Missed opportunities cost Hancock Legion

HANCOCK – Trailing 3-1 in the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s Mid-Pen League American Legion baseball game, Hancock Post 186 had a glorious opportunity to take the lead against the league-leading Marquette Blues.

Marquette pitcher Luke Swajanen, who had held Hancock at bay through three innings, quickly issued three walks to the hosts, abruptly ending his evening. Trevor Bratonia came off the bench to face veteran Troy Kinnunen, who stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter in the No. 9 spot.

Bases loaded. One out. Top of the order on deck. New pitcher.

But, instead of it all quickly unraveling for Marquette, Bratonia induced a hard ground ball straight at second baseman Derek Stone, who flipped the ball perfectly to shortstop Ryan Hanson, who caught it in stride and fired a laser to first baseman Riley Lynch, who scooped it out of the dirt to get Kinnunen by half a step.

Boom. Picture-perfect, inning-ending, momentum-sucking 4-6-3 double play.

Missed opportunities did in Hancock all night long in its regular season finale, as Marquette went on to win 7-2 at Hancock Driving Park, with the Mid-Pen tournament looming this weekend.

“We out-hit them 7-6, they had 10 strikeouts and we only had three. If you look at the book, just the stat line, you’d say Hancock probably won that game,” Hancock manager Nels Paul said. “But, they made the most of their opportunities and we did not. We left 12 runners on base, loaded twice.”

Perhaps still reeling from its missed fourth-inning chance, Hancock surrendered an RBI single to Hanson in the top of the fifth off relief pitcher Gabe Rupright. It was followed shortly after by a Marquette run scoring on a Mike Saari wild pitch, and yet another, to make it 6-1, on an error by Hancock shortstop Tyler LaDuron, who registered the loss on the mound in four innings of work, despite five strikeouts.

All in all, Hancock utilized four pitchers during its first non-doubleheader outing of the year, which was a make-up game from earlier in the year. Both teams were locked into their spot in the standings – Marquette (28-14, 12-2 Mid-Pen) in first and Hancock (12-13, 6-9 Mid-Pen) in fourth – and both managers approached the game with this weekend’s conference tournament in mind.

“It was a good learning experience more than anything for us down the road,” Marquette manager Derek Swajanen said. ” Overall, we’ve been on a bit of a roll. We’ve won eight in a row, and they’re starting to come together and playing pretty good baseball.”

Particularly defensively. In the first inning, third baseman Hunter Larson bluffed a throw to first, catching Dax Durocher in no-man’s land between third and home. Larson threw home and catcher Levi Underwood held on for the out as Durocher tried to bowl him over. In the second inning, right fielder McKinley Larson laid out for a Sportscenter-worthy diving catch to rob Justin Ruotsala of a base hit to shallow right center, keeping the score 1-1.

In the fifth inning, Mike Saari laced an almost sure-fire RBI single to right center only for the lighting-fast cut-off throw to hold the speedy Alex VanWagner at third base. Bratonia induced an infield flyout to get out of yet another bases-loaded jam.

Even in the seventh inning when a fly ball dropped in shallow right center between three Marquette fielders, who all could have caught the ball, they got the game’s second-to-last out via a force play at second base when LaDuron was stuck in a no-win base-running situation.

“I’m really happy with the way we came up here. We’re a little road weary and tired, but they came up here and did a good job,” Derek Swajanen said.

Marquette will wrap up a rain-shortened game from earlier this week against Gladstone today before this weekend’s Mid-Pen tournament in Channing. Hancock will likely play the hosts in Saturday’s first round.

“We’ve beaten every team in the league, and we’ve been beaten by every team,” Paul said. “It’s really a toss-up.”