Eskymos roll to home title

ESCANABA The Escanaba Eskymos defended their home field in impressive fashion Saturday afternoon, cruising past the Marquette Redmen and Gladstone Braves to claim the 2013 Lions Club/Crawford Funeral Home Invitational.

In game one, Gladstone beat the Negaunee Miners 4-2. That was followed by Escanaba versus Marquette. Escanaba routed the Redmen 16-0 in a brief four inning contest. Marquette (0-5) faced back-to-back games, taking on Negaunee in the consolation game. The Miners won 14-4, mercying Marquette in six innings.

That set the stage for a Delta County duel, as two rivals who have been playing some very solid baseball squared off in the championship game. Gladstone (8-3) had won eight straight games heading into the title game, while Escanaba was posting a 5-2 record.

With strong defense and timely hitting, the Eskymos prevailed 5-1.

The game began as a defensive battle, with Blake Ballard on the mound for the Braves and Devin Olsen pitching for the Eskymos. Escanaba scored first when Bailey Lamb crossed the plate as a result of a sacrifice fly. Gladstone made it out of the inning giving up just the one run.

Ben Kleiman made the play of the game in the top of the third, stretching out for an amazing diving catch that contributed to the Eskymos quick 1-2-3 inning.

Nick Vandermissen, Sean Bissell, and Tim Lueneburg all put up hits to follow up Escanaba’s strong defensive effort in the third, and they put up two more runs to boost the lead to 3-0. Lueneburg and Bissell each earned an RBI.

The Eskymos’ offense exploded again in the fifth inning. Vandermissen crushed a lead-off double to get them going. After that hit, the Braves made a pitching change, going with Justin Jurek on the mound. However, the hits continued. Brandon Punzel hit an RBI double that went all the way to the warning track, scoring Vandermissen. Jurek struck out the next batter, but then Lueneburg hit yet another double that scored Punzel, and the Eskymos led 5-0.

Gladstone got the bats going in the third, but it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit. Jurek hit a double to get things going, and Christian Groleau followed it up with a double of his own, scoring the Braves’ first and only run of the game. Escanaba went on to hold them right there and allowed nothing else the rest of the way.

“That is a good Gladstone team,” said Eskymos coach Kirk Schwalbach. “Devin’s been pitching really well, and pitching and defense wins games. His strongest inning was probably his last one. I’m really happy with the kids. It’s great when you win your own tournament, that’s for sure.”

Olsen won the Most Valuable Pitcher award, pitching the entire championship game, while Lueneburg earning Most Valuable Hitter.

“Our kids have seen a lot of tough pitching, and I think all of those games made a difference when you start to face pitching like Gladstone,” Schwalbach said. “I give them all the credit in the world, Don (Lauscher) is doing a great job with those kids, and they’re a good team, and they’ve got some kids who really threw some heat.”

Braves coach Don Lauscher said, “They had some timely hitting, and we made some timely mistakes. We had leadoff guys,we just couldn’t move them. But that’s baseball.”

In the consolation game, Negaunee’s Ryan Bischof received Player of the Game honors after finishing with three hits.

“It felt pretty good,” Bischof said. “We were able to come back and get our first win of the season, and we looked pretty good.”

Marquette fell to 0-5 on the season with their losses to Escanaba and Negaunee.

“This is a lot of firsts for a lot of our players,” Redmen coach Todd Koski said. “We have one returning starter from last year, that’s it. We’re going to continue to improve and get better, and that’s all we can do is keep plugging away and getting tougher mentally.”

Gladstone resumes Monday, hosting Norway, while Escanaba hosts Marinette Tuesday.