Gregg Johnson Memorial Tournament: Indians top Travelers 3-2

GLADSTONE – Persistence paid off for the Gladstone Indians Friday night as they outlasted the Eastern Upper Peninsula Travelers 3-2 in nine innings in their Gregg Johnson Memorial American Legion Baseball tournament opener.

Justin Jurek scored the game-winner on a suicide squeeze bunt by Cody Frazer with one out in the ninth, providing the Indians with their 10th straight victory.

With the international tie-break rule in effect, Jurek started the ninth on second base with nobody out. Jurek then reached third on a bunt by Christian Tackman, setting up the decisive play.

“That was a great play by Cody,” said Indians’ manager Jim Groleau. “We didn’t execute the bunt very well early in the game. We had four opportunities to get it done during regulation play and didn’t do it. But when we really had to do it, Cody came up with the big play. Much of that goes to Justin Jurek. He didn’t break too early. This wasn’t our best offensive performance. But the kids played excellent defense and that kept us in the game.”

The Sault Ste. Marie-based Travelers missed an opportunity in the top of the ninth when they had runners at first and third with one out. Tackman, however, retired the next two hitters to end the threat.

“That has been the story of our season,” said Travelers’ coach Billy Mitchell. “We just haven’t been able to get the key hits. Give Gladstone credit. That was a great play by them (Frazer’s bunt).”

The Indians (12-7), who got their leadoff hitter aboard in six of the first seven innings, stranded 13 baserunners in the contest.

Gladstone tied the score in the third when Christian Groleau drew a bases-loaded walk. The Indians, however, left the bases loaded in that inning and again in the fourth.

The Travelers (4-7) opened the scoring in the first on Devon Dear’s sacrifice fly to left field, and Dakota Zuhlke made it 2-0 on a wild pitch in the second.

Hunter Garling then trimmed Gladstone’s deficit in half on an error in its half of the second.

Gladstone’s Lucas LaCosse appeared to strike out with two out in the second. Travelers’ catcher Nathan LaJoie, however, dropped the ball and LaCosse reached base on the miscue.

“That was the key to the game,” said Mitchell. “The ball hit the bat (while laying along the baseline), which should have been an out. That run shouldn’t have scored. But that’s baseball. You have to be able to play above it. What are going to do? You have to keep playing.”

Manager Groleau said he didn’t see the ball hit LaCosse’s bat on that play.

“It’s not like he’s trying to hit the ball,” he added. “That’s just one play in a nine-inning game. Each team had opportunities to win the game.”

Christian Groleau tossed a three-hitter through eight innings. He struck out one, walked six and gave up two runs on three hits. Tackman took the win in relief.

“Christian threw exceptional tonight,” said manager Groleau. “He struggled with the strike zone early. But from the third inning on, it was lights out.”

Andy Krupa also worked eight innings, striking out three, walking five, hitting two batters and allowing two runs on five hits. Frank Bailey, who worked the nine, absorbed the loss.

“Andy pitched a great game,” said Mitchell. “He was just funky enough to keep them off balance.”

Shortstop Jake Pearson had two of Gladstone’s hits, including a leadoff single to center in the second.

The Travelers, who also fell to Plover, Wis. 6-1 on Friday, had all of their hits in the first three innings against the Indians.

Also on Friday, Plover rallied past DePere, Wis. 6-5. DePere then beat Petoskey 10-2.

Following their game against Sault Ste. Marie, Gladstone fell 1-0 to Petoskey. Scott Morris threw a two-hitter for Petoskey, striking out two and coming away with zero walks.

Jake Pearson took the loss for the Indians. He struck out seven, walked eight, and allowed three hits through six innings.

Gladstone is scheduled to host DePere at 4:45 p.m., followed by their matchup against Plover at 7 p.m.