GLADSTONE - The Gladstone Indians took a major step toward clinching the Mid-Peninsula League regular-season championship Sunday, sweeping to 6-2 and 8-3 American Legion baseball victories over the Hancock Flames.
Gladstone, with just one loss in the loop, holds a two-game lead over Marquette Blue with three league games remaining. The Indians can secure the title by sweeping a twinbill from Negaunee here Tuesday.
"These were two very big wins over a quality opponent," said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. "Yet, we have to remember we still have three more league games. We still have to show up."
Dennis Grall | Daily Press
Jake Pearson of Gladstone drops a suicide squeeze bunt in the fourth inning to score Cody Frazer in an American Legion baseball game in Gladstone Sunday.
The losses ended a 12-game winning streak for the Flames, third in the league and 27-7 overall.
"We had been playing well," said Hancock manager Nels Paul. "But the kids were a little rusty. We haven't had a practice or game in a week and lost our competitive edge."
The Indians (28-7 overall) gained a 3-0 lead in the second inning of the nightcap on Lucas LaCosse's two-run single along the right field line.
"It was very important for us to get those runs," said Groleau. "Those enabled us to put more pressure on the opposing team."
Gladstone raised the count to 4-0 on Blake Ballard's bunt single in the third and made it 5-0 on Jake Pearson's suicide squeeze in the fifth.
Darren Bausano scored Hancock's first run on an error in the fifth. The Flames (27-7), however, stranded baserunners on second and third.
Gladstone, taking advantage of an error, two walks and a hit batsman, then scored three times for an 8-1 advantage in the sixth.
"We played pretty solid baseball all day," said Groleau. "We got hits and bunts down when we needed them and got just enough pitching to get the job done."
Hancock, idle until Saturday's North Division playoffs at Negaunee, finished the scoring in the seventh.
"We just didn't hit or pitch and definitely didn't play defense the way we usually do," said Paul. "Gladstone is a solid team. You can't make mistakes against a team like this."
Gladstone finished with six hits. Cody Frazer had a pair, including a leadoff triple to right in the fourth. He scored on Pearson's squeeze.
Ballard, who pitched five innings, took the win. He struck out three and allowed a run on two hits.
Luke Paul lasted 5 1/3 innings and absorbed the loss. He fanned 10, but walked five and hit five batters. He also allowed eight runs on six hits.
"It could have been a pitcher's duel," said manager Paul. "It's not typical for Luke to get wild like that."
In the opener, Gladstone scored five times in the second by using three errors and a wild pitch.
Winning pitcher Matt Weyers whiffed eight, walked four and gave up two runs on seven hits through five innings. Justin Jurek relieved in the sixth, striking out five of the seven hitters he faced.
The Indians had nine hits, including two by Paul Tomaszewski, Hayden Hardwick and Jared Stenson.