A battle to the finish

Esky rallies to top Gladstone in tourney opener

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Escanaba’s Griffin Johnson slides safely into home plate in front of Gladstone catcher Jackson Lee during a Minor Boys’ All-Star area tournament game Thursday in Escanaba.

ESCANABA — For much of the game, it didn’t feel like Escanaba’s day. Crazy plays, miscues and a very good Gladstone team was in its way.

However, Esky shown great poise for a 9-10 year old baseball team, helping it rally from a three-run deficit to beat rival Gladstone 6-5 in the opening game of the Minor Boys’ Little League All-Star area tournament at Karl Dickson field here Thursday.

Trailing 5-4 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Karter Demeuse led off with a double to left field. Griffin Johnson re-entered the game as a pinch-runner, and scored on a crazy play when Sam Gallagher grounded out to first base. The Esky dugout felt Gallagher was safe on a bang-bang play, arguing and freezing Gladstone first baseman Henry Sholten as Johnson came in to score and tie the game at 5. After Zahn Anderson drew a walk, Lincoln Bradfield hit a hard ground ball past Sholten into right field, allowing pinch-runner Kaidin Pastorick to slide in for the game-winning run.

“I was really scared, I was shaky and I really just wanted to hit it into the outfield, and I did,” Bradfield said. “I liked my hit and I’m really thankful that we won the game.”

Esky had to overcome nine miscues and a three-run deficit after Gladstone jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second inning.

“I think we were hitting the ball really well today,” Esky manager Dan Garcia said. “We were a little unlucky early in the game, hitting the ball right at them a lot, but the guys just didn’t quit. I’m super proud of them. They just kept playing, kept playing, trying to grind it out at the plate — more so at the plate than on the defensive end. Defensively, we really struggled today. But our pitching held us in there, and overall I’m just super proud of this team. We got some young guys, we’ve got a lot of 9-year-olds … it was just good.”

Garcia said the team talked about keeping heads up before the game.

“We talked about that the last two days — yesterday and pre-game today,” he said. “We kind of saw it in practice where guys would make mistakes and get down on themselves and kick the dirt, so we made it a point of emphasis in the last couple practices and here to pick it up. We still struggled a little bit with catching the ball, but overall they kept their heads above water and stayed as confident as they could.”

After each team scored in the opening frame, Gladstone built a 4-1 lead in the second on RBI hits by Landon Pepin and Braylin Carter.

Escanaba got a run back in the third on an RBI single by Brady Ison and Joey Garcia led off the fourth with a triple before scoring on a dead ball to make it 4-3. Johnson drove in a run on an infield single later in the frame to even the score at 4, before Gladstone took the lead back in the fifth on an RBI single by Charlie Savard.

“It was a tough game today,” Gladstone manager Mike Sanville said. “The kids played very well, Escanaba played very well, it was a competitive game right until the end and it’s very hard when you give it up right in the bottom of the sixth inning. We ran into a couple things we hadn’t seen — two infield fly rules in the game, which nobody was ready for on either side. It was a challenge and a tough one to lose. It was a hard-fought game by both teams.”

Garcia earned the win in relief, giving up just one run in 2 2/3 innings in relief of Ison, who pitched the first 3 1/3 innings.

Xavier Leipzig absorbed the complete game loss for Gladstone.

Escanaba advances to the winner’s bracket game tonight at 7 against Tri-County, which knocked off Munising 19-10 in Thursday’s nightcap. The winner advances to the district tournament next weekend in Escanaba.

Garcia believes beating Gladstone will be a huge boost for his club. Esky avenged a 21-13 loss to Gladstone in the Yooper tournament two weeks ago.

“I think beating Gladstone was a big thing for us,” he said. “Gladstone is a really good team and it’s always kind of the Escanaba-Gladstone rivalry, and I think this just built a lot of confidence in them. I think they’re going to bring a lot of aggressiveness at the plate going forward in the tournament.”

Gladstone now enters the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament, where it will face Munising tonight at 5. The winner advances to an elimination game against the Escanaba-Tri-County loser Saturday at 1, and the loser goes home.

“Baseball and life are both very much the same. When you come across hard times, you get your greatest growth,” Sanville said. “I told them just to reflect on what you had today and the mistakes that we made, and let’s learn from them and do better tomorrow.”