HANCOCK - Weird things happen in Copper Country baseball, when the weather deigns to allow it at all.
After agreeing to play six-inning games to beat the cold and incoming darkness in Houghton's historic first home baseball doubleheader at the Hancock Driving Park Wednesday night, the Gremlins and Negaunee went nine innings in game one thanks to timely hitting on both sides and untimely errors. The Miners eventually prevailed, outlasting the Gremlins 12-10 after a two-run single from Jay Lori plated Tyler Jandron and Mark Anderson. The Miners were able to rally from an 8-1 deficit in the third inning thanks to a crucial dropped fly ball.
Game two got even stranger as it was called due to darkness in the fifth inning with the score tied 8-8. Negaunee took a three run lead into the bottom of the decisive fifth frame, but a bases clearing double from Reid Pietila led to a rare baseball tie.
Houghton catcher Cole Jepsen fields a bunt during a baseball doubleheader against Negaunee at Hancock Driving Park. Negaunee won the first game in nine innings and the second was called due to darkness while tied. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Houghton’s Brad Juntunen tries to beat the throw down the first-base line during Wednesday’s baseball doubleheader at Hancock Driving Park. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Still, despite the 0-1-1 home-stand, it was all smiles from the Gremlins at the end.
They had played a home baseball game, the first of its kind at Houghton. With a bevy of underclassmen (just two seniors on the team) and a solid Little League feeder system, things are looking up for the Orange and Black.
"It is a good start for everyone," Houghton pitcher Trent Keteri said, "The first year, everyone is going to remember this team. We've won some games and are getting ready for the playoffs."
"The future for Houghton baseball is really positive," coach John Bostwick added.
As with all first-year programs, there is a steep learning curve.
Houghton jumped out to an 8-1 lead on Negaunee after two innings, but a dropped fly in the outfield let the Miners grab it all back.
The Gremlins were unable to score in the three extra innings with Negaunee burning ace pitcher Jandron to pick up the win.
Brad Juntunen, Connor Hannon and Keteri each managed two singles in the loss with Houghton rapping out nine hits total.
"We just have to cut down on the errors," Keteri said. "We've got the hitting and the pitching, but we have to get rid of those errors that lead to big innings."
"We still have to learn to win," Bostwick said. "We were up 8-1, but we stopped hitting and then make an error and they made us pay for it.
"There are some growing pains, but that's to be expected."
Both teams broke out the bats again for game two, with Houghton plating six runs in the final three innings to overcome two separate deficits.
Pietila played hero with the bases loaded after Brad Ward and Riley McKay sandwiched a pair of walks around a Spencer Donnelly double. With two outs, Pietila ripped one through the middle of the infield that took a tough bounce to skip past the center fielder. Connor Hannon had a chance to drive in Pietila for the win, but his shallow fly ball was caught before it dropped in.
Juntunen earned the tie on the mound.
"Our team is getting better, they're learning," Bostwick said. "We've had some of these guys who probably haven't played in four or five years. So there is a lot of learning, but as I told the guys after the game, they are improving with each game. That's what I like to see. We are better now than we were three weeks ago."