Pinconning boys on their way to state finals
OGEMAW HEIGHTS — Pinconning hadn't needed much in terms of luck this season to run up a 37-2 record and the top ranking in the state Division 2 baseball poll.
The Spartans found themselves thankful for every good break that came their way Saturday afternoon as they came from behind to beat upset-minded Escanaba 5-4 in a nine-inning thriller that seemed all but lost on several occasions. The victory, coming after a much more routine 8-2 win over Benzie Central, nets the Spartans their second regional title in three years and a rematch of the 2007 state quarterfinal contest against Mt. Pleasant.
"Everyone needs a break at some point (in the state tournament)," said Pinny coach Jeff Sanak. "For the most part we haven't needed them, but we got some huge ones today."
Escanaba pitcher Jordan LeMire -- the same Eskymo pitcher whose assortment of breaking balls knocked highly-ranked Ogemaw Heights out of last year's regional tournament -- kept the Spartans off-balance all day, but was undone by some shaky defense behind him.
All five of the runs scored against him were unearned, but none was bigger than the miscue that led to the game-tying tally in the bottom of the seventh.
Brett Saha led off the inning with a walk and advanced to second on Andy Shoemaker's sacrifice bunt. LeMire intentionally walked Coty Swinson to face Lucas Foco with two outs, and Foco grounded to third for what looked to be the game-ending play.
But instead of throwing to first for the easy out, Esky's third baseman tossed to second to try to force Swinson and threw the ball into right field. Saha scored the tying run from second base on the play, and the Spartans suddenly had new life.
Winning pitcher Casey Pashak worked out of a two-on, none out jam in the top of the eighth -- making a huge play himself, throwing out a baserunner at third on an attempted sacrifice -- then singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Even that score needed a break to go the Spartans' way as Saha reached base on a third strike passed ball that rolled to the backstop. Shoemaker's third sacrifice of the game put him on second for Pashak's game-winner.
"He'd been throwing curves at us all day," Pashak said, "so I was kind of looking for another one. But mainly I just tried to get some good metal on it.
"This is pretty amazing. We (won a regional title) when I was a freshman, but this is 10 times better."
Pashak pitched the final four innings in relief of Foco to earn the win, shutting out the Eskymos on two hits while striking out one.
"It's nice to bring in a kid like him," Sanak said. "Casey's a big-game player, a gamer. In the end he's probably the best pure baseball player we have.
"We played some great defense today, really as good as we have all season. Our outfield did a great job all day, and when Casey was at shortstop, you kind of take him for granted, but he made some tough plays look easy."
Foco eased through a dominant first inning, but took a line drive off the ribs on his glove side to lead off the second. Foco gutted it out through the fifth, allowing four runs on seven hits, including a solo home run by Escanaba center fielder Tony Peacock that gave the Eskymos a 4-3 lead.
Ryan Way nearly made it back-to-back round-trippers with a shot to deep center that Shoemaker ran down to end the fifth, and Sanak went with Pashak to start the sixth.
Pinny took a 1-0 lead in the first on Pashak's first RBI single of the day, but Escanaba took a 2-1 lead in the second on Brett Jenshak's RBI single and Austin Young's sacrifice fly. Peacock added a sacrifice fly in the third to make it 3-1, but Pinny tied it in the bottom of the third on runs-scoring singles by Swinson and Steve Moore.
Escanaba advanced to the championship game with a 5-0 victory over Big Rapids in the day's first semifinal.
The Spartans used a five-run fourth inning to break open a 1-1 game with Benzie as Cody Firman had an RBI single, Pashak added a two-run hit and two more runs scored on an error on a Swinson ground ball. A second error on that same play allowed Swinson to come all the way around to score.
Charles Hine ignited the five-run rally with a leadoff double, Firman added an RBI double in the sixth and Swinson clouted a home run in the seventh.
Travis Garbulinski picked up the win, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out three.
Pinny and Mt. Pleasant (25-10) faced off in a regular-season doubleheader a month ago, with the Spartans winning twice. The Oilers eliminated NEMC runner-up John Glenn 4-3 in the Bullock Creek regional title game.