Braves sweep in marathon opener

GLADSTONE – It’s been about 54 years since Gladstone has had a baseball team. But in the Braves’ home opener Friday night, they gave the fans enough baseball to make up for lost time, playing a total of 18 innings over the course of two games.

In the first game, the Braves grinded out a 4-3 victory over Negaunee in a contest that seemed to go on forever, finally ending after 12 grueling innings. The momentum carried over into the second game, in which Gladstone blanked Negaunee 5-0 in six innings.

“I think we’re doing pretty good, considering we’ve only played a few games,” said Braves coach Don Lauscher. “The kids stayed focused mentally, and kept themselves in the game, and we finally pulled it out in the end. All in all, I was pleased with our outing.”

Blake Ballard started things off for Gladstone in game one, hitting an RBI single that got his team on the board first. In the fifth inning, a loose ball was chalked up as an error and allowed Hunter Garling to score, giving the Braves a 2-0 advantage. However, it wouldn’t last long.

Negaunee had a runner caught between second and third base, and Ballard ran out to make the tag. But in the meantime, the base runner on third took advantage and ran for home plate. Ballard overthrew the catcher, and both runners ended up scoring to make it a tie ball game.

“We missed a lot of signs, and we made a couple of mistakes,” Lauscher said. “But our defense was good overall.”

Neither club was able to capitalize on offense, leaving runners stranded and eventually leading to extra innings.

In the top of the eighth, Tyler Lajoie was hit by a pitch and took first. After stealing second and then stealing third, a sacrifice fly from Tyler Jandron allowed him to score and the Miners led 3-2. The Braves were able to work their way out of the inning, but they would have their hands full in a game where runs had been few and far between.

Jandron, one of Negaunee’s aces, took the mound in the bottom half of the eighth. Tom Bailey got a base hit to lead things off, and some sloppy defensive play combined with some smart baserunning got the Braves right back in it.

“We stayed aggressive on the bases, and it forced the defense to make some mistakes, and that’s how we did most of our scoring,” Lauscher said.

After multiple fielding errors, Gladstone continued to advance on the bases. Bailey made it to third, and after a high pitch that went off the glove of the catcher, he ran in to tie the game once again.

Both teams stepped it up defensively, and great pitching kept the game at a stalemate until the 12th inning.

Sam Pouliot earned a walk to first, and then Bailey hit a bouncing ball that stayed in the infield. The throw to first was too high, and Pouliot advanced to third. Luke Lacosse came in, sending a sac-fly to center field that allowed Pouliot to run in for the game-winning run.

“It felt great, because I really didn’t get the bat on the ball all day,” he said. “To get the hit that counted, the hit that won it, felt pretty great.”

Ballard threw 92 pitches for eight strikeouts, while Pouliot had five K’s on 69 pitches. The Braves had nine hits, and Negaunee had six.

“We really haven’t been able to practice because of field conditions,” said Miners coach Mark Hill. “We knew coming in what we were going to be sloppy at, and sure enough, we were. We hadn’t seen much live-arm pitching, and our batters were striking out looking, sometimes at crucial times.”

Hill pointed out that his team took the lead two different times, and he was happy about the way they fought back.

“After a 12 inning game, the kids were tired,” he said.

Christian Grouleau got the complete game victory in game two, racking up seven strikeouts.

Gladstone (2-2) resumes today, hosting the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Black Socks.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had baseball,” said Gladstone athletic director Matt Houle. “It’s a great day to be a Brave.”