Baseball: Squatches repeat as UP Hardball Classic champions

Fox Cities holds off Langsdorf 3-2 for UP Hardball Classic championship

Fox Cities pitcher Luke Watson throws to Langsdorf's Paul Pulera in the championship game of the 48th annual UP Hardball Classic on Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, at Ranger Field in Iron Mountain, Mich. Fox Cities won 3-2. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Fox Cities put up two runs in the first and held off Langsdorf 3-2 to repeat as champions of the 48th annual UP Hardball Classic on Monday.

It’s Fox Cities’ seventh UP Hardball Classic championship in eight years. Langsdorf won it in 2016.

“Early on, their pitcher was throwing a lot of fastballs. Fortunate we were able to get up early,” Fox Cities player-manager Kevin Kangas said. “Then he made some adjustments and kind of shut us down the rest of the game. Luckily our pitching and defense were able to hold on. Give them credit too, they had a lot of chances to score. Fortunately we were just able to come out on top. They’re a good team.”

The Squatches took a 2-1 lead in the first when Justin Hallock hit an RBI single to score Courtney Watkins to tie the game followed with a sacrifice fly to score John Hendrick.

A double by Kevin Kangas scored Iron Mountain native Jacob Husing in the second for the Squatches’ winning run.

Langsdorf threatened in the sixth as Harry Steldts scored on an RBI groundout by John Hasser. The tying run was stranded at second base on a flyout to centerfield.

“It was a hard fought game,” Langsdorf manager Jason Dennis said. “That’s a heck of a pitcher over there. That’s a heck of a team. We usually see them and it comes down to one mistake and one little play. We just missed that big hit.”

Both teams played error-less ball except for a booted grounder by Langsdorf second baseman Mark Cibrario in the fourth inning. Except for that, both teams battled through strong pitching and defense.

Watkins made two sliding catches for the Squatches in centerfield as well as chasing down a deep fly to dead center that he grabbed within a couple steps of the fence.

“Courtney’s made some really great plays,” Fox Cities first baseman Kevin Kangas said. “I’ve played with him for five or six years now and what he does everyday just continues to amaze us. Really just gotta make the easy plays and the tough plays make it that much better.

“A really clean game says about the quality of the defense both teams were playing. That’s the kind of baseball you want to watch, just error-less baseball, two good teams battling it out.”

Fox Cities pitcher Luke Watson went the distance and earned the win. He struck out four, walked two and gave up seven hits. His fastball was clocked at 90 mph.

Langsdorf pitcher Brad Young kept Fox Cities nearly as off-kilter as Watson, striking out eight, walking one and giving up three hits. His fastball was clocked at 86.

While Langsdorf never found the key hit, the bats didn’t go quietly against the Squatches, who had to get around hard ground balls in the infield and chase down liners and deep flies in the outfield. Defense like Watkins’ in centerfield with a couple sliding grabs and chasing down a deep fly in the gap was what kept Langsdorf from gaining an offensive foothold. But Dennis said he still liked his team’s approach at the plate.

“You got our four hitter here and hits a rocket and think that’s extra bases at least and (Watkins) made really nice plays out there,” Dennis said. “That’s why they’re the championship teams. Our approaches were good. We worked their pitcher and made him throw strikes. It wasn’t a lot of strikeouts. They only had four on the day, so our guys went up there and battled each and every pitch.”

Fox Cities beat Bonduel 11-1 in the semifinal, while Langsdorf beat Bimbo’s 906, 13-3.

“I gotta give hats off to our pitchers. It’s a tournament and you ask a lot out of them,” Dennis said of Langsdorf battling to the championship game. “They battled and and we had pitchers that went deep into games and stepped up. A couple runs might have been scarce early on and we put a pile on in the last game. All around they played great.”

Kangas said facing a longtime UP Hardball Classic opponent like Langsdorf is part of what his Squatches team looks forward to in making the trek from the Appleton and Oshkosh area.

“They bring a good squad every year and they give us a run for our money every year. It’s just really good baseball,” Kangas said. “The tournament in general, just a really good setup they got here with good teams and good competition. It’s a really fun weekend for us getting together with old friends.”

The tournament moved to Iron Mountain’s Ranger Field after 47 years at Felch. The tournament featured eight teams including three from the UP: 906, Houghton and Marquette. Tournament organizer Ed Felten said the smaller field at Iron Mountain led to more exciting plays like tags at home plate and hustle doubles.

“What people were concerned about was there wasn’t a 400-foot centerfield and that there was going to be more home runs,” Felten said. “There were seven home runs for 13 games. But what I noticed different in Felch is it ran (in the gaps) but at the same time you saw truer cuts. You had plays that were made a base ahead. You saw great offense, but you also saw great defense. This was a great tournament for baseball.”

Temperatures ranged from the mid-6os to mid-70s through the touranment with clouds and some sprinkles to sunny and partly cloudy, but no games were postponed or rained out.

“It’s a really nice field. Really nice playing surface. It turned into a great atmosphere,” Kangas said. “Overall just a beautiful setup they got. I just want to thank Ed, Dek (Forstrom) and Paul (Julian) for all their hard work putting this together.”

NOTES: Bimbo’s 906, Marquette and Houghton were composed of players from the UP’s Twilight and Superiorland baseball leagues. The winners of each league, Stanton (Houghton) and Marquette County, play in an upcoming game for the UP crown. … The UP Hardball Classic features a wide variety of talent ranging from current high schoolers, to former college and professional talent. The UP Hardball Classic has had players who won a World Series ring, including Marquette native Kevin Tapani (1991 Minnesota Twins), Iron Mountain resident John Hiller (1968 Detroit Tigers). Former Tigers pitcher and 1976 Rookie of the Year Mark Fidrych also played in the UP Hardball Classic. … Some players from Langsdorf said they played upwards of 80 games during the summer not including the UP Hardball Classic. Others said they played anywhere from 15 to 50 games.

Langsdorf 100 001 0 — 2

Fox Cities 210 000 0 — 3