Baseball: Braves beat IM for district title

Iron Mountain's Caleb Johnson winds up for a pitch against Gladstone in the Division 3 District Championship Saturday at Gladstone. (Justin St. Ours/The Daily Press)

GLADSTONE — The score wasn’t indicative of the actual gameplay here Saturday as the Gladstone baseball team shut out the Iron Mountain Mountaineers 7-0 in the Division 3 district championship game.

Gladstone, which beat Newberry 11-2 to advance to the championship, hosts Negaunee in the regional semifinals Wednesday.

There were five total hits entering the bottom of the fourth inning. After a walk and a hit batter, two were on base for the Braves. Zach Hanson singled on a hard ground shot to score Christian Cretens and take a 1-0 lead, but a lineout finished the inning before they could capitalize on the momentum.

Not being able to find an offensive rhythm, Gladstone (26-7) switched to a small-ball approach.

In the bottom of the fifth, a walk and a single by Dan Martin put two runners on. A sacrifice bunt from Cody Frappier moved the runners into scoring position, and a line drive double by Cooper Cavadeas scored Martin and Carson Shea. However, Iron Mountain’s Bryce Pietrantonio caught a runner stealing third to halt the Braves’ momentum.

“We played a little small ball, and that worked out well for us,” Braves’ coach Kelly Shea said. “It was a good win for us. I would definitely say it was the small ball (that helped). We couldn’t get anything going, so I told the guys to try some bunting and shake things up a little bit. Then we had two base hits on bunts, and that really takes the wind out of the other team’s sails when you start doing stuff like that. That’s what we did, and it worked.”

In the top of the sixth, the Mountaineers (18-5-1) loaded the bases with two walks, a single and no outs. Then, an unusual double play shook up the inning. CJ Bolo flied out, and Eli Lofholm left third base too early and was called out after reaching home plate.

“Our plan was to win,” Mountaineers’ coach Paul Julian said. “We have a hitting team, and the boys have been kicking butt all year. Our pitching was right. Our plan was to save (Caleb) Johnson and (Blake) Julian until the end, and we made it here. We kept it a 0-0 game until the fifth inning, and then Gladstone opened up on us.”

The Braves added three more in the bottom of the sixth.

“We’ve been to the district championship games two years in a row,” Mountaineers’ coach Ed Felten said. “I thought we handled them really well. I’m really proud of our kids, of our programs and of the coaches. We could’ve won this one as well as lost it. The baseball gods just happened to side with Gladstone.”

Coach Shea believes a change at the plate will help the team in regionals.

“To move on, you’ve got to win the districts, right? So it was on our list,” he said. “Our conference was the first thing on it, and we checked that off. Now we won the district, and we’ll just keep on working hard. The regional will be the next thing to work on. We have to find a way to get going early and find some bats early. We’re just going to have to have a different approach at the plate. We’ll be trying a different approach there.”

Jared Crow earned the win over five innings, allowing four hits and three walks while fanning three. Riley Baldovski pitching two innings in relief. He struck out one and allowed one hit. Frappier and Cavadeas both finished with two RBIs and one hit, and Hanson notched one hit and one RBI. Shea also collected two hits.

Johnson took the loss for Mountaineers over 5 1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits, five runs (four earned) and five walks while striking out one. Julian finished with two hits and Caleb Johnson, Marcus Johnson and Gavin Goulette all notched one hit.