ESCANABA - With Escanaba and Gladstone countering each other and still deadlocked after 14 innings, Thursday, at Al Ness Field, it would be a third-string catcher who would end up making the difference.
In the top of the 14th inning with Christian Groleau on third, and no one out, Gladstone's Graham Morrison was just worried about laying down a bunt. But instead, what he got was the green light from his coach to swing away.
"I went up to coach before the at-bat and asked coach for the sign for the suicide squeeze because I don't want to miss it when he gives it to me, and he told me to swing way," Morrison said. "I said 'No way, here we go.'"
Bryce Derouin | Daily Press
Gladstone’s Hunter Garling delivers a pitch during the second inning against Escanaba, Thursday, at Al Ness Field. Garling pitched seven innings and allowed one run on six hits and two walks. He struck out one batter.
Morrison, who replaced starting catcher Logan Heim in the 13th inning, delivered in his first at-bat of the game with a base hit to the left side of the infield-between third and shortstop - allowing Groleau to score and give Gladstone a 4-3 lead, which it would hold on to.
With Sam Pouliot - Gladstone's back-up catcher - gone to a baseball camp, manager Jim Groleau had to look deep down his bench for Heim's replacement.
"I looked down on the end of the bench and thought, well Graham has done a lot of catching for our junior team, and it's time to get Logan out of the game, so we put him in.
"He's a young kid who swings a good bat and came up with a big hit."
Despite the win, Jim Groleau and his team were not overly thrilled with their performance.
"Any time you play Escanaba, it's a tough game," Jim Groleau said. "We're happy with the win, but we're certainly not satisfied with how we played, tonight - way too many mistakes, fundamentally not sound, not moving runners with bunts when we had chances, and we missed signs. We didn't deserve to win this game."
Early on, both teams struggled to take control of the game, as each offense was stagnant for the first five and a half innings. Then, Escanaba broke the scoring drought in the bottom of the sixth. Nick Vandermissen hit an RBI single that bounced off second base, allowing David Falish to score from third base.
But just as Escanaba took the lead, Gladstone responded in its next at-bats. In the top of the seventh inning and with Justin Jurek on third, Gladstone attempted a suicide squeeze. It worked to perfection. Christian Groleau laid down the bunt and Escanaba wasn't able to field the ball cleanly, letting Christian Groleau reach base on an error and Jurek to score from third.
With no one able to manufacture any more offense, the two rivals would go to extra innings. It would take until the ninth inning for anyone to break the tie, and in similar fashion to its first run, Gladstone put up two more.
With Jurek and Ben Schwalbach on first and second, Christian Groleau laid down another bunt. Again, Escanaba failed to get the out at first, and there was an overthrow. Jurek and Schwalbach would both make their way to home, giving Gladstone a 3-1 advantage.
Just as Gladstone responded to Escanaba taking the lead in the sixth inning, it was Escanaba's turn to draw even.
Escanaba loaded the bases, and with two outs, Tyler Skufca came through, ripping a two-run RBI single to left centerfield that scored Sean Bissell and Jake Rodman, to tie it 3-3.
"They're resilient," Escanaba manager Tom Ohman said about his team. "They battled tonight. I'm not disappointed in the loss at all. It feels like a win for us, so we'll see what happens next week when we head to the finals."
Escanaba would get runners on second and third, in the inning, but was not able to convert the opportunity into more runs. The game remained tied up until Morrison's game-winning RBI single in the 14th.
Escanaba finished the game with 12 hits, five errors, and stranded 15 batters. Skufca and Vandermissen led the team with three RBI's apiece.
"It was a very long game; we played well," Ohman said. "The five errors were a little bit disrupting, but we finally hit the ball against Gladstone. At least we put out 12 hits."
Skufca got the start and went six innings and did not not allow a run. He gave up five hits and two walks, while striking out two batters.
Devin Olsen came in for relief in the seventh, and went three innings, surrendering three runs - none earned - on no hits and four walks. He struck out two.
Lewis Ostrander pitched four innings and Jake Rodman pitched the last inning for Escanaba. They combined to allow one unearned run on two hits and three walks. Ostrander managed to strike out one batter.
For Gladstone, Jake Peterson and Hunter Garling led the offense with two hits. As a team, they only mustered seven total hits, committed two errors and left 12 runners on base.
"I am disappointed," Jim Groleau said. "I'm not the only one. I know our team is disappointed. 14 innings, seven hits is unacceptable. We have to flat out hit the ball better.
"We thought it was a slump but it started to be a trend. We haven't been hitting the ball well and with the team we got, we're better hitters than this and we gotta find a way to get it corrected by next weekend."
Gladstone's Hunter Garling got the start on the mound. He went seven innings and allowed one run on six hits, two walks, and struck out one.
Christian Tackman came in for relief and went one and one-third innings, while Jake Peterson went the next four and two-thirds. Tackman surrendered two runs on one hits, two walks, and one strikeout. Peterson was the winning pitcher and did not allow a run, but Escanaba managed to work him and get five hits and one walk.
Pearson earned the save, and after walking two batters, tallied a strikeout and induced a fly out to end the game.
"Our pitchers threw well," Jim Groleau said. "Garling threw extremely well and I wasn't expecting to go seven innings with him, but his pitch count was low."
Both teams will wrap up the regular season at Menominee next week. Gladstone will visit on Monday with Gladstone playing there Tuesday. The Legion Zone Tournament in Marquette will begin on Thursday.