ire of Ohman.
"You don't want your catcher having to make that play, even though Barton called it. Though I'm not a fan of the pitcher taking it either, but in that situation, Olsen could have, Bailey Lamb as well. The whole infield backed off when Devin called it though," he said.
With Kingsford up 4-2 in the sixth, Escanaba rallied back when the Blues committed a costly mistake of their own. With the bases loaded with two out, Olsen reached base on a big throwing error. On the same play, Schwalbach and Lamb came running home to tie it up at 4-4.
"That was just a killer," said coach Murdock. "That was probably the key play of the game. The game could have been over in regulation if not for that one error."
"That error put us back in the game. You could see it in our dugout. We had no energy, no excitement, and after that error, it put the energy back."
The Cubs nearly gave it right back in the seventh inning when Tengesdal scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball, the Cubs fifth of the game.
Ohman noted his team is currently "struggling" at the catcher position, moreso that the team was without experienced catcher Alex DeHaan, who was at a football camp.
"Devon is new back there and we'll have another young catcher tonight (Dane Messersmith). When DeHaan is back there, we're better, but right now we're struggling. But the kids are trying. We'll just have to get better," he said.
In a wild bottom of the inning, the Cubs loaded the bases twice but only managed one run. The Blues went through two pitching changes. Qualley pitched 1/3 of the inning before giving way to Murdock with the bases loaded with one out.
The Cubs tied it up at 5-5 with a sacrifice fly from Nick Vandermissen, scoring Barton. Schwalbach was then walked to re-load the bases, but Murdock struck out Lamb to end the inning.
Through six innings, Blues' starting pitcher Ian Winke was solid, allowing just three hits and one earned run with five walks.
After a scoreless eighth inning, the Cubs put Austin Young on the mound for the ninth. With international rules in effect, Murdock ripped a single to score Qualley from second base. Later, a two base error brought home Murdock to give Kingsford a 7-5 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, Young grounded out to score Barton, but that was as close as the Cubs got. Ben Kleiman and Vandermissen flied out to end the game.
"The big key," said Ohman, "was the passed ball that made it a 5-4 game.
"Baseball is just a game of why's and ifs."
In earlier games at Al Ness Field, Midland Berryhill rolled past Kingsford 10-2 and Eastern U.P. (Sault, Mich.) 7-1.
The Cubs played Soo Canada in Friday's nightcap, which was still in progress at the time the paper went to press.
Today, Escanaba plays Midland at 5:15 and Chief Pontiac at 7:30.