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Blues earn state tourney bid despite Zone Championship loss to Gladstone

Marquette's Hogan Nemetz winds up to pitch against Gladstone during the Zone 5 American Legion baseball championship game played at Gladstone on Sunday, July 21, 2019. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Justin St. Ours)

GLADSTONE — Gladstone took an early lead and hung on against the Marquette Blues 9-3 on Sunday to clinch the Zone 5 American Legion baseball championship and continue its quest for a state championship three-peat.

“It’s exciting, and it’s great for all the kids to experience it,” Indians manager Justin Jurek said. “These younger kids that got brought up, not only were they able to contribute, but they got to it experience it as well.

“I think everyone’s excited. We’re in familiar territory, so I think everyone’s ready, but excited, too.”

The game, postponed from Saturday due to rain, was somewhat anticlimatic as both teams had already clinched berths in the Class A state tournament that is scheduled to begin Thursday in downstate Gladwin.

“It’s nice for Marquette to be back to the state tournament,” Blues manager Derek Swajanen said. “I was really happy with the work the guys have put in. They put a lot of work in, and I think this is our first loss since July 6. We’ve been playing really good ball.”

Marquette was the only team in the event without a loss entering Sunday, as the Blues had a 3-0 pool record and won in the semifinals Saturday. Gladstone was 2-1 in its pool and also won in the semis.

Third place was awarded to the Copper Country Flames after the third-place game was not played due to Menominee’s forfeit. And the Flames were also awarded a berth in the state tourney, joining Marquette and Gladstone.

In Sunday’s game, the Indians, the visiting team despite playing at home, opened with a four-run first inning. A single and walk were followed by a Jared Crow RBI double to left field that scored Carson Shea. Ian Schwalbach scored Blake Krouth on a sacrifice bunt for another run before Cody Frappier smashed the ball over the left field fence for a two-run homer.

“We came out with a lot of energy right off the bat, which we haven’t seen a lot of this season,” Jurek said. “So it was good to see that in the postseason, we’ll have energy and be ready to go.

“Getting off to a 4-0 lead … helps the defense and helps the pitcher relax. It kind of puts the pressure on them and not us.”

In the top of the third, a hit batter and a walk put two on base for Gladstone. Caden Alworden singled on a hard ground ball along the third base line to score Cody Frappier and make it 5-0.

The Blues loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning after two walks and a Peter VandenAvond single. A sacrifice fly by Blake Henriksen scored Brendan Kaski for Marquette’s first run.

But Gladstone added three more in the top of the fourth for an 8-1 advantage. Crow’s RBI single to center scored Krouth, Schwalbach’s ground single scored Dan Martin, and Ben Kelly drove Frappier in.

“You can’t afford to give up four and three runs like that,” Swajanen said. “You take those innings out of it, we dropped two pop-ups, one ball hit the lip and one ball hit the bag. That’s the difference.

“Baseball’s a game of luck. It’s the difference of three or four pitches. We didn’t execute those couple of defensive plays, and we can’t afford to do that.”

The Blues scored in the bottom of the fourth on a bases-loaded walk to VandenAvond, while Gladstone notched another run in the seventh.

“On the other standpoint, I think we defended their bunts and their special teams … rather well,” Swajanen said. “I feel really good about how the boys played. Three or four bad plays, but we kept battling. We kept getting runners on and we didn’t give up.”

Schwalbach earned the pitching victory for Gladstone over 5 2/3 innings, striking out six and allowing three runs on four hits and seven walks. Shea pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief, allowing just a walk.

Frappier finished with two hits, two RBIs and three runs, while Crow notched two hits, two RBIs and a run. Schwalbach had a hit and two RBIs, and Alworden had two hits and an RBI.

Starter Hogan Nemetz took the pitching loss for the Blues over five innings, striking out three while allowing eight runs on 11 hits and four walks. Cooper Myers pitched an inning in relief, allowing two walks while striking out three, and Jacob Allard-Soucey took the final inning, allowing a run on three hits and a walk.

VandenAvond finished with a hit and RBI, while Henriksen collected an RBI. Jon Jason, Kyle Frusti and Allard-Soucey each finished with a hit.