Esky explodes late, outlasts Braves in marathon baseball contest

ESCANABA – The Escanaba Eskymos and Gladstone Braves slugged and slogged it out for over 3 hours as the temperature dipped below 40 degrees, the wind gusted and eventually, the rain fell as well.

In a marathon, momentum shifting, lead changing hit parade, the Eskymos finally prevailed 14-8.

A pitchers duel this was not.

“It was back and forth, back and forth,” described Eskymos manager Kurt Schwalbach. “They took a punch from us, we took one from them.”

The first two innings lasted just over an hour as there were six walks, two hit batters and four passed balls between the two teams.

The Eskymos scored their first two runs without the benefit of a hit. Gladstone pitcher Sam Pouliot walked leadoff batter Ben Kleiman, who advanced to third on a passed ball. Poulot then struck out Sean Bissel before walking Nick Vandermissen. A passed ball on the same play allowed Kleiman to score. With two outs, Bailey Lamb and Tim Lueneberg were each hit by pitches to load the bases and Pouliot walked Cam Beversluis to force in another run.

“We started out slow and the pitching wasn’t there today,” said Braves manager Don Lauscher. “There were too many walks and they scored a couple runs without even a hit. We didn’t come out sharp again against a good team like Escanaba.”

The Braves got on board in the second inning on consecutive RBI doubles from Hunter Garling and Jake Peterson to narrow to tie the game up, but the Eskymos put three more runs on the board in the bottom of the inning, leading Pouliot to be relieved by Justin Jurek midway through the frame.

The Eskymos held a 5-2 lead until the top of the fourth inning when the Braves exploded for five runs. After Christian Tackman ripped an RBI single, Gladstone loaded the bases with one out. Pouliot struck out, but Luke LaCosse scored on a passed ball, Christian Groleau launched a two-RBI single and Tom Bailey singled Groleau home for a 7-5 Braves lead.

The Eskymos turned the tide for good in the bottom of the fifth. With Gladstone clinging to a 7-6 lead, Sean Bissell absolutely crushed a ball to centerfield for a two-run homer. Vandermissen and Brandon Punzel followed with base hits and Lamb’s sacrifice fly brought Vandermissen home and the Eskymos led 9-7.

Escanaba then put the game out of reach in the sixth, tagging Jurek and Tackman, who came on in relief that inning, for five more runs.

“They just continued to hit and put pressure on the defense. Ultimately, they were just the better team today,” said Lauscher. “When we came out and got the momentum going and the enthusiasm picked up, they’d just come right back and shut us right down. It seemed like every time we got something going, they had an answer.”

The Eskymos had 16 hits in the game, eight of them coming after Bissell’s home run in the sixth.

“Bissell put us ahead by one and it seemed to me like the bats really came alive after that,” said Schwalbach. “We really hit the ball. It’s contagious like that. When things are going good, everybody jumps on board.”

Punzel had the honor of both starting the game on the mound for the Eskmoys and batting in the clean-up position in the order. With his bat, he collected three hits and four RBIs.

“He doesn’t play like a freshman,” Schwalbach said of Punzel’s performance. “He looks like he belongs on a varsity team. He’s just contributing.”

Vandermissen also had three hits. Kleiman, Bissell, Lamb and Jeff Lyle each had two hits and Tyler Skufca had a nice double as a pinch-hitter to leadoff the sixth inning.

“Jeff Lyle had a really nice game. He had a nice hit down the middle, a nice sac-bunt (in the sixth inning) and a bunt single down the left field line,” Schwalbach said. “And Skufca’s double really gave us a lift to start the sixth inning.”

Devin Olson pitched the final two innings when the rain started to come down, acknowledging the lousy conditions.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “But I’m kind of used to it. In districts last year I pitched in downpour rain. This wasn’t all too bad.”

Ballard, Garling and Groleau each had two hits for Gladstone.

The Braves resume Friday, hosting the Sault High Blue Devils in a doubleheader. Escanaba will then host the Blue Devils in a doubleheader on Saturday.