DOLLAR BAY - Lower-seeded Pat's Foods (4-11 regular season) took full advantage of a clean slate entering Tuesday's playoff opener at BlueSky Health (9-6) and a rare surplus of players, edging out the hosts 5-4 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three playoff-opening Twilight League baseball series.
C.J. Lepisto's solo homer in the second at-bat of the game and Lee Naugle's two-run fifth-inning blast paced Pat's offensive effort, but, unlike at other times during the season, pitching and defense were also clicking for the visitors.
Pitcher Preston Hutchens, who was playing just his sixth game of the year (his first since July 5) due to work in Marquette, struck out seven batters in seven innings - including striking out BlueSky's 1-2-3 hitters consecutively to end the game.
BlueSky Health’s Mark Nordstrom jumps over Pat’s Foods catcher Andrew Ewer, scoring safely and giving BlueSky a short-lived 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. Pat’s took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning and won 5-4 in Tuesday night’s Twilight League playoff opener. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
BlueSky Health’s Keith Halonen slides for home as teammate Chase Sturos emphatically gestures for a slide, but Pat’s Foods pitcher Preston Hutchens applied the tag to maintain Pat’s 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. (DMG photo by Stephen Anderson)
"We really needed him tonight," Pat's manager Pete Guidotti said. "He got stronger as the game went on. He was a little rusty, but man, he came through for us.
"They're a tough team to beat and it's the first time we beat them this year. It feels good."
Lepisto's home run against BlueSky starter Ray Wojtala sailed just over the left-field fence, but both Wojtala and Hutchens escaped further damage through the first two innings.
Pat's 100 121 0 5 6 1
BSH 002 101 0 4 8 3
WP: Preston Hutchens 7 IP, 4 R, 8 H, 7 K, 1 BB
LP: Ray Wojtala 7 IP, 5 R, 6 H, 3 K, 6 BB, 1 HBP
Pat's: C.J. Lepisto 2-4, HR, RBI, R; Lee Naugle 1-2, HR, 2RBI, 2 BB
BSH: Dan Juopperi 2-3, 2 2B, RBI; Brian Juopperi 2-4 RBI
Wojtala dodged a bullet in the top of the third after issuing three walks to load the bases before inducing an inning-ending flyball.
Finally he got some run support in the third when Brian Juopperi hit an RBI single that drove in his brother Dan, who had led off the bottom of the third with a double. Luke Peterson then drove in Brian to give BlueSky its first lead.
But it was short-lived.
Andrew Ewer's fourth-inning single up the gut scored Corey Downey, who had reached via walk - Wojtala walked six and hit a batter during the game - and stolen second base.
But the tie was short-lived, too.
Mark Nordstrom singled to left field before Dan Juopperi's second double of the game scored him to make it 3-2 after four innings.
It was the last lead the hosts would have.
Naugle's blast made it 4-3 Pat's in the fifth, and Travis Tollefson scored in the sixth by virtue of a wild pitch sort of. A third of the way home he thought better of the idea, but his retreat induced a throw from catcher Dan Juopperi that went into left field, allowing Tollefson to freely cross home plate.
"We made a few errors in the field, Preston pitched a good game and we just didn't get any timely hits," BlueSky manager Jason Koski said. "Pat's deserved to win. It's do or die now."
Tollefson's run was the difference after a Nordstrom sacrifice fly pulled BlueSky within 5-4 in the sixth inning. But Hutchens shut the door with three straight strikeouts.
"I basically told myself I wanted to strike out the side," said Hutchens, who felt he clicked particularly well with catcher Ewer throughout the game. "I just dug deep and I was throwing as hard as I possibly could and hitting spots."
The win felt particularly good for Hutchens as revenge for Pat's 4-3 loss to BlueSky in the Jack Pastore tournament semifinals on June 30, a game in which Hutchens also started.
The defense played strong behind him as well Tuesday, despite a pair of key injuries. Shortstop Dan Pertile hurt his calf muscle during warm-ups and centerfielder Carl Roscoe hurt his wrist and face laying out for a fly ball in the third inning.
Fortunately for Pat's, which has struggled to pull together enough for a full lineup several times this season, everybody came Tuesday.
"We had extra people tonight, and tonight we really needed them," Guidotti said.
The teams will play game two of the series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hancock Driving Park.