GLADSTONE - You knew it was a tune-up for districts when both teams used at least four pitchers and put their benches up to bat. But it was a game in the seventh inning when the Escanaba Eskymos rose to the challenge and rallied.
The Gladstone Braves settled for a 3-3 tie Tuesday evening in the regular season finale for both teams. The decision to end the game, deadlocked at the end of the seventh inning came after the managers elected to save their pitchers for the upcoming district tournament.
"Ultimately, what we wanted to do is get all our pitchers ready and Escanaba did exactly what we did - pitch everyone for two innings, get the arms ready for districts," said Gladstone manager Don Lauscher. "We truly wanted to win, and so did Kirk (Schwalbach), but on the other hand, our kids played a lot better tonight. They played solid defense with just one miscue and they hit the ball hard tonight. I'm pleased with that."
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Escanaba’s Nick?Vandermissen slides in to home plate to score the tying run on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh inning, as Gladstone pitcher?Sam?Pouliot runs over, waiting for the throw, Tuesday night at Don?Olsen Field.
The Braves held a 3-1 lead entering the top of the seventh inning and pitcher Sam Pouliot was looking sharp as he got Dave Falish to ground out and after allowing a hit to Ben Kleiman, he struck out Sean Bissell.
Then, needing only a strike to end the game against Nick Vandermissen, the Escanaba second baseman dropped an RBI single to make it 3-2. Vandermissen advanced to second on a wild pitch, Brandon Punzel was walked and Bailey Lamb was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Vandermissen then ran home on a wild pitch and the game was tied 3-3.
Vandermissen has collected more than a few clutch hits during his Eskymo career but said that was one of his best.
"I knew (Pouliot) was coming with a fastball, so I tried to get a good swing. That one was top 10 for sure. I wish we would have won with it though," he said adding that he is no fan of games ending in a tie.
In the bottom of the inning, Dave Falish got his first action on the mound this season for the Eskymos. He allowed a walk and base hit, but struck out two and preserved the tie.
"Dave hasn't gotten on the mound and it was tough putting him in that situation," said Schwalbach. "He did a good job. He threw strikes and being a senior, Dave handled it well."
The Eskymos committed five errors during the game. Schwalbach acknowledged his team wasn't at their best, but also praised them for battling back.
"We didn't play our best baseball and we made some mistakes, but it was a great tune-up for districts. That's what we wanted and that's what we got," he said. "It speaks to our kids' character not giving up and hanging in there. We try to play every inning to the last out, last pitch. Baseball is a funny game and a lot of things can happen with two outs. We're lucky enough to get a tie out of it, but give the kids credit because they kept playing."
The Braves got on the board in the second inning when Pouliot ripped an RBI triple to the left field corner.
Hits were at a premium for both teams though. Each team had five. Tom Bailey led the way for Gladstone with a 3-4 day, while Escanaba's Ben Kleiman reached base all four times he was up, drawing two walks to go along with his two hits. Brandon Punzel also drew two walks and added a double.
In the seventh inning with Gladstone close to victory, the dugout was alive with cheers - something that had been lacking throughout the season. Lauscher welcomed it.
"We've been talking about the enthusiasm and making sure everyone is in the game," he said. "Tonight the dugout was in it and the crowd was behind us. It was a good night."
Gladstone (17-9-1) opens district play Friday, hosting Superior Central at 4 p.m. Escanaba (16-6-1) will travel to Cheboygan to play Petoskey Saturday at 12:30 p.m.