By TOM KAESER
MENOMINEE - The Kingsford Blues ran out of hits and fell one win short of a return trip to the Class A American Legion state tournament.
After defeating Menominee 3-1 in a game continued from Friday, Kingsford managed just one hit in a 4-1 loss to Escanaba Saturday in the U.P. Zone Tournament.
Tom Kaeser/EagleHerald Photo
Kingsford players switch to their rally caps during the seventh inning of Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Escanaba in the U.P. Zone Tournament. Pictured, from left: Nick Sweig (helmet), Brandon Kowalkowski, Anthony Rebera, Michael McCole, Devon Oslund and Kevin LeClaire.
"It was a great run and these are great kids to coach," Kingsford manager Kevin Murdock said. "I am real proud of the way they practiced and played all year.
"This team has a lot of potential only losing four players (Austin Murdock, Bryce Kerscher, Nick Sweig and Devon Oslund). The bulk of the pitching staff will be returning and that is a great place to start."
Escanaba's Tyler Skufka and Andrew Sedlar combined to hold the Blues hitless until Nick Sweig poked a one-out single in the seventh inning.
The Blues managed to scratch out a 1-0 lead while not hitting the ball out of the infield in the fourth inning.
Austin Murdoch reached on a dropped third strike and the Cubs booted Brian Johnson's hard grounder to short. Murdoch scored when Esky misplayed Wes Paupore's grounder.
Murdoch, who pitched the final three innings in Kingsford's win over Menominee, shut down Esky on two hits before the Cubs made the most of just one hit in a three-run fifth inning.
The Blues (17-15) mounted a two-out rally in the seventh when Aidan Wienke was hit by a pitch and Swieg lined his pinch-hit single. But a force at second ended Kingsford's tournament run.
"We had some balls hit hard, but they were right at people," Murdoch said.
David Falish had two of Esky's four hits, including a double in the third inning.
Sedlar didn't allow an earned run over the final 3 2/3 innings to earn the win. He struck out two and walked one. Skufka no-hit the Blues through the first 3 1/3 innings. He chalked up six strikeouts before giving way to Sedlar.
Murdoch struck out three and allowed just three hits, but allowed four walks in his five-inning start while taking the loss.
The Blues close the season with an 18-15 record.
"Look what you did," coach Murdoch told his players after the loss. "You battled back and battled back.
"We just didn't get any hitting to win this game. I thought the Esky pitchers did a good job keeping us off balance. But the bottom line is one hit will not win you games."
A lockdown relief effort by Murdoch was crucial in the Blues' win over Menominee.
The Red Wave held a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning and put their first two hitters on with walks.
Murdoch came on and fired bullets, chalking up two strikeouts and forcing a liner to second to squelch the Menominee threat.
"He throws hard and he throws strikes," Murdoch said. "We've used him in relief all year. We can count on him."
Jaden Kleinke limited Kingsford to two hits before the Blues broke through for all three of their runs in the fifth inning.
Dan Olson reached on a one-out error, C.J. Qualley legged out a grounder to deep short and walk to Cole Tengesdahl loaded the bases with one out. Murdoch tied the game with a single through the box and Bryce Kerscher followed with a clutch two-run single to right.
"That was huge," coach Murdoch said of Kerscher's single. "That was big for Bryce and for us."
Murdoch allowed just two hits, fanned three and didn't allow a walk in his three innings of strong relief to earn the win.
Aidan Wienke started for the Blues and allowed just two hits but walked five in his four innings. Five players had one hit each for Kingsford.
R.J. Woods drew three walks and had a single for Menominee.
After Friday's heavy rain washed out the tournament schedule, the Menominee and Kingsford game resumed in the bottom of the third.
"As a coach I don't like it," coach Murdoch said of the overnight wait. "Today it was a four-inning game and anything can happen."
Gladstone won the zone title with a 3-0 record. Sunday's championship round game with Escanaba was called after two innings due to wet grounds with the Indians leading 15-0.
Escanaba, which won three games Saturday, took second and Hancock was third. Gladstone plays Hancock in its state tournament opener Thursday and Escanaba plays the winner of Ida and Gladwin.
(Tom Kaeser is assistant sports editor of The EagleHerald in Marinette, Wis.)
Kingsford 000 030 0 - 3
Menominee 001 000 0 - 1
WP - Austin Murdoch 3IP, 0R, 2H, 0W, 3K
LP - Jaden Kleinke 7IP, 3R, 2ER, 5H, 2W, 7K
Leading Hitters: Kingsford (Bryce Kerscher 1x3, 1B, 2RBI; Austin Murdoch 1x4, RBI) Menominee (R. J. Woods 1x3, 3W; Derek Reiswitz 1x4, RBI)
Kingsford 000 100 0 - 1
Escanaba 000 031 x - 4
WP - Andrew Sedlar 3 2/3 IP, 0R, 2H, 1W, 2K
LP - Austin Murdoch 5IP, 4R, 3ER, 4H, 4W, 3K
Leading Hitters: Escanaba (David Falish 2x3, 2B; Ben Kleiman 1x3, 2B, 2RBI)