STANTON - The word that comes to mind after watching BlueSky Health and Stanton open the three-game championship series for Twilight League Tuesday night is 'battle.'
The players battled with high-80s heat and humidity to keep fresh and focused. Both starting pitchers - Trent Keteri for Stanton and Ray Wojtala for BlueSky - battled command issues and the fatigue that comes with high pitch counts in high leverage situations.
And in the end, it was the final battle, an individual affair between Wojtala and Wildcat three-hole hitter Erik Nettell that decided the game.
Stanton’s Tom Durocher collides with BlueSky Health catcher Dan Juopperi in a play at the plate during Tuesday’s Twilight League championship series Game 1 in Stanton. Durocher was out on the play. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
A fitting finish for a roller-coaster contest, Nettell stepped to the plate with two outs and two men on in the bottom of the seventh. In the previous inning, Nettell had jacked a gasp-inducing, two-run homer to right field to cut the lead down to two.
Another swing like that and the Wildcats would walk off winners.
Instead, after several balls and a foul-tip, Wojtala offered a high-fastball that Nettell found too enticing.
The resulting strikeout - the eighth of the night for Wojtala - shut the door 12-10 on Stanton and gives BlueSky a chance to lock up the championship at home Thursday night at 6 p.m.
"Every game with those guys goes like that," BlueSky manager Jason Koski said. "I was just worried that Burr (Nettell) was going to hit a home run there and the game would have been done. Their lineup is so good that they are tough to put away."
BlueSky built its lead early, capitalizing on three errors in the first four innings, three wild pitches, two hit-by-pitches and legging out a trio of infield singles to put up 11 runs on the combination of Keteri and reliever Chris Saari. Twice Stanton defenders passed up an easier out at first base for a high-risk/high reward effort.
Both times the moves resulted in runs and more runners.
"It seems like whenever either team gives an extra out, the other team scores," Koski said. "You have to minimize your errors and capitalize on theirs."
And while the small-ball maneuvers provided the brunt of the runs, BSH clean-up hitter Brian Juopperi showed off the power capability in the middle of lineup with two no-doubt home runs well into the right-field trees.
"I don't know if Brian has hit a home run all year," Koski said. "He is normally a line-drive hitter, but he got a couple in the air today. He is a really good hitter, and he definitely produced at the plate for us."
Even in a five-run hole, Stanton didn't lay down, though.
Wildcat cleanup hitter Josh Koskela clubbed a long ball to open the fifth inning and get the comeback started, only to see it sputter out when Brooks Olson was thrown out at home to end the frame after some confusion on the bases. Nettell cut the lead to two with his homer in the sixth.
Stanton stranded five runners on base over the final three innings, though, as Wojtala kept finding a way to get himself out of jams.
"He didn't have his best stuff tonight but he battled the whole way," Koski said. "He was good enough to beat them. He is our No. 1 pitcher by far.
"He threw a lot of pitches, I don't know exactly what it was but it was well over 100. And especially against Stanton, they make you pitch. He just fought through."