TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Gladstone is a relative newcomer to the MHSAA Division 3 ranks, but if opponents didn't know what to expect from the second-year program, they're on notice now. The Braves baseball team tore through their regional with relatively comfortable margins in both games. They poured it on late against the host St. Francis Gladiators 10-2 before dispatching Boyne City 5-2 in the final.
"The kids played hard, stuck together and worked extremely hard all year," said manager Don Lauscher. "I think our conditioning is a big part of our game and it showed today."
Gladstone, ranked No. 2 in Division 3, held an early 4-0 lead against the Ramblers and held off a rally attempt in the third inning. Boyne City put two runners on base with no outs, but pitcher Jake Peterson got one out by throwing one runner out at second on a tagback. Another out came on a fielders choice at third base.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Gladstone baseball poses with the regional title after defeating Boyne City 5-2.
Keith?Shelton |?Daily Press
Gladstone pitcher Sam?Pouliot works during the fifth inning against Traverse?City St.?Francis in a Division 3 regional semifinal game, Saturday at Traverse City.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Gladstone’s Sam Pouliot dives back to third base on a triple, after initially trying to score, during the sevemth inning of the regional semifinal against Traverse City St. Francis, on Saturday, in Traverse City.
Peterson and the Braves defense also squashed scoring chances in the second inning with two runners on base.
"I thought we'd get a test because Jake Peterson doesn't overpower anybody, he never does," Lauscher said. "I knew they'd put the bat on the ball, we just had to match them. Our bats were a little silent today. They did a good job mixing up pitches so kudos to Boyne City. They played us very well and played very well in the game before us. They're a solid team and we were lucky enough to come out on top of them."
The Braves tacked on another run in the fourth when Hunter Garling hit a 2-out single and stole second. Tom Bailey then singled Garling home.
The Ramblers (14-10) never gave up however. They got on the board in the fifth on a couple singles, and pitcher Tanner Kruzel kept the Braves bats at bay, preventing a blowout.
Peterson was at the top of his game however, and made a brilliant play in the sixth. With runners at first and third and no one out, Jordan Fair hit into a fielders choice. The ball went toward Peterson who dove at it and threw to Garling at the plate to force the runner out. Peterson then struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning unscathed.
That would be Boyne City's last attempt as Peterson got them out 1-2-3 in the seventh on three strikeouts. He finished with nine whiffs.
The Braves were bolstered by a large contingent of Gladstone fans, who made the trip to watch both the softball and baseball teams.
"Our home crowd matched any team that we played, I think," said Lauscher. "It says so much for the community. They back softball and they back baseball. We couldn't be here today if it wasn't for the baseball boosters and for the community that supports us. I just want to give a big thank you to everyone in Gladstone, the administration and (athletic director Matt Houle)."
In the semifinal, St. Francis was within striking distance for most of the game. The Braves plated two runs in the top of the first and the Gladiators matched it in the bottom of the inning. The score remained tied through the second despite the Braves loading the bases with two outs.
Gladstone derived momentum from Sam Pouliot's performance on the mound. In a dominant performance, Pouliot revved up after the first inning. He struck out seven consecutive batters and finished with 10 strikeouts.
Both Pouliot and Peterson went the distance in their respective games, which was important for the team.
"Our pitching really carried us. Our bats come and go, but that's a normality. When you go against good pitching it huts down hitters and our pitching has been there all year," said Lauscher.
The Braves went ahead for good in the third when Christian Groleau scored on a sac-bunt from Ben Schwalbach. They went up 4-2 in the top of the fourth when Christian Tackman scored on a sac-fly from Justin Jurek. It would be the first of three RBIs for Jurek in the semifinal game.
"Anytime you can get a hit, it's nice, but especially in a situation where you can drive in some runners," he said. "In that situation, it's a good moment to be in." Jurek, who due to a ligament issue in his elbow, will be held out from pitching the remainder of the season, but was happy to be able to contribute as a designated hitter.
"Just being able to hit and have any contribution to the team and its success, it means a lot," he said.
The Braves nearly turned a double play in the bottom of the fourth when Dru McFadden hit into a fielders choice. Jim Smith was thrown out at second and the relay to first was a split second too slow. Pouliot got out of the inning by striking out Poke McAndrews, holding the runner at third.
"I just tried to keep the mindset I've had the last few games and my teammates backed me up and did a great job," said Pouliot, who with Jurek out is the team's designated ace.
"Coming into the season, I fully accepted the spot behind Justin - he started out (the season) so great," said Pouliot. "I just wanted to get this (win) for him and keep us going."
Pouliot was later a key contributor at bat for the Braves. In an explosive seventh inning, Gladstone poured on six runs. Schwalbach ripped an RBI single to score Groleau. Pouliot then launched a ball to deep left. Peterson and Schwalbach scored easily and Pouliot pulled in at third base and initially tore off for home. The ball came relaying in to third and Pouliot stopped, turned around and dove back toward third, where due to a high throw, he was safe.
"I was tearing for home and I thought coach was sending me, I don't think he saw me, but I slipped there and got back," he said. "I'm just excited. I was due for one I think, I've been in a slump. I'm just glad it all worked out."
The big inning was a big weight of Pouliot's shoulders going into the bottom of the seventh.
"It was good that we started hitting the ball late. We got a jump on them early too," he said. "There was only a couple innings where we didn't pound it off them. I'm thankful for my team that we got all those runs at the end."
St. Francis (22-7) pulled pitcher Tyler Waslawski after Pouliot's triple and after Waslawski eclipsed the 100 pitch mark.
""Nobody has hit Tyler like that all year," Passinault told James Cook of the Traverse City Record-Eagle. "Credit to them."
Matt Seybert came on in relief and walked Drake Draze. Tackman then ripped an RBI double to score Pouliot. Jurek then followed with a double of his own to score Tackman and Draze. When the smoke cleared, Gladstone had a commanding 10-2 lead.
The Gladiators were defiant until the end. They loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning, but Pouliot got the outs he needed with no damage done.
Lauscher was taking the moment in after the final out against Boyne City, noting the achievement of a second-year program making the leap to regional champion.
"Last year was a feeling out process, we didn't even get out of districts. This year, our focus was to beat Negaunee, beat a really good left-handed pitcher (Tyler Jandron) and we did that. So we said, let's come down to regionals, make a good showing, play the best we can play, and we did. It's a great compliment to our program and our community," he said.
"An MHSAA rep told me way back when the last time I made it to the quarterfinal (with Escanaba). He said 'really cherish this because you may never be here again,'" Lauscher continued. "And here we are. I told the kids to savor this. I know this is only the second step and we have three more games to win, but cherish today and we'll worry about Tuesday on Tuesday."
On Tuesday, Gladstone (28-4) will meet Muskegon Oakridge in the MHSAA Division 3 State Quarterfinal at Traverse City West High School, with a trip to Michigan State University for the Final Four on the line.
"It's going to be a big quarterfinal game and I know our guys are ready for it. We'll be back on the road Monday and we'll make a good showing at Traverse City West," said Lauscher.