Dean Kangas advances with win

HANCOCK — After winning the first game of a Copper Country Twilight League semifinal series Tuesday night on the Stanton Field, Dean Kangas-State Farm came back to the Hancock Driving Park on Thursday with a chance to clinch the best-of-three playoff first round against favorite Superior National Bank-Stanton. Although the home team was down early, they were able to pull off the deciding victory in dramatic fashion, 4-3.

The first inning was uneventful with Dean Kangas starting pitcher Brady Turner striking out two to retire the side after issuing a lead-off walk. In the bottom half of the inning SNB-Stanton starter Eli Luoma also walked a batter, but he also induced a 3-4 double play that ended the frame. That was one of four inning-ending double plays that were turned in the first three innings — three by the SNB-Stanton defense and one by Dean Kangas.

The scoring did open in the top of the second however with SNB-Stanton drawing first blood off the bat of third baseman Al Nettell. Designated hitter Josh Koskela’s lead-off triple to the fence in right centerfield was the first hit of the night. After a ground out to shortstop by Dax Durocher, Nettell came up to the plate and blasted a first-pitch two-run homer that exited the park over left field. That bomb was Nettell’s second of the series and gave him four RBI in the two games. He batted 4-for-5 in the series with a walk and a strikeout and was easily SNB-Stanton’s most valuable playoff contributor.

Dean Kangas was unable to answer early and SNB-Stanton extended their lead in the top of the fourth when designated runner Kade Farrell reached home from second base on a ball that got away after Nettell’s strikeout. SNB-Stanton had a 3-0 lead after four stanzas and appeared to be on their way to forcing a decisive third game in the series. But Dean Kangas was able to hang around and not let SNB-Stanton get any further ahead in the fifth.

The bottom of the fifth inning was the turning point for the Dean Kangas offense, sending eight men to bat. Shortstop Brandon Teichman led off with a chopper to third base that turned into an infield single. Turner then moved him into scoring position with a ground ball to second that went to first base for the out. Travis Wesa, the left fielder batting in the ninth spot got Dean Kangas on the board with an RBI single that plated Teichman. Manager Brian Juopperi then started a run of three batters in a row getting on base. Juopperi singled to center field, followed by a walk to Luke Paul that loaded the bases. Catcher Scott Pietila knotted the game up at 3-3 when he drove in two runs on a single and a subsequent throwing error committed by SNB-Stanton. From there, Luoma was able to get a pop-out and strikeout to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

Pitching took over with five combined punch-outs in the sixth inning and SNB-Stanton was retired in order in the top of the seventh, leaving the door open for Dean Kangas to sweep the series in their last at-bat in regulation. Juopperi brought the top of the order up to the plate to open the bottom of the seventh, but he flied out to center field on a nice moving catch by SNB-Stanton player-manager Daron Durocher. Luke Paul, the winning pitcher from Tuesday, was next up and he was able to hit a double to left that stayed fair, rolling into foul territory after traveling far enough to consitute a hit. Pietila was the next batter and he hit a strong line drive single to the right field corner that scored Paul to end the game and win the series with a final score of 4-3.

“I fouled a couple of pitches off and then got an outer-half pitch I was looking for and got it out there,” said Pietila after he had knocked in three of the four runs for his club. “Stanton’s a great ball club and we’ve battled hard all year. They’ve had our number for the most part and it’s good to finally get them (out of the playoffs).”

Daron Durocher gave credit where it was due.

“They did what they had to,” he said. “We had control of the game for the most part, and then the one inning got away. They’re on to the championship and good luck to them.”

Juopperi was elated to survive and advance.

“That’s a good win,” Juopperi said. “We beat a real good team right there.

“Our expectation (coming into the playoffs) was just to hang with them.”

He also discussed the absence of any panic in his dugout when his squad trailed by three runs.

“We (team leaders) were telling the guys just don’t change anything at the plate,” he said. “We were putting runners on. Unfortunately we hit into double plays to end innings (early). (But) the guys just kept the same approach and it paid off.”

When asked about Pietila’s walk-off hit, Juopperi appreciated his catcher.

“(Pietila has) been clutch all year,” said Juopperi. “He’s been one of our better hitters this year and he came though there (at the end).”

Turner earned the complete game win for Dean Kangas allowing three runs on four hits, walking five and striking out nine. Luoma’s final line in the loss was also a complete game, four runs, 10 hits, three walks, and five strikeouts.

Dean Kangas will move on to the Twilight League best-of-three championship round next week. They will open that series against either Garnet Garage or REL Inc.-Mohawk Technology on Tuesday (August 13) at 6:30 p.m. with the location of that contest still to be determined.