GLADSTONE - In a tune-up game before the Mid-Pen Conference championships this weekend, the Gladstone Indians used their ace in the hole Thursday evening.
Hayden Hardwick hadn't pitched in two years, but came through big as he went the distance on the mound and belted a three-run homer for all the run support he needed. The Indians rolled 8-2 over Kingsford.
"When i told Hayden he was pitching he said 'you're kidding'," said Indians manager Jim Groleau. "I asked him how his arm felt and Hayden told me he was going the distance. I laughed at that but he proved me wrong and he also had that clutch home run today."
Gladstone right fielder Matt Weyers drops to catch a Kingsford fly ball as shortstop Jake Pearson looks on Thursday at Gladstone. (Daily Press photo by Keith Shelton)
Hardwick indeed notched the complete game victory over the often hot-hitting Blues. He allowed four hits while holding the heart of the order hitless. Hardwick walked one and struck out three, and knew who to give credit to.
"The defense helped out a lot. There was a good play at third base and (Jared) Stenson was tough out at centerfield. It was a good team effort," he said.
"It was my first time pitching since I was 14 on Little League in states and that was because they ran out of pitchers."
Kingsford took a 2-1 lead in the second inning when Paul Dayeart's double scored Aidan Wienke. It didn't last long as the Indians exploded over the next two innings.
In the third, with runners at first and third base, Cody Frazer ripped an RBI single. Later, with one out and the bases loaded, Peyton Jurek and Frazer scored when Blake Ballard hit an infield grounder and the throw to third was wild on the force attempt.
In the bottom of the fourth, Paul Tomaszewski reached on a fielder's choice and Frazer doubled before Hardwick blasted his third home run of the season to left field.
"Hayden's first two at-bats, we thought we had him figured out, there was a strikeout in there too, then all of a sudden, bam!" said Kingsford manager Kevin Murdock.
The Indians capped their scoring when Stenson scored on a passed ball after some brilliant base-running to get to third after an infield single.
Five of the Indians runs came with two out, the kind of hits Murdock has been looking for. The Blues mustered hits and had base-runners in scoring position in each of the final three innings but couldn't score.
"We had guys in position at second and third and went pop-up, pop-up, strikeout. We gotta find a way to get that key hit," Murdock said.
The Blues went through three pitchers with starter Michael McCole taking the loss. He worked four innings, allowing 11 hits and seven runs. He struck out three.
Dusty Neuens pitched the fifth and Dayeart worked the sixth.
The Mid-Pen South Division playoffs are Saturday at GGladstone. The Indians host Iron Mountain while Kingsford faces Channing, with the times not decided. The winners play to decide who goes to Negaunee Sunday for the league title game.