Legion Baseball: Esky Cubs finish second in state

ADRIAN, Mich. – The postseason for the Escanaba Cubs had been a magical ride, like catching lightning in a bottle. They just couldn’t quite put the icing on the cake Saturday in the American Legion baseball State Tournament at Adrian College.

Devin Olson and the Esky Cubs defeated Gladstone 1-0 in the loser’s bracket final, Saturday morning, setting up a state final of Escanaba vs. Hudson. The Cubs gave it everything they had in a tight title contest, but fell 4-3 and settled for state runner-up status.

But what a run it was for the Cubs (16-19). A team that peaked at the right time culminated its season with Olson on the mound tossing a complete-game no-hitter. Olson was dominant, striking out six and only walking one. Gladstone (31-20-1) had two total baserunners.

“Devin was phenomenal. He had everything going, his changeup, curveball, his fastball had good gas. He deserves a lot of credit. He struggled up to this point but he brought his A game,” said Esky manager Tom Ohman.

Escanaba scored the winning run in the top of the seventh. With two outs, Dave Falish ripped a single and stole second. Gladstone catcher Cody Frazer then threw a ball away to the outfield and Christian Groleau picked it up. Falish took off for third base and Groleau threw an airball over the fence, enabling Falish to score the only run the Cubs needed.

“There was probably a little bit of fear in us,” said Ohman. “We haven’t beaten Gladstone all year and we weren’t the most confident coming in. We didn’t want to play them in this tourney, but that’s what it came down to and it probably ended up being the best game of the tournament.”

Gladstone pitcher Christian Tackman also threw a gem, limiting Escanaba to three hits.

Gladstone assistant manager Robert Hardwick said the loss was certainly not due to a lack of effort from his team.

“The kids gave it everything they had, they just didn’t hit the ball,” he said. “It was one of those deals. Tackman threw well, there isn’t much else you can do. The poor guys gave it everything they had. It just makes for a long weekend in that loser’s bracket.”

Gladstone’s two runners came on a walk and Hunter Garling got on via an error.

“Hunter bunted and reached first on an error and we sac-bunted him to second and a wild pitch got him to third, but we couldn’t drive him in,” said Hardwick.

It was a somewhat surprising end to the season for the Indians, who had some red-hot bats coming into the game.

“It was a good run and the boys played well. We had the one game against Hudson where we hit the ball right at somebody all the time and lost 2-0, but after that we were on a roll,” said Hardwick. “Everything went our way. We scored 10 runs one game, five the next and 15 against Hancock. Things were going good.”

In the state title game, Hudson roared out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning as they got to Cubs pitcher Tyler Skufca.

“Tyler was maybe a little nervous,” said Ohman. “He didn’t have good location and got behind in the count and Hudson was hitting well too, they brought 8 guys to the plate.”

Escanaba answered right back with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Falish led off with a walk and Nick Vandermissen followed with a base hit. Ben Kleiman then ripped a big triple, scoring two runs and Bailey Lamb launched a double to knock in Kleiman. The Cubs had an opportunity for more runs with runners on third and first, but a groundball and a baserunning mistake ended the inning.

Skufca settled in and It was razor close the rest of the way, but Hudson scored the winning run in the fifth on a double up the middle.

Escanaba had in opportunity in the seventh when Devin Olson pinch hit and ripped a single and Falish followed with a hit. But with runners on first and second, Vandermissen grounded out to the pitcher, Kleiman was intentionally walked and Bailey Lamb popped up to end the game.

“The kids were disappointed but they got over it pretty quick,” said Ohman. “They knew where we were the whole season and where we ended up. It wasn’t a bad season for a team that was below .500 all year.”

To top things off, despite losing to Hudson in the final, Escanaba’s Dave Falish was presented with the Hal Newhouser award as the tournament’s MVP.

“The committee guy said they just couldn’t give it to anyone from Hudson. They said Falish was hunting for hits, getting base hits and he played tremendous in the field,” said Ohman. “It’s really nice for the Esky Cubs, the fact that we got a prestigious American Legion award for one of our players.”