Miners swipe another Esky tourney

ESCANABA – The championship game of the Bink’s Coca-Cola Invitational baseball tournament went right down to the wire Saturday night as the Negaunee Miners escaped with a 7-6 victory over the Escanaba Eskymos in nine innings.

Negaunee’s Grant Johnson, who led off the ninth with a single to leftfield, later scored the game-winner on a fielding error.

The victory made the Miners 3-for-3 in invitational tournaments this season. They also won the Esky Lions Invitational two weeks ago and Norway Invite last weekend.

“It seems like our guys really step up for the tournaments,” said Negaunee manager Mark Hill. “Our defense was awesome. When they hit the ball, we made the plays. Before this year, we had never won an invitational tournament in Negaunee baseball history. To win all three this year is very encouraging.”

After Johnson reached base, the Eskymos elected to intentionally walk Tyler Jandron and Eric Lori to load the bases with two outs. Jay Lori then reached on the miscue, scoring Johnson.

“We didn’t want to pitch to Jandron in that situation with the way he was hitting, and the following guy had a couple hits,” said Esky manager Kirk Schwalbach. “By doing that we thought the odds would be in our favor.”

But the younger (Jay) Lori got aboard, which obviously pleased the Miners.

“We were confident Jay would hit the ball,” said Hill. “He was due. This was a heart-stopper. It’s always a tough game with Escanaba.”

The Eskymos still had an opportunity in the bottom of the ninth.

Jack Valentine led off the inning with a single to left-center and Bailey Lamb doubled to left, putting baserunners on second and third with nobody out.

Valentine, however, was thrown out trying to score on Hunter LaMarch’s grounder, which appeared to roll past Jandron (at shortstop), leaving runners on the corners with one out.

“We really thought Jack could score,” said Schwalbach. “We didn’t think Jandron would get to the ball in time. But he did and made a perfect throw (to home).”

Moments later, Lewis Ostrander hit into a double play and the Miners became tourney champions.

“Lewis had it by a step-and-a-half, no doubt in my mind,” said Schwalbach. “And so did the Negaunee manager, who apologized to us after the game. He even said he that he hated to see the game end that way. But the umpires made the call and we have to live with it. Sometimes the breaks don’t go your way. But I think we’ll be a better team for it.”

Negaunee scored twice in the seventh, gaining a 6-2 lead when Chad Larson and Jandron scored on throwing errors.

The Eskymos then rallied to tie the score in their half of the seventh.

Valentine drew a two-out bases-loaded walk to trim Esky’s decifit to 6-3, chasing Tyler LaJoie from the hill.

Jandron then took over the mound duties and walked LaMarch and suddenly Esky was within 6-4. Sean Bissell followed with a double to left, tying the score at 6.

“It was a great game,” said Schwalbach. “I’ll give our kids a lot of credit. They didn’t quit. Biz had a good at-bat. Our kids were patient.”

Negaunee scored a run in the first and two in the third before Ostrander’s infield single got the Eskymos on the board in their half of the third.

The Miners made it 4-1 in the fourth when Larson scored on a fielder’s choice.

Esky trimmed its deficit to 4-2 in the fifth on Tyler Skufca’s single to center.

The Eskymos reached the title game by by winning their sixth straight in a 7-2 conquest of Houghton.

Ben Kleiman, who struck out seven through six innings, took the win. Devin Olsen scored twice and Bissell drove in two runs.

Jandron fired a two-hitter and fanned 13 through five frames as Negaunee topped Alpena 5-3 in its opener. He also had two hits and drove in a pair of runs.

“To come here and beat good Alpena and Escanaba teams, it’s a good day,” said Hill. “These are good tournaments to come to.”

Alpena whipped Houghton 11-1 in the consolation game.