Gladwin KO’s Eskymos

CADILLAC – Maybe it was because the Escanaba Eskymos was facing a pitcher they haven’t seen before. Maybe the layoff hours between games killed their momentum from the team’s earlier 6-1 win over Newaygo, in the morning. Or maybe it was both.

Whatever the reason was, Gladwin was the better team on Saturday and took home the school’s first MHSAA Division II Regional Championship, as the Escanaba baseball team failed to consistently record hits and manufacture much offense in a 4-1 loss.

“We just couldn’t get the bats going,” Escanaba head coach Kirk Schwalbach said. “I don’t know if it was the layoff, or we were tired. I don’t know. We just couldn’t collectively get our bats going.”

Gladwin’s Jake Shell leaned on his curveball and off-speed pitches to keep the Escanaba batters off-balance all afternoon. Shell allowed just one run on five hits, and five walks. He recorded three strikeouts.

“His curveball is extremely effective and keeps hitters off stride a little bit,” Gladwin head coach Troy Gary said. “It makes his fastball look a little faster than it probably really is. He has a nice sharp curveball and was really effective throwing it today.”

Offensively, Gladwin (24-9-1) got the scoring started in the top of the first inning. With two outs, the combination of Drew Cantrell’s single and a throwing error by Escanaba allowed Richie Mathis to score from first base and give Gladwin an early 1-0 lead.

Escanaba’s lone run came in the bottom of the fourth inning. Ben Kleiman hit an RBI single to left field that allowed Devin Olsen to score from second base to tie the game, 1-1.

Escanaba pitcher Tyler Skufca managed to settle in and hold Gladwin up until the fifth inning.

Then, for the second time on the afternoon, Gladwin manufactured another run with two outs. This time, in the top of the fifth inning, Ethan Gray notched an RBI single to score Kyle Kigar and put Gladwin back on top 2-1.

Gladwin would tack on two more unearned runs off of Escanaba errors in the sixth inning, to make it 4-1.

The Eskymos’ best chance to mount a big offensive inning, took place in the second inning, as they were able to load the bases. Shell found himself down 3-0 in the count to Escanaba’s Brandon Punzel, but Shell fought back and managed to record the strikeout to end the inning.

“Both pitchers did a nice job throwing,” Gary said. “That was just the way a regional final should be, two quality teams going at it.”

Skufca pitched all seven innings and allowed four runs-one earned-on eight hits, one hit batter, and zero walks. He tallied four strikeouts.

“I thought Tyler pitched a good game,” Schwalbach said. “He pitched good enough and he deserved better.

“One run is not going to do it-not at this level. You get one run and it’s tough to win a game.”

To get to the regional championship game, Escanaba had to first take care of Newaygo in the regional semifinals.

Similar to the game against Gladwin, Newaygo (23-6-1) also managed to score a run off of Escanaba in the top of the first inning. Jake Warren scored from third on a passed ball to make it 1-0.

In the Eskymos’ first at-bat, a patient approach at the plate paid off. With Newaygo’s pitcher Matt Milbourne struggling on the mound to find the strike zone, the Eskymos drew four walks in the first inning, which led to two runs.

The difference in the game ended up being what each team did when they had the bases loaded. Newaygo’s turn with the bases full yielded no runs, as Escanaba’s Devin Olsen struck out Newaygo’s Robby Mendham to end the top of the second inning.

“Devin was just in command the whole game and he made quality pitches when he had to,” Schwalbach said.

With the bases loaded for Escanaba in the third inning, Jack Valentine hit a pop fly to center field, but Newaygo was unable to field the ball cleanly, and Escanaba scored three runs on the error to make it 5-1.

Kleiman managed to add an insurance run for Escanaba in the bottom of the sixth, as he recorded an RBI single that scored Corey McInerney from third base to make it 6-1.

“We had our opportunities, no doubt about that, but we have to make plays defensively and we have to be able to throw strikes,” Newaygo head coach Jeff Milbourne said. “We knew that going in and we can’t give bases up. Give credit to their pitcher. He did a great job, and they got the hits when they needed to and we didn’t.”

Devin Olsen earned the win for Escanaba and allowed just one run on three hits, and three walks, while tallying nine strikeouts over the seven innings. He also led the team with two of Escanaba’s four hits. Kleiman and Punzel recorded the other two hits.

Matt Milbourne started the game for Newaygo and pitched three innings and allowed five runs-one earned-on two hits and six walks, and three strikeouts.

Andrew Middleton came in for relief and pitched the last three innings, and surrendered one earned run on two hits and a walk. Middleton recorded one strikeout.

For Escanaba (17-10), Schwalbach doesn’t want the loss against Gladwin to overshadow the team’s season and the district championship they won this year.

“There was a lot of talk that we were down a little bit, or this or that,” Schwalbach said. “It was just a good group of kids. They never quit.

“The Petoskey game spoke to the character level of the kids. We came out and won the first game today and we put ourselves in position. We had a chance and it doesn’t happen this time, but maybe it prepares us in the future for some of these younger kids. This will certainly make us better.”