Kuoppala spurs Stanton to Pastore Tournament title

HANCOCK – It is a dilemma that has haunted baseball managers ever since Babe Ruth started swinging for the fences.

When, if ever, do you intentionally walk the hot batter?

Twice during the Jack Pastore Memorial Tournament final Saturday BlueSky Health manager and starting pitcher Jason Koski was faced with a tough decision and both times Koski elected to give Stanton cleanup hitter Paul Kuoppala a free pass.

Both times the move backfired.

It is easy to sympathize with Koski’s selection. Kuoppala had taken the BlueSky right-hander deep twice in the back-and-forth final, plating three runs each in the third and fourth innings with blasts over the Hancock Driving Park wall. So when Kuoppala came up with two more men on base in the sixth inning, and the Wildcats trailing by a run, Koski simply took the bat out of Kuoppala’s hands, choosing to face No. 5 hitter Chris Saari, who promptly drove in two runs with a soft line drive to right field.

Then, after BlueSky managed to tie the game in the top of the seventh, Koski drew Kuoppala again, this time with the bases empty in the bottom of the eighth inning. Looking to avoid Kuoppala’s bat at all costs, Koski broke a cardinal-dictum of baseball and intentionally walked the potential winning run on base.

Even without a bat in his hands, Kuoppala made BlueSky pay. The Michigan Tech linebacker stole second on the second pitch Saari faced, and took third base on the ensuing throwing error to eventually set up a bases-loaded situation for Brooks Olson. The long-time Wildcat hit a no-doubt single to right, and Stanton walked off 12-11 champs.

“That one felt good,” Kuoppala said of the stolen base that gave Olson a chance for heroics. “I hadn’t stole all game so I figured they didn’t think I was going to take second or anything. I don’t like walking, I need some action.”

“I would never put the winning run on base,” Stanton manager Daron Durocher replied when asked about the situation. “That is my theory. I think you take your chances. Yeah (Kuoppala) hit a couple out today, and yeah he has been on a hot streak, but you have to take your chances.

“Of course hindsight is always 20/20 but I don’t like putting the winning run on base.”

Kuoppala ruined what had been a great start to the day for BlueSky.

The Dollar Bay-based team reached the Pastore final with a 13-3 mercy rule victory over Pat’s Foods – Stanton earned its way with a wild 14-13 squeaker over Mosquito Inn-Toivola -and had taken an early 7-0 lead over Stanton in the first inning by drawing four walks and cobbling together four hits against pitcher Matt Farrell.

But Kuoppala has never been hotter, and he belted his fifth and sixth home runs of the last two weeks to pull the Wildcats within striking distance.

“Probably before Legion days,” Kuoppala said of his last multi-homer day. “It has been a few years. I have taken a few days off of softball, and I think that had messed with my swing a bit, trying to hit the moonball.”

“Wow, he has been impressive,” Durocher added. “Just a hot bat we are riding right now. A great job by Josh (Hibbard) and Matt (Farrell) for getting on in front of him too.”

Missing regulars Dax Durocher, Brady Olson, Erik Nettell and Josh Koskela, Stanton still managed to score 26 runs on the day with a makeshift lineup that Durocher called his deepest in years.

“Today was kind of ridiculous,” Durocher said. “We would give up runs and then get them back – it was see-saw games all day.

“We were missing a bunch of guys, but we have a really deep lineup this year, deeper than usual. Sometimes it is nice when people miss because we have a lot of guys who deserve playing time.”