Dean Kangas upsets SNB-Stanton for 1-0 playoff series lead

STANTON — Playoff baseball in the Copper Country Twilight League got started Tuesday. Regular season runner-up Superior National Bank-Stanton (9-5) hosted third-place Dean Kangas-State Farm (6-7) at the Stanton Baseball Field on a beautiful, sunny evening for the boys of summer. Although Dean Kangas had only posted a 1-3 record this year again SNB-Stanton — with three one-run losses — the visiting team used a big first inning as a springboard to a 5-2 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three semifinal playoff series.

Dean Kangas hitters ambushed SNB-Stanton starting pitcher Justin Kirby in the top of the first frame forcing him to throw around 44 pitches while allowing four runs on three hits and two walks. A couple of fielding errors also assisted Dean Kangas in jumping out to a lead they would not relinquish.

Starting in the bottom of the first inning Dean Kangas starter Luke Paul took the mound and retired the first six SNB-Stanton batters he faced. Kirby also found his form and only faced seven batsmen in the second and third innings. But in the bottom of the third, Paul hit SNB-Stanton outfielder Kevin Bostwick. The next batter, third baseman Al Nettell, hitting in the eighth spot in the lineup, drove a two-run home run over the left field fence to give SNB-Stanton some life and cut the Dean Kangas lead to 4-2 after 3 innings.

After a scoreless fourth, Kirby worked his way out of a fifth inning jam after a one-out triple hit to the centerfield fence by Dean Kangas first baseman Scott Wesa. Kirby also walked shortstop Brandon Teichman in that inning, but the threat ended when Wesa was thrown out at home on an unusual play. Teichman attempted to steal second base but the throw from SNB-Stanton catcher Jon Crawford was returned to home plate when Teichman retreated. Crawford then withstood a collision and held on to the ball to tag Wesa for the third out.

In the bottom of the fifth, Paul survived his own trouble by striking out two to end the inning, erasing two baserunners. He had created a situation with runners on first and second with one out. This was the result of a lead-off single down the left field line by SNB-Stanton second baseman Dax Durocher. Then Paul issued Nettell a four-pitch walk two batters later. Nettell was 2-2 with that walk for the game.

There was no scoring in the sixth inning either, but then Dean Kangas tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh for the final margin. In the top of that frame, Paul helped his own pitching effort by drawing a leadoff walk. Paul then advanced from first to third on an errant pick-off throw from Kirby that went into foul territory. The next batter, Dean Kangas catcher Scott Pietila, then scored Paul with an RBI single to left field.

In their last at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, SNB-Stanton made things interesting with the game-tying run making it to the plate. Paul hit SNB-Stanton first baseman Josh Koskela with his second offering of the stanza and Koskela advanced to second base on a wild pitch. After a fly out to deep left field and a strikeout, Nettell hit a bloop single into center field to create a chance for a two-out rally with runners on first and second. Then SNB-Stanton player-manager Daron Durocher called his own number when he pinch-hit for center fielder Carter Nettell in the nine-hole. But the game ended on Durocher’s ground out to shortstop, stranding the two SNB-Stanton baserunners.

Both Paul and Kirby pitched complete games — with Kirby throwing about 150 pitches to Paul’s 107. Paul took the win with two runs allowed on three hits and only one base-on-balls, striking out nine. Kirby’s losing line was five runs on eight hits with five walks and four punch-outs.

After the game, Durocher lamented the slow start.

“A walk and a couple of helpful misplays by us and (the game) turns around on you,” said the SNB-Stanton skipper. “A team like that wants to beat you and obviously it’s the playoffs and they forced it and we didn’t come through with it today. (Dean Kangas) did what they had to and we didn’t. … (But) it’s not over. We move on to Thursday. We have to win to extend the series. … We have to play better defensively. Tonight just wasn’t sharp.”

Durocher also gave credit to Paul.

“He pitched really well,” Durocher said. “It’s not that we can’t hit it, he was pitching really well too.”

Dean Kangas outfielder and manager Brian Juopperi also praised Paul’s effort on the mound.

“Luke pitched a big game,” he said. “He was phenomenal tonight and we shored up our defense a little bit, and we had a big first inning.

“(Kirby) pitched well after that, but that first inning was key to the victory tonight.” Juopperi was also proud of his hitters’ ability to make contact in two-strike counts.

“We (the team leaders) tell the guys to be patient at the plate, swing at strikes, and we fouled off some good pitches,” he said, in discussion of what led to the high pitch count for SNB-Stanton.

These teams will meet again on Thursday for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch at the Hancock Driving Park. Dean Kangas will have a chance to clinch the series and advance to the league championship series with a win at home.