Little League Minor boys: Esky advances after marathon shootout victory over Gladstone

ESCANABA – It took two hours and 24 minutes and a total of six pitching changes between the two teams, but the Escanaba Minor boys (age 9-10) are headed to the final four after persevering over their Delta County rivals from Gladstone 14-8, Thursday evening at Dickson Field.

“They hung in there, they never gave up, never said die. They kept fighting,” said Escanaba manager Steve Howes. “They made big plays when it counted and we had great pitching. It was a good game by Gladstone too. It was just a really well-played game by everybody.”

It was a game that featured multiple momentum shifts. Escanaba struck first and led 2-0 after the first inning and Esky starting pitcher Hunter Lancour kept the Gladstone All-Stars in check early on, diffusing a bases loaded situation in the third inning.

In the bottom of the third, Nathan Howes hit a deep fly ball to left center field that turned into an inside-the-park home run, and it seemed like everything was going Escanaba’s way.

Gladstone turned that notion upside-down in the fourth, as they scored five runs. With two runners on and one out, Steven Weinert hit an RBI single. Gladstone then scored three straight runs off of passed balls before Cameron Ballard’s sac-groundout scored John Falcon.

After watching its lead evaporate, Escanaba got back to work in the bottom of the inning. The Esky All-Stars loaded the bases with one out before Ballard had to be taken off the mound for Gladstone due to reaching his pitch limit. That led to Weinert stepping into a bases loaded situation.

Jaygar LaMarch was walked to score a run, Ayden Mylander scored on a passed ball, Adam Willette doubled to drive in two runs and Brett Schlenvogt singled to drive in a run. Just like that, Escanaba regained the lead 8-5.

“That’s the character of our players, they didn’t give up,” said Howes. “Their backs were against the wall and they stepped it up.”

Gladstone manager Steve Viau acknowledged it was a tough situation for Weinert to face.

“Steven has come through all year for us. I put him in a tough situation and for 9-10 year olds, that’s a lot of pressure to put on them,” he said. “I’m not disappointed in what he did. I think no matter who I put in there, it’d be the same thing. I did what needed to be done and I think he was proud to be put in that position. For a 10 year old, he did great. They all did.”

Gladstone tied the game up in the top of the fifth when Owen Trombley scored on a wild pitch and Caden Downey’s double drove in two more runs. The Gladstone All-Stars had a chance for more, but Polley was forced out at home after attempting to score on a passed ball.

Escanaba got all the insurance it needed in the bottom of the inning, scoring five more runs, four of them directly off passed balls as focus may have become an issue as the game passed the two-hour mark.

“We had to switch some of the players around because they were having a difficult time and not learning the positions in two weeks,” said Viau. “And they were hesitant. They did really good except being hesitant and the other team putting the ball in play.”

Gladstone started off the sixth with a hit but NIck Rosseau was able to shut the rally down and Escanaba held on for the victory.

Nathan Howes went 3-for-3 with a walk, Mylander was 3-for-4, Jayger LaMarch was 2-for-3 with a walk, as was Jordan Shafer for Escanaba. Gladstone was led by Falcon who went 4-for-4 at the plate. Trombley and Ballard were each 2-for-4.

“I’m proud of every one of our kids,” said Viau. “I think they did excellent for the amount of time we had to work with them. Give me another two months and we’d make it all the way to states. That’s how confident I am in them.”

Escanaba will open the final four Wednesday at 6 p.m. EDT at Barkle Field in Iron Mountain. They will play the winner of the losers’ bracket from the Iron Mountain side of the bracket.

“We’re going to give it our best shot,” said Howes. “We’re probably going to be the underdog, but that’s alright with us.”