By Greg Gielczyk
The Saints topped the Tribe 5-4 on Friday and pulled out a tight 1-0 decision in Thursday’s opener.
Player and Manager Roddy MacNeil took the ball himself and pulled his team through the sixth inning, first to hold a 4-4 tie, and then in the seventh to close out the 5-4 win.
The Saints, who finished 1-3 against the Tribe during the regular season in the Great Lakes United Baseball League, took an early 3-0 lead but failed to hold it as the Tribe rallied to tie the game 4-4.
Alex Strickland, switching to the outfield after catching the first game, an 11-9 loss to the Flint Legends, broke the deadlock with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth.
MacNeil then shut the door on the Tribe in the top of the seventh, picking up the win which improved his record to 2-1 on the season.
“We’re a different team when we’re throwing strikes, (and) attacking balls on defense,” said MacNeil later. “Obviously, hitting we did what we’ve done all season.
“I think what it really comes down to is we have a great mix of young and veteran guys. The young guys are now at that point where it could have been a little bit of that 10 a.m. game (against the Legends), some of the younger guys were out there making some miscues, and they lean heavily on the veteran guys, who were able to say ‘Hey, no. We’re going to get that next one. We’re going to need you.’
“Again, guys step up and they feel comfortable about it. It’s awesome, and it’s great to see.”
The Saints played perhaps their sloppiest game of the season against the Legends in the morning game, making five errors and issuing seven walks.
Flint capitalized on all those mistakes, as well as adding several base hits — including some key doubles that led to some big innings that led to a 6-0 lead.
But the Saints scrapped back, cutting the Legends lead in half to 6-3 and then pulled into a 7-7 tie with a four-run fifth inning which included Lucas Richardson’s three-run home run.
“We were walking guys, and that makes it a slower pace, which leads to more errors in the field,” said MacNeil. “That leads to extra bases.
“Then you get into those games where you’re trying to score eight or nine runs. You score nine runs in a game, you should have enough pitching and defense to win that game.
“Flint did a great job of taking advantage of our mistakes, and the extra bases. Obviously, I give our guys tons of credit scoring nine runs, continuing to battle, even up until the bottom of the seventh.”
Since they came up through the loser’s bracket, the Saints need to beat the Legends twice on Saturday to win the regional title and advance to the NABF World Series in Battle Creek.
MacNeil feels the Saints have a good chance of doing just that.
“I think our depth is going to help us tomorrow,” MacNeil added. “They (the Legends) are going to push real hard to get that first one, because they’re not going to want to play that second one.
“They’re a smaller team in numbers, and the last thing they want to do is have to play that extra game. We’re going to try to get deep into their bullpen tomorrow, so it’s a war of attrition.
“We’ve still got a bullpen, still got a couple of starters left. We’re just going to keep scrapping it out. It’s kind of a good thing about the loser’s bracket, you get momentum going into the championship game.”
MacNeil is hoping the Saints can ride that momentum all the way to Battle Creek.