The Great Lakes Loons battled back from a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning and tied the visiting West Michigan Whitecaps at one run apiece, forcing extra innings; while treating 2,001 Loons fans to a great pitcher’s duel at Dow Diamond Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, back-to-back big hits from Whitecaps center fielder, Austin Schotts and second baseman, Javier Betencourt in the top of the eleventh inning ultimately gave the first place Whitecaps (39-26) a 3-1 victory over the fifth place Loons (30-35). With only 5-days remaining in the first half of the MWL season, the Whitecaps have all but guaranteed a post-season playoff berth; while the Loons were already mathematically eliminated from any chance at an early post-season spot.
The turning point came when Whitecaps CF, Austin Schotts ripped a one-out blast off of the top of the left field wall in the top of the eleventh inning; causing home plate umpire, Matt Winter to initially signal a home run. After Loons skipper, Bill Haselman kindly asked Winter to confer with his field-partner, the two umpires ultimately came to the conclusion that the ball had hit off the top of the wall, and ordered Schotts back to third base, giving the Loons a glimmer of hope. The next West Michigan batter, Javier Betencourt crushed an RBI single to score Schott, giving the Whitecaps a 2-1 lead. Whitecaps left fielder, Raph Rhymes then hit an infield grounder to force Betencourt out at second, but the Loons were unable to complete the double play to get out of the inning. Still with two outs, Rhymes advanced to second base on a wild pitch, then third on a passed ball. When Whitecaps first baseman, Dominic Ficociello hit (what looked like) a routine fly ball to left, it seemed the nightmare might be over; but Loons left fielder, Jacob Scavuzzo somehow lost the ball in the lights & wind as the ball seemed to drop right through the webbing of his glove, allowing Rhymes to easily score the third and final run for West Michigan.
The Loons only managed five team hits -three off the bat of second baseman, Jesmuel Valentin. After Valentin led off the eighth inning with a double, Loons OF, Jacob Scavuzzo followed Valentin with an RBI single to tie the game, eventually sending the game into extra innings. Loons third baseman, Paul Hoenecke led off the bottom of the eleventh with a double, and eventually advanced to third, but the Whitecaps closer finished with three consecutive outs to end the game.
The Loons actually had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth when Joey Curletta reached base on a one-out walk, and was replaced by pinch-runner, Malcolm Holland. Things started to look up after Loons first baseman, Josmar Cordero reached second base on a throwing error by Whitecaps third baseman, Francisco Contreras (who overthrew Ficociello at first base after a routine groundball); which allowed Holland to advance to third base. West Michigan –looking for the double play- chose to intentionally walk Alex Santana to load the bases with only one out in the bottom of the ninth. After Loons DH, Webster Rivas struck out, Loons SS, Dillon Moyer popped-out on a high foul ball near the mesh netting behind home plate; where West Michigan catcher, Tim Remes ended the Loons threat. “We had five hits, and ‘Val’ (Jesmuel Valentin) had three of them, Scavuzzo certainly had a big hit, and Hoenecke at the end there to try and keep things going,” said Loons Skipper Haselman. “But, I mean they pitched well, so you have to give them credit when they do well.”
Both starting pitchers were very strong Tuesday. Whitecaps starter, Chad Green (1-2, 3.17 ERA) gave up only 2-hits, 3-BB, and 0-runs through 5.2 innings Tuesday, setting up reliever, Zac Reininger (1-0, 3.06 ERA) for his first win of the season. “They have some good arms, but we had our chances to win that game,” Haselman said. “We pitched well too, but they just outlasted us.”
Loons starter, Scott Barlow (1-2, 4.35 ERA) was nearly as efficient as West Michigan’s Green. Barlow gave up 7-hits, 3-BB, and 1-run through 5-innings of work, and the Loons defense were able to force West Michigan to strand 15-runners. Barlow gave up three consecutive two-out hits in the top of the fifth inning; the third of which bounced off the glove of Loons third baseman, Paul Hoenecke and into left field, allowing a run to score, giving the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead. Although Barlow gave up 7-hits, he was able to hold the Whitecaps to just one run, getting himself out of multiple jams. “We were doing a good job of holding runners, he (Barlow) just had that one ground ball that went off of Hoenecke’s glove,” said Haselman of his starting pitcher. “But he did a nice job getting out of some tough situations and kept his composure; he pitched five innings and only gave up one run, you can’t ask for more than that.”
The Loons will host the Whitecaps again tonight at Dow Diamond, then again on Thursday night; both games are set to start at 7:05 pm. The Loons will then host the Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays affiliate) Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the final three games of the first half of the MWL season; with the MWL all star game set for Tuesday June, 17 in Comstock Park, Mi at West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ball Park.