ESCANABA - There were plenty of opportunities for the Escanaba Cubs to shine on an overcast morning in Sunday's semifinals of the Gregg Johnson Memorial American Legion Baseball tournament.
The Cubs, however, were unable to get the key hits and dropped a 2-1 decision to Plover, Wis. in their first Johnson tourney semifinal appearance in five years.
Plover also struggled to get timely hits, but got the one they needed in the sixth inning as first-baseman Cal Giese scored the game-winner on designated hitter Connor Zblewski's single to right-centerfield.
Holly Richer | Daily Press
Escanaba’s Tyler Skufca pitches during the fifth inning of the semi-final game during the Gregg Johnson Memorial Tournament in Escanaba Sunday.
The Black Sox (12-0) then captured their first title in Escanaba by hanging on for a 4-3 triumph over Midland Berryhill at Al Ness Field.
"We came here to play good competition," said Plover manager Wayne Sankey. "We were second here a few times and didn't want to settle for that again. Now, we just have to keep it rolling."
In the semifinal game, Esky (3-6) tied the contest in the fifth on second-baseman Nick Vandermissen's single to right. The Cubs, however, left the bases loaded.
Plover scored first on Austin Schulfer's infield single in the second.
Esky centerfield Dave Falish opened the first with a double to left, but the Cubs were unable to drive him home.
Plover then failed to take advantage of two errors in its half of the first, leaving the bases full.
Other than the opening frame, the Cubs appeared sharp on defense. One of their biggest plays helped keep the scored tied at 1 in the fifth.
On that play, Plover's Jacob Barnes tried to reach third on Ryan Mukaski's double to left. But Jeff Lyle then fired the ball to third-baseman Tim Lueneburg, who applied the tag to Barnes.
"It was a huge play to get that guy at third," said Esky manager Tom Ohman. "They're a good ball club, but we stayed right with them. Overall, we're pleased with the whole tournament. The kids knew they could make it into Sunday if they played well. Hopefully, we can build a lot off this and the kids realize they can be a very good team."
The Cubs also turned a double play to get out of that inning.
Falish finished with two of Esky's five hits. Mukaski and Zblewski had two each for Plover.
Tyler Scufka, who pitched the entire contest, took the loss in his first start for the Cubs. He struck out two, walked two, hit a batter and allowed seven hits.
"Tyler kept us in the game," said Ohman. "He kept them off balance, and except for the one bad inning we played good defense behind him."
Alex Lee took the win in relief of Alex Oliver, who fanned seven, walked two, hit a batter and gave up five hits through 5 2/3 innings.
In the title contest, leftfielder Tanner Gross gave Midland a 1-0 lead on a wild pitch in the second.
Plover, fueled by Cale Piecynski's three-run double to center, scored four times for a 4-1 advantage in the fourth.
"Cale hit the first pitch hard," said Sankey. "Their pitcher got the ball up high in the strike zone and Cale connected. As it turned out, that was the biggest hit of the game. Overall, I thought we weren't as sharp as we were earlier in the weekend. But our pitchers did what they had to do. They (Midland) have good hitters throughout their lineup. We just had to stay ahead of their hitters. We knew they were going to put pressure on us."
Midland responded in its half of the fourth. A single to left by first-baseman Brian Fieinaur brought the downstate squad within 4-2.
The Black Sox then appeared to have thrown Feinaur out after he rounded third and fell on Adam Fitzgibbon's infield single. The umpires, however, ruled baserunner interference and awarded Midland its third run.
"That (Plover) is a good team," said Midland manager Steve Cronkright. "We couldn't get the key hit and we have to credit their defense for that. Their kids did a pretty good job. We wanted to use all nine of our pitchers this weekend and we did that. This was our first weekend tournament this year. We're real excited."
Mukaski had two hits for the winners and Gross finished with two for Midland.
Alex Lee took the win in relief of Alex Slowey, who whiffed three, walked three, hit a batter and surrendered three runs on five hits through five frames.
Larry Wood, who pitched four innings, absorbed the loss. He struck out seven, walked five and allowed four runs on five hits.
Midland reached the championship game by eliminating two-time defending champ DePere, Wis. 4-1 in Sunday's other semifinal contest at Gladstone.
On Saturday, Midland took advantage of four errors and scored five times in the second, blanking the Cubs 9-0 in five innings.
In the previous game, Devin Olsen scattered four hits, fanned seven and walked none as the Cubs blanked Marquette Blue 5-0.
Vandermissen went 3-for-3 for Esky, which finished 2-3 in the tourney and hosts Gladstone Tuesday at 8 p.m. Riley Lynch had a pair of hits for Marquette.
In other games, Cal Giese scattered five hits and Barnes had a pair as Plover beat Petoskey 8-1 and Devon Dear had two hits to lead Sault Ste. Marie past the Royals 3-2.