MARQUETTE - In many ways, this was just an ordinary game between Marquette and Escanaba.
Which explained why the American Legion baseball contest between the visiting Cubs and home Blues was so intense and competitive on Tuesday evening.
Representing two of the three largest cities in the Upper Peninsula, the players are used to battling each other in most every sport as their high schools often face each other in Great Northern Conference contests.
Escanaba second baseman Nick Vandermissen is unable to field a throw as the Marquette Blues’ Alex Baker slides safely into second base on Tuesday at Haley Memorial Field in?Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
On Tuesday, the Cubs jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the second inning only to have the Blues come back and take a 7-6 lead by the end of the fifth.
Still trailing 8-6 entering the seventh, Escanaba mounted a five-run comeback in the do-or-die final inning for an 11-9 victory.
"They took this probably as more of a special game than you should for a single game played in the middle of the week," Esky manager Tom Ohman said. "But I told them I'd like us to be at least at .500 when we host our own tournament this weekend."
And they'll enter the Gregg Johnson Memorial Tournament with a 3-3 record with Tuesday's victory after waiting to start their season until Escanaba High School completed its run in the state tournament.
"It was really exciting to get a win against a team like them," Cubs catcher Alex DeHaan said. "They've got a quality team and they've been good for awhile."
Now 26-7 with its season running since mid-April, Marquette Blues manager Derek Swajanen could sum up Tuesday in one word - frustrating.
"It was just very, very frustrating the errors we made out in the field tonight," he said about a five-error game.
The errors came in the first, second and seventh innings, not coincidentally when the Cubs got 10 of their 11 runs.
"I'm just very, very, very disappointed in our defense," Swajanen said, reiterating his earlier point. "I'm just so frustrated."
He said he's seen his team suffer through a midseason slump - they're about halfway through what could turn into a 70- to 80-game campaign - but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
"We left a lot of runs on the board, and that's been the story of our season," he said. "I hope we're getting that out of our system."
With the exception of a 1-2-3 third inning, the Blues stranded runners in every inning, including 10 over the final four innings.
After Escanaba came back in the top of the seventh to take a three-run lead, the Blues looked to turn the tables in their half of the frame.
Working against Cubs closer Austin Young, Marquette loaded the bases with one out on an infield hit, walk and error. Second baseman Eric Kostreva brought one man in with a sacrifice fly, but after fouling off several pitches, Adam Gannon hit a grounder to third to end the game.
"You can't ask for more than putting the tying run on base in the seventh," Swajanen said.
Marquette opened the game by committing two infield throwing errors that led to three first-inning runs. Two more came in for Escanaba in the second, but it could've been worse if starting pitcher Nick Kamrada hadn't struck out the final two batters.
Marquette immediately turned around in the bottom of the second as Kostreva and Levin Underwood cracked hard-hit doubles to open the inning. Riley Lynch's single and another hard double hit by Cody Nordquist pulled Marquette within 5-3.
The Blues played small ball in the fourth, parlaying two throwing errors on sacrifice bunts along with three singles and a trio of walks to take a one-run lead with one out.
But Esky averted a much bigger rally when starting pitcher Ben Kleiman reloaded the bases before wriggling out of that jam, and did similar work in the fifth, putting men on second and third without either scoring.
Reliever David Falish allowed a run in the sixth, but Marquette again stranded three runners.
DeHaan and Young both said they buckled down in the seventh, finding holes in the infield for hits that weren't there earlier in the game and using two more Marquette errors to score five times.
Young finished 3 of 4 with two runs scored, while teammates DeHaan, Ben Kleiman, Nick Vandermissen, Justyn Doucette and Bailey Lamb had two each.
For Marquette, Underwood was 3 of 4 with two RBIs while the top four batters in the order - Cody Nyquist, Ryan Walther, Alex Baker and Jared Wales - had two hits each.
Falish got the decision despite giving up a run in his only inning, while Kamrada took the loss as he went 6 innings and allowed 13 hits.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.