For the Gazette
MENOMINEE - A little bit of last-minute work paid off for the Hancock Post 186 American Legion baseball team Wednesday as they rallied past the Channing Railroaders 4-2 in the opening round of the Upper Peninsula Zone tournament.
Hancock trailed 2-1 after six innings, but gained the upper hand by scoring three times in the top of the seventh.
Winning pitcher Ty LaDuron then stuck out three of four hitters in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the victory.
"That one aged me a little," said Hancock manager Nels Paul. "That was a tough one. We split a pair of doubleheaders with them during the regular season. Then, we beat them in extra innings in the (Mid-Peninsula) league tournament. We knew this was going to be a tight one."
Hancock (15-14) continues in the winner's bracket, facing the Marquette Blues today at 5 (EDT).
Channing returns to Spies Field today at 4 to face Kingsford or Ishpeming.
Brady Turner led off Hancock's seventh with an infield single and tied the score on Alex VanWagner's triple to centerfield.
Moments later, VanWagner put Hancock ahead to stay on Laduron's bunt single.
"Ty bunted for the first time in two years and he put it down, which was huge," said Paul. "I think that may have rattled them (Railroaders) a little."
Hancock then added an insurance run by taking advantage of two errors.
"We had the game," said Channing manager Rob Berg. "The errors killed us in the last inning. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Except for the last inning, we made the plays we needed to."
Channing's Cody Berg opened the scoring on an error in the first.
Hancock tied the score on Dax Durocher's single to center in the fifth.
Channing then loaded the bases with nobody out in their half of the fifth, chasing Hancock starter Mike Saari from the hill. The Railroaders, however, managed just one run on a bases-loaded walk to Dominic Christian through the remainder of the inning.
Hancock threatened in the sixth, but left a pair of runners on the basepaths and failed to score.
LaDuron took the win in relief of Saari, who struck out two, walked three, hit a batter and allowed two runs on three hits through four innings. LaDuron then fanned eight, walked one and gave up a hit in the final three frames.
"It's a great experience for our young guys to play against this level of competition," said Paul. "We're pleased to come back in this one. We were hoping for a complete game from Mike today and Ty tomorrow, but Channing forced us to use two pitchers. They're vastly improved over the past couple years."
Durocher had two of Hancock's seven hits off Cody Berg, who also went the distance.
"Cody is definitely one of the top pitchers in our league," said Paul. "He pitched a great game."
Cody Berg also led the Railroaders on offense with two hits.
The teams combined for five errors, including three by Channing.
Also on Wednesday, Marquette outlasted Kingsford 4-3 in eight innings.
Marquette led 3-0 after 6 1/2. But Kingsford forced the extra frame by taking advantage of four walks and scoring three times in the seventh.