October 24, 2014

Pinny loses tough quarterfinal game

Spartys finish 37-3 on the year

By Brent Baker|Special to the Independent
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MOUNT PLEASANT — Pinconning had the lofty ranking heading into Tuesday's Division 2 state baseball quarterfinal. Mt Pleasant's Oilers brought with them a more modest record, but also the experience and confidence of a program coming off back-to-back state championship game appearances.

The Oilers now have a chance to win their second state title in three seasons after first chipping away at, then burying, the Spartans' hopes for their first trip to Battle Creek since 2005, pulling away to a 10-5 victory that ended Pinny's season.

Mt. Pleasant (26-10) takes on East Grand Rapids in a state semifinal game on Friday.

"I knew we going to be good this year, but I thought we were a year away from being great," said Pinny coach Jeff Sanak, pointing out that six juniors and a sophomore started Tuesday's game. "Next year we could be great. Today you could look and see a lot of things that we need to get better at."

The Mt. Pleasant didn't play a perfect game, it's early-inning execution ratcheted the pressure up on the top-ranked Spartans.

The Oiler's Jon McCann opened the top of the first with a bloop single to center, stole second and took third in Casey Hill's groundout. Brett Burch was hit by a pitch, which set up a successful double steal that saw McCann swipe home as Burch got caught in a rundown between first and second.

Burch pulled off a perfect sacrifice squeeze bunt in the third that scored Eric Cumming from third and Burch himself scored on Charley Hisey's RBI double off the left field fence to make it 3-0.

The Spartans stayed it through the first five innings, scratching out an unearned run against Oilers ace Tyler Higgins in the fourth on Steve Moore's sacrifice fly.

The game turned on the last out of the fifth, when Pinny pitcher Lucas Foco took a line drive off his pitching hand. He recovered to throw out Hill, the batter, but had throw his final pitch.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to Lucas out in the sixth," Sanak said. "He'd been through their order two and a half times without his breaking stuff working well. That made it a no-brainer."

What wasn't a no-brainer was whether to sacrifice the stellar defense of Casey Pashak at shortstop and have him pitch, or bring in Travis Garbulinski from left field.

The Spartans went with Garbulinski, who in early May held Mt. Pleasant to six hits and one earned run in a complete-game win.

Garbulinski recorded the first two outs of the sixth on two pitches. But then the roof caved in as the Oilers scored seven runs on six hits and an error. Ron Sanders had a double, McCann had a two-run triple and Burch added an RBI triple in the rally.

"We thought of going with Pashak, but we got the first two outs on those two pitches. They next thing they've scored seven runs.

"They've improved a lot since we saw them," Sanak said. "We haven't give up seven runs in an inning since the first weekend of the season. When you score five runs here, you should be able to win, but we just gave up too many."

The Spartans rallied in the bottom of the sixth, getting a double from Foco, consecutive RBI singles from Garbulinski and James Perry, bases loaded walks to Brett Saha and Andy Shoemaker and a sacrifice fly from Pashak.

Blake Higgins -- who came on in relief of his cousin midway through the rally -- kept things under control by retiring Coty Swinson on a fly to left with runners on first and third.

"When you go 37-3, it's nothing to be ashamed of," Sanak said. "Did we want to get to Battle Creek? Yeah. But it just wasn't our day today."

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