GLADSTONE - Hunter Garling scooped the ball up along the right field fence, relayed it to Christian Tackman and the Gladstone Indians' second baseman threw out a charging Cole Tengesdahl at home plate as Justin Jurek breathed a sigh of relief. He earned it after the game he had Thursday night, as the Indians escaped with a 3-2 victory over Kingsford at Don Olsen Field.
"CT saved my butt," said Jurek who was tasked with closing the game. "I knew Hunter would get it quick enough and I knew it would get in as quick as it could, but a shot like that, all the way to the fence; I thought I better get behind the catcher because I don't know how this is going to end up."
The Indians clung to a 3-1 lead with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and the bases were loaded, Kingsford having emptied its bench in a desperate attempt to rally. That's when Blues' leadoff hitter CJ Qualley ripped his third hit of the game, a missile to deep right. Anthony Rebara scored but Tengesdahl, representing the tying run, never made it home as Gladstone celebrated a dramatic victory.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Gladstone’s Justin Jurek gives a high-five to assistant manager Andy Schwartz after his RBI single in the fifth inning gave Gladstone a 1-0 lead, Thursday night against the Kingsford Blues at Don Olsen Field.
"The kid has a cannon," said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau of Tackman. "He bobbled it a bit, but once he fielded it, I've seen him make that throw many times and he put it right on the money."
It was an action-packed final two innings after the game was scoreless through four.
Baserunners were sparse, but the Braves drew a leadoff walk and got the runner to second on a fly ball. Jurek then was finally able to solve Kingsford ace Aidan Wienke who had thrown 4 2/3 innings of no-hit ball to that point. Jurek's seeing eye single scored a run and the way the game had gone to that point, it might have been all the Braves needed. Jake Pearson was also rolling on the mound for Gladstone.
Jurek only seemed to build off the momentum of breaking up Weinke's no-hit bid. In the top of the sixth, he made two highlight reel catches.
"After you get a nice hit like that and an RBI, it really gets you hyped up," said Jurek. "It's a confidence booster, it gets you going, gets you excited, it gets the team going."
In the sixth, the Indians (7-7) again drew the leadoff walk and the Blues (3-5) made a pitching change, pulling Weinke who had only allowed 1 hit, three walks and two hit batters.
"He was unbelievable and that's what we need," said Blues manager Kevin Murdock. "We have some strong pitching on this team. Our last three outings have been strong like that and if we can get our bats going, we can be dangerous."
Qualley came on in relief but had to face Hayden Hardwick, and the Indians cleanup hitter wasted no time, greeting Qualley with a massive 2-run homer to deep right.
"What can you say about Hayden? That ball went a long way," said Groleau. "We had a conversation during the pitching change that he was going to get one strike and if he didn't make it, he was going to bunt on the next pitch. He's come through many times for us. That's why he's sitting in the No. 4 spot."
The Indians held a 3-0 lead entering the seventh inning. But instead of facing Michoud and Berndt who each had two strikeouts, Murdock emptied his bench and pinch hit for five consecutive batters. The plan nearly worked.
Gabe Swanson led off with a walk, Rebara followed with a single, Justin Grailer struck out, but Devon Oslund got on base after being hit by a pitch and just like that the Blues had loaded the bases with one out. That ended Pearson's day after he struck out seven, allowed seven hits and walked two.
Jurek then got Abbas to pop-up but the ball went high and far enough to allow Swanson to score, before the final play of the game.
"My hats off to those guys off the bench. They put us in a position to tie the game and possibly even take the lead. That was a great performance on their part," said Murdock. He added that he had no regrets over sending the runner home at the end.
"I'd do it every time. In that situation, we have to do it, it might have been our only chance to score," he said. "Hats off to (Tackman). He relayed it in and it was an awesome throw. He's got to make that throw, otherwise he's safe, and he made it. You have to put the pressure on him to make those kinds of plays, and he did it."
Gladstone, which is a perfect 5-0 since fielding a full squad, will play at Oconto Falls, Wis. Saturday.