The Leprechauns fell in a heartbreaker for the second straight night in the rubber match of their series with the Michigan Monarchs. After winning the first game 6-1, Royal Oak fell in walk-off fashion, letting a one-run ninth inning lead slip away, falling 8-7. Things initially looked pretty bleak in the first inning for the ‘Chauns, with starting pitcher Ryan Kruse (Northern Kentucky) surrendering three runs in the first inning after Michigan State Spartan Jake Dresselhouse led the game off with a triple, scoring on a single by Luke Johnson (Middle Tennessee State). Eastern Michigan’s Cooper Vance singled in Johnson and Sam Thompson (MSU) scored on a wild pitch after previously walking.
Royal Oak did not have much of a response in the first two innings, mostly due to trouble on the basepaths. Ryan Callanan (San Bernardino Valley College) blooped into a double, but was thrown out stealing third. The Leprechauns had made it very clear they were going to have an aggressive strategy when it came to stealing bases, but the decision to send Callanan to third still seemed questionable. In the second, Northwood’s Caden Duryea reached on a walk, but Pitt’s Quinton Konuszewski, a lefty, used a great pickoff move to catch him between first and second.
The big inning for the Leprechauns came in the third, taking the lead with five runs. USC pledge Brayden Dowd got the first two runs for Royal Oak across with a double to deep right center field. Later in the inning, Valparaiso’s Patrick Ilitch came in clutch, hitting three runs across with a bases loaded two-out triple, making it 5-3 Leprechauns.
The lead was short lived, with the Monarchs quickly responding with a three-spot in the top of the fourth. Luke Johnson cut the deficit to one with a sacrifice fly. Sam Thompson followed up with a clutch hit of his own, with a two-out, two-RBI single to make it 6-5. The lead would quickly balloon for the Monarchs from there, making it 7-5 with a leadoff double by Vance and an RBI groundout by Connor Cornwell (Saginaw Valley State). Four more runs in the top of the sixth made the game look close to out of reach, fueled by a 3 RBI double by Thompson, giving him five runs batted in on the day, giving the Monarchs eight unanswered runs in three innings, making it 11-5.
The defense quickly stepped up for the defending North Division champions due to the pitching of Michigan Wolverine Ricky Kidd. He logged 3.1 innings in relief and received the win tonight. He struck out seven while only allowing two hits and zero runs.
Tensions between the Leprechauns and the umpires had been bubbling up throughout the game, with Patrick Ilitch being controversially called out at third on a pickoff from the catcher by base umpire Ian Land, ending a threat by Royal Oak in the sixth. The big moment came in the seventh, with Head Coach Jonathan Vance being called for coach’s interference. Joshua Getz (Northwood) hit what appeared to be a foul ball off himself, with the ball landing in fair territory. Home plate umpire Gary Wagonshoot hesitating to call it a foul ball. Coach Vance, coaching third base, urged him to call it foul, and Wagonshoot seemed to oblige, raising his hands in the air to call it foul. Coach Vance then said a loud “Thank you!” that could be heard by everyone in attendance, and picked the ball up, which was still in fair territory. Getz returned to the box, and everything seemed to be normal, until Land then came over and had a discussion with Wagonshoot. Their discussion led to the conclusion that Coach Vance had committed coach’s interference and they called Getz out as a result. Vance then argued for quite a while after the fact, and eventually got ejected by Wagonshoot. The ejection seemed to be added motivation for Royal Oak, who scored three times in the inning, with help from three walks, a hit by pitch, and an error, making the game competitive again, 11-8.
The lead had been trimmed to two in the bottom of the eighth, with an RBI single by Ryan Callanan, but Caden Duryea struck out with the tying run on first base to end the inning.
Later relievers pitched quite well for the ‘Chauns, with MSU’s Stephen Ruhle throwing two scoreless innings to slow down the Monarchs’ offense after they had scored in the previous three innings. His teammate and collegiate rival, Brandon Mann (Michigan), came in for the ninth and sat down the Monarchs in order.
Down to their final three outs, the Leprechauns still needed two more runs to extend the game. Patrick Ilitch started the inning with a weak ground out to the first baseman. Ashland’s Collin Overholt, fresh off a grand slam two days ago, walked after pitching for Zach Hopman (MSU), who had struggled at the plate today, striking out three times in four appearances. Alex Cheeseman, who will be playing for Alabama-Birmingham next season, then struck out to leave Royal Oak down to their final out with the tying run at the plate. Brayden Dowd walked as well, putting the tying run on first base. Leadoff man Josh Getz then stepped up to the plate, and jumped on the first pitch he saw, sending it to deep center field, but Silas Butler was able to track it down to end the ballgame, giving MSU’s Nolan Higgins a two-inning save.
Royal Oak begins a new series with a new opponent tomorrow, with three more games against the Muskegon Clippers, the first two being road games, and the third being at the Lucky Corner on Sunday at 7:05 p.m.