SAULT STE. MARIE - After finally vanquishing rival Gladstone in the American Legion Zone Tournament semifinal, there was little drama in the title game. No doubt, the Escanaba Cubs raised some eyebrows with the two victories Saturday.
Escanaba exploded in the fourth inning against Gladstone and hung on to win 7-6. In the title game, Esky blasted Kingsford 17-3 in a game that ended in the seventh inning. Tournament games go nine innings.
In the hotly contested semifinal, Escanaba (15-13) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning as Nick Vandermissen launched a sacrifice fly to score Doucette and Trent Schwalbach reached on Justin Jurek's second error of the inning at third base to score Dave Falish.
Trent Schwalbach of the Escanaba Cubs is tagged out by Gladstone Indians catcher Cody Frazier at home plate, while the Cubs’ Ben Kleiman looks on during a Zone 5 baseball semifinal Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie.
Gladstone (38-10) scored in the bottom of the inning on a Hayden Hardwick single.
The Indians took the lead in the third inning when Peyton Jurek doubled and scored on a single by Cody Frazer. Frazer stole second and later scored on starting pitcher Jake Pearson's single to give Gladstone a 3-2 lead.
That set up a huge fourth inning for the Cubs. Esky loaded the bases before Falish drew a walk to force in a run. That ended Pearson's day on the mound, as he was relieved by Blake Ballard. Vandermissen grounded into a fielder's choice to score Ian DeMarse before DeHaan hit a blooper single to right field to score Doucette. The throw got away and the runners advanced. Gladstone nearly got out of the inning without further damage when Austin Young popped up to third base, however the ball was mishandled and two more runs scored giving Escanaba a 7-3 lead.
"That's a play that has to be made 100% of the time," said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. "You can not give any team free runs, especially a team of Escanaba's caliber. We just didn't make plays when we needed to."
The Indians did respond with two more runs in the bottom of the inning.
On the mound, Ballard recovered to pitch solid the rest of the way, holding Escanaba to three hits over the final five innings. He allowed four hits while walking one and striking out six.
"Blake was great in relief. He really stepped it up," said Groleau.
Escanaba would not score again and had to hold on after Gladstone cut the lead to 7-6 in the bottom of the sixth.
In a big eighth inning, Gladstone nearly rallied as Ballard led off with a ground rule double and Weyers nailed a bunt single. The Indians had runners at first and third with no outs. That brought about a pitching change as Matt Jensen came out after allowing 10 hits and walking two, but had earned the win to that point. Devin Olsen came on in relief and was certainly tested with the pressure situation. Olsen struck out Justin Jurek before Tomaszewski attempted to squeeze home a run, but couldn't get the bunt down and struck out. After Peyton Jurek walked to load the bases, Olsen struck out Frazer looking.
Groleau said that sequence decided the game.
"Olsen did a great job in that situation. To get out of that jam without giving up a run was the difference in the game. We dedicated a whole week of practice to putting the ball in play in that situation and failed to do so," he said.
Ohman was thrilled with Olsen's performance.
"Olsen was a bulldog out there. It was amazing how he pitched in that eighth inning," he said.
In the final against Kingsford, Olsen came back out to start the game and went 6 1/3 innings, throwing 140 pitches over the two games.
"He was a horse," said Ohman.
The Cubs racked up 20 hits as they coasted to a seven inning mercy rule victory to win the Zone 5 title.
"We hit some balls in that game, some real line drives," said Ohman.
Vandermissen and Schwalbach each had three hits while Young, Jensen and DeMarse had two apiece.
Kingsford beat Menominee 7-4 in the other semifinal.
Escanaba, Gladstone and Kingsford will all move on to Marquette along with host Marquette Blue for the state tournament. Escanaba opens Thursday at 10 a.m. against Menominee in the double elimination tournament. A victory would send the Cubs to play Kingsford at 2 p.m.