In the first game of a very important series against the Lima Locos, Royal Oak struggled to take advantage of many scoring opportunities throughout the contest. The Leprechauns left thirteen men on base throughout the game, each of them being spread out through seven different innings. That is a staggering total, given that Royal Oak only got three runs across. For contrast, the Locos stranded ten runners on base, a much more respectable number, given that they scored twice as many runs.
The distribution of the runs for Lima was much different than what it was for the Detroit Aces yesterday. The Aces scored their ten runs in just three different innings, but the Locos today got their six runs in five different innings.
The Leprechauns did have plenty of fight in them, bringing the game within one run three separate times, but were playing catch up with the Locos all the game. By the time the third batter was hitting in the first, Lima was up 1-0 after a leadoff triple by Kolton Schaller and sacrifice fly by Connor Ashby, his Kent State teammate. An inning later, it was 2-0 after Anthony Zarlingo beat out a potential inning-ending double play ball.
Despite the early two run deficit, Royal Oak looked primed to at least tie the game in the bottom of the second. Two walks and a single by Patrick Ilitch (Valparaiso) loaded the bases with no outs. Ryan Callanan (San Bernardino Valley College) was then hit by a pitch, plating the first run of the game for the Leprechauns and putting the tying run at third. What followed was the top three batters in the Royal Oak lineup grounding into a fielder’s choice at home, a strikeout, and a pop out, leaving the bases loaded, and allowing Lima to escape the inning with the lead. Part of the cataclysmic change of the narrative of the inning was that the Locos took out their starter, Garit Krupp, after he hit Callanan, and put in Jacob Pruitt (Indiana State) with the bases loaded and no outs.
Tyler Sager (Northwood) got the start for the Leprechauns, but was not quite able to match the six-inning scoreless performance he had in his last start. He did throw another six innings today, but surrendered four earned runs on seven hits, and received the loss tonight.
More opportunities to score arose for the Leprechauns throughout the game, most notably the fifth and sixth innings. Royal Oak did score a run in the fifth, after a throwing error allowed John Orberson (Murray State) to score and make it a 3-2 ballgame. Runners were yet again stranded on second and third, with Patrick Ilitch striking out looking to end the inning. The Locos responded with another run of their own in the sixth, making the lead two again. Still, the Leprechauns had a great chance to tie the game. After the first two batters of the bottom of the sixth for Royal Oak, the bases were suddenly loaded after two walks and a hit by pitch, but Caden Duryea (Northwood) weakly flew out to end the inning.
The bullpen was pretty quiet for the Leprechauns today, as Michigan’s Brandon Mann threw three innings in relief to finish the game. He initially started well, getting through his first two innings of work without surrendering a run, the only time Lima was held scoreless in consecutive innings. The game did look much more interesting after Orberson hit an RBI single with two outs in the eighth to make it 4-3, but two unearned runs came across for the Locos in the ninth, which just about put the game out of reach.
Mercer’s Micah Takac got a two inning save, sitting down the Leprechauns in order in the ninth, which was the only inning besides the seventh Royal Oak did not get at least one baserunner.
Game two of the series will be in Lima tomorrow, with the third and final game being back at the Lucky Corner, where first pitch is scheduled to be at 7:05 p.m. The next few games will be extremely critical for the Leprechauns’ playoff hopes. This series and the next are against the second and third place teams in the Leprechauns’ division, with two more games against the 8-3 Locos and three games against the Ice Haulers, who are currently on an eight game win streak, being after that.