Cubs finally solve EUP, stay alive in Legion Zone Tournament

MENOMINEE – Less than two weeks ago, the Escanaba Cubs faced the Eastern U.P. Travelers twice in the Sault Ste. Marie Invitational American Legion baseball tournament and dropped 8-2 and 10-1 decisions to their hosts.

That didn’t mean anything Thursday, however, as the Cubs eliminated the Travelers 2-1 from the Upper Peninsula Zone tourney.

Esky (10-16) returns to Spies Field to face Marquette Blue today at 2 (EDT) in an elimination game. The winner meets Kingsford or Menominee at 5 in another loser’s bracket contest.

The Cubs threw their ace Ben Kleiman, who pitched 5 1/3 innings and struck out five, walked two, hit a batter and gave up a run on five hits. Andrew Sadler worked the final 1 2/3 frames, allowing just one hit and recording two strikeouts.

“Ben has been our horse all year and gave us all he could, and Andrew has been solid for about three weeks now,” said Esky manager Tom Ohman. “Only, we’re now in a situation where we have to scramble for arms.”

The Cubs, who had baserunners in scoring position in all seven innings, broke through with both of their runs in the fifth.

Esky trailed 1-0 after four innings, but Brandon Punzel’s single to centerfield pulled the Cubs even and Bailey Lamb’s single center provided the game-winner.

“That was a big boost for our guys,” said Ohman. “I think it especially helped Ben because he was starting to run out of gas. The kids were very good at the plate. Hopefully, they’ll gain a little confidence from this.”

The Travelers (19-12), who had won 15-of-16 heading into the post-season, opened the scoring in the second on Michael James’ single along the leftfield line.

“We peaked too soon,” said Travelers’ manager Greg Rambo. “We were playing good ball. We went 6-0 in our tournament and were hitting the heck out of the ball. They (Cubs) scored the same number of runs as they did at our place. Only, we didn’t hit the ball this time.

“Also, two of our games got cancelled and we cancelled one. We took 10 days off and shouldn’t have.”

The Travelers appeared to be in position to add to their lead in the second, with two on the basepaths and one out.

At that point, James was on second and Dakota Zuhlke was on first when a flyball to left by Lukas Steiker appeared to be caught by Jeff Lyle.

Following nearly a 10-minute discussion with both coaching staffs, the umpires ruled it wasn’t a catch and James was out at third.

“That was a play that really hurt us,” said Rambo. “The umpire didn’t decide right away whether a catch had been made. We didn’t know whether to send our baserunner.”

Kleiman then prevented further damage by striking out Frank Bailey.

The Cubs collected eight hits off Jake Harrison, who fanned five, walked two and hit a batter.

Punzel and Hunter LaMarch had two hits each for Esky, which committed an error in each of the first two frames.

Kolbe Peller had two hits for the Travelers, who finished with three miscues.

Hancock (16-14) qualified for the state tournament with a 5-1 triumph over Marquette, also securing a top three finish in this tourney. Winning pitcher Ty LaDuron ripped a two-run homer to left in the first.

Gladstone (26-18-1) also landed a state tourney berth, rallying past Menominee 5-4 in nine innings. The Indians face Hancock in a winner’s bracket game today at 5.

Kingsford kept its hopes alive by whipping Ishpeming 11-0 and Channing 13-1.