Calumet tops Houghton

WOLVERINE – In 10 days the Calumet Copper Kings and Houghton Gremlins will meet in a district opener with each team featuring a boost of confidence heading into the postseason showdown.

For the Copper Kings, they can hang their hat on knowing they swept their rivals, as Calumet defeated Houghton 11-5 and 14-10 Friday at Wolverine Field to complete a 4-0 record against Houghton this season.

“Any win we can get is big, of course, but there is that rivalry so they are bigger games for the kids,” Calumet head coach Dave Yeo said.

But when asked if the victories give his team the advantage in the tournament matchup, Yeo kept his answer short.

“No,” he said. “That’s a totally different season. You have to throw the records out the window.”

As for Houghton, they have the luxury of knowing Calumet has yet to face its ace pitcher: Cole Jepsen, who is 6-0 on the season. In Jepsen’s last three starts, he’s pitched three complete games over 16 innings and allowed just two runs and five hits while accumulating 29 strikeouts.

“Having your ace, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Houghton head coach Rob Scholie said. “It’s nice to give your ace the ball in crunch time.”

Added Yeo on Jepsen: “Everything’s around the plate and he can go inside and outside. It’s tough to hit against him, but it should make for a good matchup.”

Each team will aim to clean up their miscues by May 31. Houghton allowed six unearned runs in Game 1, while the Copper Kings committed seven errors in Game 2. In the finale, out of Houghton’s 10 runs, only one was earned; four of Calumet’s 14 runs were unearned.

“Two wins, they weren’t very pretty, but at least we got the Ws,” Yeo said.

The Copper Kings went off for five runs in the third in Game 1 to take a 11-3 advantage. Sam Kariniemi led Calumet with three hits and four RBIs; Russ Bjorn and Ed Beiring each added two RBIs.

Calumet used another five-run inning in Game 2 to take command, as Jake Anderson and Wyatt Loukus each drove in a run off a base hit, while Jack Sturos recorded a two-run RBI double and Bjorn added an RBI off a groundout to give Calumet an early 5-0 lead.

“With runners on base it seemed like we were fortunate to get some big hits,” Yeo said.

Houghton battled back to cut Calumet’s lead to 9-6 in the bottom of the third when Zach Jordan scored from first on a Calumet error off a ball put in play by Justin Norkol. From there, Calumet added five unanswered runs to go up 14-6.

“We didn’t have it defensively,” Scholie said. “We gave them a lot of runs and that was pretty much the story of the game.”

The Gremlins were coming off a sweep of the Jeffers Jets on Thursday, winning 12-2 and 11-2, which Scholie believes may have played a factor in his team’s defensive lapses.

“We’ve been playing a lot and it takes its toll,” he said. “It’s hard to get going two nights in a row.

“But Calumet is a good team. They’ve had our number all year. I think we could have hung with them if we stayed with them defensively.”

On the mound, Kariniemi was the winning pitcher in the opener, going six innings and allowing two earned runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. In the nightcap, Anderson went two innings and allowed one earned run on one hit and four walks and struck out one. Brent Loukus came and pitched the final four innings and surrendered zero earned runs and gave up three hits and three walks while striking out four.

“Brent changes speeds nicely and that seemed to work tonight,” Yeo said. “Jake hasn’t thrown in a while and he was getting fatigued, and we haven’t played in a week so we figured we’d get everyone a few innings.”

Offensively for Houghton, Alan Jurmu led the Gremlins with five runs scored in the two games and Norkol led the team with three hits.

Calumet is now tied with the Hancock Bulldogs for first in the conference at 5-1. Up next, Calumet travels to L’Anse on Monday; Houghton heads to Gladstone on the same day.