Indians edge Cubs, take Zone title

MARQUETTE – The bats came alive for the Gladstone Indians in the fourth and fifth innings Saturday as they earned a 5-3 American Legion baseball triumph over the Escanaba Cubs in the Upper Peninsula zone championship contest.

Gladstone erased a one-run deficit by collecting all of its hits and doing all its scoring with two out in each frame of the Class A final at Gerald Haley Memorial Field.

The victory enabled Gladstone to receive an opening-round bye in the state tournament, which begins Thursday at Gladwin.

“I think this is the first time we ever came up with a bye,” said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. “Anytime you can save some arms, it’s huge.”

Esky gained a state tourney berth as zone runner-up and Marquette, which thumped Ishpeming 13-0 in five innings in Saturday’s third-place game, also qualified.

The Cubs open Thursday at 9 a.m. against Petoskey, with the winner facing Gladstone at 3 p.m.

Gladstone trailed by a run in the fourth on Saturday, but surged ahead on Sam Pouliot’s 2-RBI triple into the rightfield corner.

The Indians then added a pair of runs on a single to center by Jake Pearson, the tourney’s Most Valuable Player, for a 4-1 cushion in the fifth.

“It feels great to be MVP of this tournament,” said Pearson. “Before this, I was struggling at the plate. But coach (Robert) Hardwick helped make some adjustments in my stance and it paid off. I didn’t want to leave those two hanging out there. Anytime you get little bit of a cushion, it helps calm the nerves for everyone.”

A short time later, Gladstone’s advantage grew to 5-1 on Christian Groleau’s single to center.

Esky, which fell to Gladstone for the fourth time this season, didn’t go away quietly.

Nick Vandermissen pulled the Cubs within 5-2 on a single to right in the sixth. Bailey Lamb then clubbed a single to left, trimming Esky’s deficit to the final two-run margin.

Esky threated again in the seventh as Sean Bissell singled to center, advanced to second on a botched pick-off attempt and took third on a fielder’s choice.

Winning pitcher Jake Peterson then retired David Falish on a flyball to right, which was snagged on a diving effort by Pouliot.

“The sun was a big factor (in right) at times and Sam make heck of a play on that ball,” said manager Groleau. “If Sam doesn’t make that play, they’re within 5-4 and Falish is on second with the tying run.”

Pearson had similar thoughts on the Indians keeping Esky from scoring in the seventh.

“They (Esky) like to hang around,” he said. “We can’t let them keep doing that because you never know what might happen.”

Esky’s Tyler Scukfa, who received an honorable mention after Pearson was selected MVP, opened the scoring with a home run to right in the first.

“Tyler’s a gamer,” said Esky manager Tom Ohman. “He had a great tournament and Justin Popelka pitched heck of a game. I think the errors we made hurt us more than anything. We kind of booted two plays which cost us the game.”

The fourth frame started on a promising note for the Cubs when Scufka singled to right. But Peterson then struck out Brandon Punzel and got Vandermissen to hit into a double play to end those hopes.

“That was the talk coming into our dugout,” said manager Groleau. “Being able to score two in our half of the fourth was also huge. The kids knew they had to get some hits because we were down at that point. Also, they had a young pitcher who was throwing heck of a game.”

Popelka, who worked five innings, absorbed the loss. He struck out five and walked five.

Peterson went the distance, striking out three, walking one and allowing eight hits.

Christian Groleau had two hits for the Indians. Scufka and Lamb led the Cubs with two apiece.

Gladstone reached the title game with a 14-4 rout of Ishpeming in five innings.

Hunter Garling tossed a three-hitter, struck out six and walked four. All of his free passes took place in the second when the Blue Storm scored four times to take a 4-3 lead.

The Indians regained the upper hand in the third, taking advantage of three errors and putting six on the board for a 9-4 advantage.

Christian Tackman led Gladstone with three hits and Pearson added a pair, including a two-run homer in the fourth.

Esky, behind the three-hit pitching of Punzel, blanked Marquette 6-0 in the other semifinal.

Punzel fanned seven and walked one for the Cubs, who scored four times in the fifth.

“Brandon really stepped up,” said Ohman. “That’s the best I’ve seen him pitch since Little League. The reason why we did so well against Marquette is we made the plays.”