ESCANABA - Justin Jurek has been in these kinds of situations before.
So, when the Gladstone Indians needed some clutch pitching in the end Thursday night, they turned to the 15-year-old for help.
He delivered, retiring the final two hitters as the Indians preserved a 3-0 American Legion baseball victory over the Escanaba Cubs at Al Ness Field.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Shortly after stealing second base, Escanaba’s Austin Young makes a break for third and gets caught in a pickle as Paul Tomaszewski (10) and Jake Pearson of Gladstone run him down in the second inning Thursday at Al Ness Field in Escanaba.
Jurek, who come on in relief of Jake Pearson with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning, struck out Trent Schwalbach and retired Austin Young on a flyball to centerfield to end the threat.
This was a similar situation to what Jurek faced on May 30 when he fanned Alex DeHaan for the final out of a 4-3 triumph over the Escanaba High School team on the same diamond.
"Justin is tough in these situations for a 15-year-old," said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. "Those are some tough hitters to get out. He did the job both times. All three games with these guys (including two with Esky High) this year came down to the last batter. This is pretty much what I expected tonight, a good, hard-fought game."
This also marked the third time on this mild evening that the Cubs left the bases loaded. They also left two on in the first and stranded a baserunner at third in the sixth.
"For a 15-year-old, that kid (Jurek) can really pump it," said Esky manager Tom Ohman. "Every kid they brought in was definitely throwing about 81 or 82 mph. I'm very impressed with Gladstone. I'm pleased we were able to hold our own with them. In the seventh inning, I had a gut feeling we'd do something special, but it didn't happen. We couldn't get a good two-out hit, which is a credit to their pitchers. They showed lot of experience on the hill and took care of our hitters."
Starter Blake Ballard, who pitched four innings, took the win. He struck out three, walked four and allowed two hits. Pearson then fanned fanned three, walked three, hit a batter and gave up two hits through 2 1/3 frames.
The Indians (34-8) scored their first run on Cody Frazer's single to left in the fourth.
Jurek made it 2-0 on a bases-loaded walk and Paul Tomaszewski ended the scoring on a passed ball in the fifth.
"The runs we got in the fifth inning were huge," said Groleau. "Anytime you get that cushion, it helps."
Gladstone finished with six hits, including a pair of infield singles by Tomaszewski.
"Paul hits leadoff for us because he finds ways to get on base," said Groleau. "When he gets on, good things happen."
Trent Schwalbach, who retired the first nine hitters he faced, lasted five frames and took the loss. He whiffed four, walked two and surrendered three runs on five hits.
Ben Kleiman relieved in the sixth. He struck out four, walked one and gave up a hit.
The Cubs (8-12) had four hits, including two by Nick Vandermissen.
Gladstone committed two errors in the contest and Esky had none.
"We've seen a change in our defense since we put Justyn (Doucette) behind the plate," said Ohman. "Our outfield has been solid. Having Austin back also helps. We just need him to get his swing back."
The Sault Ste. Marie-based Eastern U.P. Travelers will be in Delta County for doubleheaders this weekend, visting Gladstone Saturday and Esky Sunday. Both twinbills start at 1 p.m.