Gladstone pitchers bring heat in sweep

GLADSTONE – Pitching was the story for the Gladstone Braves Saturday as they crushed the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Black Sox by racking up 22 strikeouts and rolling to 11-1 and 11-0 mercy rule victories.

“To have six pitchers deep like we do right now, it’s pretty amazing that they are that accurate this early in the season,” said Braves coach Don Lauscher. “Our pitching coach works really hard with those guys, and they’re really doing well.”

Justin Jurek led the Braves to a victory in game one after amassing 12 strikeouts on 81 pitches. In the first three innings, Jurek struck out eight of nine batters. He earned the win with his effort, pitching the entire five-inning contest.

Freshman Hunter Garling picked up right where Jurek left off, beginning the second game throwing smoke and notching five straight K’s.

Although Garling appeared like an ace on the mound, The Black Sox were still right in it for most of the game. It was just a 1-0 ball game for the duration, until Gladstone exploded for 10 runs off six hits in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Black Sox relief pitcher Beau Nolan began the half inning by walking the lead-off man. Elliot Danhoff came to the plate next, and scored a base hit with a bunt, and there were no outs.

A bad situation got worse quickly as Nolan immediately threw a wild pitch that advanced both runners to second and third. Next up for Gladstone was Jurek, who also received a base on balls. Then, a fly ball by Tom Bailey dropped into the outfield for an RBI single, and it was 2-0.

“Credit to the pitchers, especially the kid in the second game,” said Black Sox coach Mike Lebel. “He was pounding the strike zone. We were a little tardy with the bats in both games. It was a decent ball game for about four innings, and then the wheels fell off the bus and we got mercied.”

Blake Ballard knocked a bouncing ball between the legs of first baseman Eric Thornton, and the skid continued for the Black Sox (0-2) after Danhoff and Jurek sprinted in for the score.

The next two batters were walked, which loaded the bases and advanced a run to make it 5-0 Gladstone.

The Braves went all the way through their lineup, and when Jurek returned to the plate the score was 8-0 with two outs. He smashed the ball for a big RBI double to make it 9-0, and Bailey followed it up with a huge hit, resulting in a triple that scored two runs and gave the Braves back-to-back mercy wins for the afternoon.

“When the second game came around, we were really starting to hit into the holes left by the defense,” Lauscher said. “We’re starting to get the bat on the ball, and that’s a plus.”

Because Gladstone’s prom was Saturday night and some players would have to leave early, there were some concerns about having enough players, but it wasn’t much of a factor down the stretch.

“It didn’t seem to affect them,” Lauscher added. The kids stayed focused, and when all those guys left, the bench came in and got the job done. I’m really happy for everybody as a whole team.”

Garling earned the victory for Gladstone in game two, finishing with 10 strikeouts. Gladstone put up seven hits, six of which came in the fifth inning.

In game one, Sault’s Cody Yardanoff had four strikeouts and gave up four hits. Gladstone had nine hits, including a six-run fourth inning. The Black Sox had two hits.

Gladstone (4-2) resumes today, hosting Superior Central.