The Leprechauns’ run of five consecutive victories ended at the hands of the Grand Lake Mariners, 5-2 on Friday night. The loss drops Royal Oak to 9-8 on the season and keeps them four games behind the Lima Locos for the second playoff spot in the North Division. It is a missed opportunity for Royal Oak to get closer towards the second playoff spot in the North Division, as Lima fell 12-1 against the Richmond Jazz tonight.
Grand Lake put their ace, Justin Bultemeier (Ivy Tech CC), on the mound for tonight. Going into the night with a 0.81 ERA, it was easy to see why that number was very low. Bultemeier used a lethal combination of fastballs and breaking balls to shut down the Leprechauns offense for the vast majority of his start. The first eleven Royal Oak batters were retired before John Orberson (Murray State) became the first Leprechaun to reach base, walking with two outs in the fourth inning. After the Mariners got through that inning and the fifth without surrendering a hit, the thought that the goose egg in the hits column on the scoreboard would remain started to creep into some people’s minds.
It almost started to look like destiny after two Mariners made diving plays, taking away extra base hits from Ryan Callanan (San Bernardino Valley) and Alex Cheeseman (UAB) for the first two outs of the sixth. Those were just two plays in a game where Grand Lake did not commit any errors. Bultemeier credited much of his no-no bid to his teammates behind him, stating “they were great behind me tonight. They were the ones that hit that kept that no-hitter going.” Despite the web gems by the Grand Lake outfield, Royal Oak finally broke through, ripping three straight singles. Ashland’s Collin Overholt broke up the no-hitter, followed by an Orberson base knock, and finally Northwood’s Caden Duryea getting an RBI on the third single. Royal Oak head coach Jonathan Vance talked about how his team doesn’t let those flashy plays demoralize their hitting ability, saying after the game that “we’re gonna swing it, and sometimes you can hit a ball really hard and it gets caught, and that happened a couple times tonight.”
One example of this came in the bottom of the seventh. The Leprechauns had already scored once in the inning, with UC Riverside’s Jayden Lopez scoring on a Michael Lareau (Wabash Valley) RBI single, and it looked like Royal Oak was due for a big inning, as Bultemeier had been taken out after six innings and 91 pitches. Ryan Callanan was at the plate, and Lopez took off for second on a 1-0 pitch. Callanan ripped a line drive, but it was right to the second baseman, who was only at that spot to cover the bag on Lopez’s steal attempt. He caught it, and tagged Lopez out for an unassisted double play.
On the Royal Oak defensive end, the pitching staff did itself no favors. Using six total pitchers tonight, Leprechauns pitchers walked five and hit five batters with pitches, handing out ten total free bases to Grand Lake. Mariners pitchers handed out half the free passes Royal Oak also surrendered ten hits, six of them being for extra bases. Grand Lake surrendered five, all being singles.
In essence, the feeling around the Lucky Corner tonight was just that it wasn’t Royal Oak’s night. The Leprechauns were already losing after two batters, after leadoff man Jackson Taylor hit a triple on the first pitch of the game, followed by a Hayden Robbins sacrifice fly. Another run had scored two hitters later, after back-to-back doubles by Lucas Steele and Aaron Walton, who is second in the GLSCL in batting average, hitting .386. In those four batters alone, Grand Lake had gotten seven total bases, which is a statistic that adds up all the bases a hitter gets on any base hit. Royal Oak had five total bases all game. It is already difficult to defeat a team after going down 2-0 in the first inning. It is nearly impossible with a pitcher like Justin Bultemeier going on the mound right after.
The Leprechauns have already guaranteed at least a split in this four-game series with Grand Lake, but will look to take three out of four with a win tomorrow on the road. Royal Oak will have a non-league exhibition game at home on Sunday at 4:05 p.m., before starting a three-game series with the Jet Box Baseball Club, who are 4-13 on the season and in last place in the North. Game one of that series will be on the road on July 4th, followed by two home games for the Leprechauns on the 5th and the 6th, which are both set to be 7:05p.m. first pitches.