State Farm takes 2 from Pat’s Foods

HANCOCK – Thanks to a loss by Superior National Bank-Stanton Tuesday night, Dean Kangas-State Farm came into Thursday’s doubleheader with Pat’s Food-Mosquito Inn with a chance to pull within a half-game of the second place Wildcats with the playoffs looming, at the Hancock Driving Park. State Farm, who was also looking to rebound after a tough loss to the Copper Country Miners on Tuesday, took both games of the doubleheader, 2-1 and 7-0.

Rather than focusing on the standings, the quick rebound from Tuesday was the focus of State Farm throughout the night.

“That was a big win,” said State Farm player-manager Brian Juopperi. “That put us ahead in the tiebreaker on Pat’s It was good to get back on the winning side of things.”

Improving to 9-6 on the season, State Farm played strong defensively, limiting the options for Pat’s throughout the two games.

For Pat’s, who fell to 4-11 on the season, the losses hurt not just morally, but also in the standings, where coming in they had a chance to pull within a game of State Farm for third in the Twilight League standings. For a team that lost a pair of leaders in Marco Guidotti and Lee Naugle during the off-season and then lost player-manager Rexx Janowiak to injury early in the season, it has been a difficult season to put all of the fundamentals together each night.

“We have been playing decent defense,” said Pat’s outfielder Tom Sanford. “Pitching has been good for us. The bats have been good for us, but we just have not been able to put together runs.”

Pat’s could not ask for more from starting pitcher Robbie Brooks in the opener, as he held State Farm’s offense in check for most of the game, scattering six hits over five innings. When he did give up what could have been a baserunner, his defense played strong behind him, registering eight put outs.

“We are getting together and playing good defense,” said Sanford. “We just have to get the bats going heading into the playoffs here.”

State Farm jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Dave Wesa doubled. Kyle Storm singled to bring Wesa home. Storm moved to second on an error, but a strikeout by Dan Juopperi stranded him on the basepaths.

In the bottom of the first, Pat’s helped their pitcher out with a little offense of their own.

Nick Bolton led off with a single. Brad Juntunen followed with a single off State Farm’s starting pitcher Jason Koski. After Justin Kirby moved the runners into scoring position, Bolton scored when Chris Nielson reached on an error.

The game did not remain tied for long. Former longtime Wolverine-Orbit member Jake Junttila took to the plate for State Farm in the top of the second and promptly doubled to lead off. After Koski grounded out, Junttila rounded second to score on a sacrifice fly by Scott Pietila.

State Farm could not have had better luck with the debut of Junttila.

“That was huge to get Jake into the lineup,” said Brian Juopperi “He played for Wolverine back in the day. He is a big hitter. He has some power and he had some big hits for us tonight.”

State Farm stranded two more baserunners over the course of the rest of the game.

Pat’s had a golden opportunity to tie things back up in the bottom of the third when Bolton doubled to left field. Unfortunately for the hosts, three straight fly outs by Juntunen, Kirby and Brooks ended the threat.

In the bottom of the fourth, Pat’s was at it again. Nielsen doubled to the left field corner. Dan Wood sacrificed to put him 90 feet from home. Ed Knoch came in to pinch hit and struck out to end the inning.

Twice in the bottom of the fifth, Pat’s managed to get players on first, but neither time could they bring that runner home, eventually seeing the game end when Juntunen was tagged out on the basepath in a rundown.

In the nightcap, the defense, which had been a strength for Pat’s in the opener, faltered as errors led to a four-run first inning for State Farm which proved insurmountable.

Storm led off, doubling to center. Brian Juopperi drilled a line drive past Bolton at second base, bringing Storm home. Junttila was hit by pitch from Brooks, who started the game on the mound again.

After T.J. Kilpela walked to load the bases, Koski hit into a fielder’s choice. A throwing error attempting to beat Koski to first allowed him to reach while Juopperi and Junttila both scored. Koski was tagged out attempting to steal second. Kilpela scored on the play to open the 4-0 lead.

Wesa, who started the game on the mound for State Farm, kept the Pat’s offense at bay throughout the game.

Motivated by their pitcher’s strong performance, State Farm added three more runs before closing out the game and the win.