Toivola locks up playoff spot

L’ANSE – Thanks to the quirks of a five-team league and the complications of several rainouts this year, the stakes were as high as they could be Tuesday night for a Twilight League game between the bottom-dwellers in the standings, Mosquito Inn (Toivola) and the L’Anse Lakers.

With a victory, Toivola clinched one of the four playoff spots with two games remaining. A loss, and they would need a lot of help to make the postseason tournament.

Toivola (5-8) brought the necessary urgency, scrapping out nine runs through the first four innings then holding on for dear life as L’Anse (3-8) roared back in the seventh with a spirited, but ultimately, failed comeback attempt.

Chalk up the final score 9-8, and write it in permanent marker for the standings – Toivola’s in, and L’Anse is out.

“This was basically a playoff game,” Mosquito Inn manager Rexx Janowiak said. “Because we are up two games now with two games to go and we have the tiebreaker (a 2-1 series advantage). If we had lost it would have been tough for us. This was a big win tonight.”

After stalling in the first inning with three straight strikeouts, the Toivola offense flipped the script on L’Anse pitcher Kris Turunen, swinging early and often in the count to collect eight hits and nine runs over the next three frames.

L’Anse aided Mosquito Inn’s cause with three official errors and several other defensive efforts they failed to make good on. Turunen gave way after 3 2/3 innings pitched to Luke Paul – who shut down Toivola with 2 1/3 innings of shutout ball – but the damage had been done.

“L’Anse helped us out early with some errors, but everyone was putting the bat on the ball and forcing them to make the play,” Janowiak said. “We didn’t have a lot of strikeouts, and that is how you win games.”

The nine run outburst gave Toivola starter Robert Brooks all the help he needed as the wily righty kept the Lakers off-balance for six innings with an assortment of off-speed pitches.

He helped his own cause as well in the third inning with a no-doubt, two-run bomb over the centerfield fence.

“Robert is like an old veteran – you can’t rattle him,” Janowiak said. “He is out there to have fun, he is going to throw strikes and give you a chance. It was nice to be able to go to him tonight, and he pitched a good game.”

Brooks may not have rattled, but he did tire.

After six sterling innings the Toivola starter visibly tired in the seventh, letting four of the first five L’Anse batters reach base in to start the seventh frame. Turunen, Jeff Roth and Brett Martinez all collected hits to chase Brooks from the mound, and then L’Anse manager Larry Lindlbauer greeted reliever Will Williams with a two-RBI single to cut the lead to one with two outs to go.

“You have to give L’Anse credit,” Janowiak said. “Those kids battled back, they played hard and they made a (heck) of a game out of it.”

But as quickly as the comeback started, it ended.

Williams struck out leadoff hitter Scott Gerzetich and induced a routine ground ball to shortstop from Travis Tollefson that should have ended the game. Shortstop Luke Roberts couldn’t find the handle, however, leaving the tying run on third base with three-hole hitter Jake Jaeger at the plate.

No matter. Three straight knee-buckling pitches down in the strike zone and Williams earned the playoff-clinching K.

“It is tough to rattle Will,” Janowiak said. “He is calm and collected up there. He knew he needed to throw strikes and make his pitches and he did that.”