Eskymos roll in baseball opener

REMUS, Mich. – The opening weekend for Escanaba baseball was a smashing success as the Eskymos won the Remus Chippewa Hills Baseball Tournament.

The four-team tournament included Gladstone and formidable programs Whitehall and the host team, which eliminated Escanaba in last season’s regional.

“Remus is a pretty good program and so is Whitehall. Both have solid reputations,” said Eskymos manager Kirk Schwalbach.

Escanaba defeated Whitehall 4-2 in the semifinal before romping over Chippewa Hills 12-3 to take the title. Gladstone lost to Chippewa Hills 4-0 and fell 6-4 to Whitehall in the consolation game.

The games were timed at 105 minutes because the start of the tournament was pushed back to weather conditions.

Against Whitehall, Escanaba got on board in the fourth inning when Brandon Punzle doubled on his first varsity hit to make the score 1-0. Tyler Skufca then singled and the Eskymos led 2-0.

In the fifth inning, after a Ben Kleiman single and a stolen base, Cameron Beversluis singled and Punzle drove Kleiman him. Then, on a wacky play, Nick Vandermissen hit a fly ball that the wind picked up. The Whitehall player misjudged it and the ball fell to center. Ben Kleiman initally held at second as Vandermissen rounded the base and got caught in a pickle between first and second. Kleiman then ran to third. Punzle then ripped a single and sent Kleiman home and the Eskymos led 4-0.

Devin Olsen pitched the first four innings and struck out six with one hit and one walk.

“Whitehall only advanced one baserunner past first when Devin was on the mound,” said Schwalbach. “He was pretty much in command and pitched well considering he said his fingers were numb. If it was 80 degrees, I would have been happy with the way we pitched but considering the weather conditions, we were great.”

Olsen was relieved by Skufca, who pitched the fifth and sixth innings. He gave up two runs, one coming in the sixth after walking two batters and giving up two singles.

“Tyler pitched well except for a couple walks,” said Schwalbach. “Considering the conditions, he pitched very well.”

Kleiman went the distance on the mound against Remus, scattering seven hits with six strikeouts and a walk, while allowing three earned runs.

“I was very impressed with our pitching. Ben really pitched well, but over two games, we only had four walks,” said Schwalbach. “We had three boys that pitched well and really hit the strike zone.”

The Eskymos scored five runs in the second inning and tacked five more on in the sixth. Logan Lamb ripped his first varsity hit to drive in a run in the sixth inning and Hunter LaMarche later doubled to drive in a run on his first varsity hit.

Kleiman, Tim Lueneberg, Skufca and Lewis Ostrander each had two hits for the Eskymos in the title game, with Lueneberg getting three RBIs as well.

In the opener, Punzle had two hits with two RBIs.

“Brandon really hit well, especially for a freshman,” said Schwalbach. “I’m really happy with the kids’ effort considering we didn’t hit all that well in the first game. It was a little warmer in the second game.

“It was nice to get on the field. We made some baserunning errors but the first concern was pitching and I can’t say enough about how well they pitched. I couldn’t be any happier after the first two games.”

Gladstone assistant coach Kurt Lauscher was also impressed with his team’s pitching.

“The pitching was great. Blake Ballard pitched the first game for us and gave up two hits. He did absolutely awesome. Chrisitan Groleau came in after him and it was lights out,” he said.

The Braves decided to watch Escanaba play Whitehall in the first game before getting onto the field to play. Lauscher said by the time they got out there to play back-to-back games, his team was bitterly cold.

“It was so brutally cold, it was tough for the kids to stay loose. The weather conditions really played a factor,” he said. “But it was the same for all teams. It was cold but I’m not making excuses. For just coming out of the gym, I thought we did pretty well.”

Lauscher said leaders at the plate included freshman Hunter Garling as well as Groleau and Ballard. However, the ball didn’t always go where they wanted it to.

“We hit the ball hard a few times right at someone, but that’s the game of baseball. Sometimes it falls, sometimes it doesn’t,” Lauscher said. “We did have a few errors, a lot of passed balls and the catchers need to block those balls. We’ll get better from here though. All in all, it was a good experience to get outside. There’s some things to work on, but we’ll get there.”