Esky pulls off split with Alpena

ESCANABA – A lack of timely hits and a couple mental mistakes cost the Escanaba Eskymos a chance to rally past the Alpena Wildcats in the first game of a doubleheader Friday night at Al Ness Field.

The Wildcats unflappable pitcher Cody Tucker, backed up by solid fielding hung on to win 4-3.

Esky gained a split by scoring three unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and then hanging on for a 10-9 triumph.

Tucker was hit early for three straight singles and allowed nine hits over a complete seven innings. He only struck out three Eskymos but it was his ability to get out of jams and bend but not break that kept Escanaba in check.

“Cody hasn’t had a lot of innings, but we gave the guys the pitching rotation when we came and said ‘just do the best you can,’ and he battled through and did a good job today,” said Alpena manager Scott McKenzie. “He kept throwing strikes. There were a few times where he three three balls, but he seemed to be able to get pitches he needed and he came through for us.”

Escanaba down 3-1 from the third inning on, faced a 4-1 deficit entering the seventh before their rally attempt began.

Devin Olsen led off with a walk followed by back-to-back hits from Jeff Lyle and Ben Kleiman to load the bases with no outs. Sean Bissell hit into a fielders choice to score a run. Then, Nick Vandermissen launched a sacrifice fly to score another run, but on the same play, Bissell reached for second before turning back to first but was thrown out for the double play to end the game.

Earlier in the first inning, Bissell was thrown out at home after the ball was thrown to second base too late to stop Vandermissen from stealing.

“We missed two signs today and ran when when we weren’t supposed to,” said manager Kirk Schwalbach. “Mentally we didn’t play well and that hurt us. With the bases loaded, we made another mental mistake, not knowing how many outs there were, and you can’t make that mistake. Sean is a better player than that, he just wasn’t thinking.

“Who knows? Maybe the next guy gets out and you don’t win anyway, but you like to give yourself a chance.”

The Eskymos took a 1-0 lead in the first after Bissell, Vandermissen and Brandon Punzel all singled, with Punzel getting the RBI.

Olsen confounded the Wildcats on their first run through the order, striking out seven batters, four in the first two innings.

But the Alpena hitters adjusted and their second time up to bat in the fourth inning, they let loose, loading the bases with no outs, on two walks and a base hit. Zach Nash was then hit by a pitch to score a run and Brady Marwede launched a high sacrifice fly before Dylan Hoes singled in a run to give the Wildcats a 3-1 lead.

“Sometimes, for whatever reason, it takes us an inning or two to get into the game,” said McKenzie. “We’re a young team still, but what a lot of our hitters have been doing, is they keep taking these long swings and we have to get shorter to the ball a lot of the time.”

Alpena (15-3) added an insurance run in the seventh when clean-up batter Gulio Fantasia ripped a base hit with a man on third.

In Game 2, Esky’s Cam Beversluis tied the count at 9 with a single and scored the game-winner on an error in the sixth.

Ben Kleiman then retired the Wildcats in order in the seventh to earn the save. He recorded the final out by striking out Fantasia, who collected five hits and drew four walks in the twinbill.

Jake Rodman, who pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief, took the win in a contest which there were five hit batsmen.

“The kids hung in there and put the ball in play,” said Schwalbach. “It seemed like things weren’t going our way the whole night, but we got a few hits at the right time. Pitching was better in the first game. The pitchers were struggling with command and mistakes cost both teams.”

Lew Ostrander and Kleiman drove in two runs apiece for Esky (12-3), hosts the Bink’s Coca-Cola tournament today at 10 a.m.

“I think the kids are starting to believe they can play with anybody,” said Schwalbach. “I think this is one of the better Alpena teams we’ve seen in a long time.”