BlueSky earns blue ribbon in slugfest
DOLLAR BAY – Game 2 of the Twilight League championship series had everything a fan could want Thursday – every half inning of the seven-inning battle could be a story in itself.
Finally, when the dust settled after almost three hours of baseball and 55 combined base runners, BlueSky Health clinched its first Twilight title with a 19-13 win over defending league champion and fellow co-regular season champion Stanton.
“This series was really like a softball series, 12-10 and 19-13. It was just an unusually high-scoring game, but I’m glad we came out on top,” BSH manager Jason Koski said. “It feels unbelievable (to win the title) but I honestly did not feel comfortable at all throughout the game because they have such great hitters.”
Indeed, Stanton was down 14-4 after just three innings, only to claw its way back to 14-12. Erik Nettell and Josh Koskela drilled three-run home runs in consecutive innings to make it 14-10, and an inning later, in the sixth, Nettell tallied a two-RBI single.
“We didn’t have the strongest pitching performances and fell in a hole, but I have to be proud of our guys for battling back and making a ballgame of it,” said Stanton manager Daron Durocher, who surrendered 11 runs in just 2 2/3 innings as starter and whose team has been in the championship series now 11 straight years. “We could have rolled over and we didn’t.”
The heart of the Wildcats’ order put up staggering numbers in the game. Despite being walked a combined nine times, plus one hit batter, Stanton’s 1-5 hitters were 10-16 with four home runs – Koskela hit two – and all 13 team RBIs. Two hitter Josh Hibbard reached base in all six plate appearances.
“The middle of their lineup was absolutely squaring up the ball better than I’ve seen any batters in my whole career. It had to be looking like a beach ball to them,” said BlueSky’s Luke Peterson, who helped the former Wolverine-Luigi’s team to four Twilight championships in the past and had arguably the biggest hit for his new team Thursday.
After Stanton had trimmed its deficit to 14-12, and Nettell, in relief of Durocher, had kept BlueSky at bay for two innings, Peterson took his turn playing long ball. Owen Kariniemi scored earlier in the bottom of the sixth on a wild pitch, Keith Halonen earned one of Nettell’s six walks and Paul Moyryla set the table for Peterson with a single. Peterson, a lefty, then unloaded on a low fastball, the first pitch he saw in the at-bat, drilling it well over the right-field fence.
“It’s fun, especially when you hit it and you really don’t feel it, so you know you got it good,” he said. “That’s kind of what you live for in baseball.
” It’s fun to work with a different group of guys and get them over the top.”
Unlike for Stanton, whose bottom four hitters were 2-for-16 (though they were missing Paul Kuoppala, who was at Michigan Tech’s first fall football practice), everybody contributed offensively for BlueSky. All nine starters had a hit – eight of them had at least two – and five batters had multi-RBI games.
“Our bats were kind of sluggish all year, but we came through in the end,” said Ray Wojtala, who hung on for the pitching win Tuesday and was forced into an unexpected save situation Thursday.
Koski pulled himself out after surrendering seven runs in four innings, and Scott Storm struggled to find the strike zone in relief, walking seven batters in 1 2/3 innings. Wojtala took the mound with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth and two outs and got Chris Saari to smoke a line drive right back at him to end the inning.
“It was either that or my face,” Wojtala said. ” Tuesday was a rough outing for me and somehow I got through that one. (Thursday) it was just adrenaline, championship game, sixth inning, four outs left, do or die.”
Nobody was happier than him when Peterson gave his team breathing room with the three-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
“I might have been jumping up and down more than him. That was a clutch shot right there,” said Wojtala, who was later given playoff MVP honors by his team.
Instead of a nail-biter seventh inning, the score was 19-12 going into Stanton’s last at-bats. Wojtala surrendered two walks and an RBI single to Hibbard, but otherwise, with the help of several solid defensive plays behind him, he quickly shut the door on a Wildcat comeback.
Plaques were awarded to the two teams after the game for their regular season co-championship, to BlueSky for winning the league championship, to Wojtala for playoff MVP and to Pat’s Foods pitcher Lee Naugle for regular season MVP.
“They had more pitching and they hit the ball all over the place. They were the better team,” said Durocher, who, in his role as league commissioner, hopes to have at least five teams back in Twilight League again next year.
“I think there’s no reason there shouldn’t be five, and hopefully we can start expanding,” he said.