By Greg Gielczyk
The defending National Amateur Baseball Federation regional champs came out of the loser’s bracket to win their second-straight regional title on Saturday.
Manistee swept a pair of games from the Flint Legends, 7-3 and 11-1, in the title round.
The Saints put themselves in the position of having to win two games on Saturday to secure the title when they rallied from a 6-0 deficit to tie the game, 7-7 only to lose it in the end, 11-9 to the Legends in Friday’s third game.
“We knew we were in for a long day,” Saints player/manager Roddy MacNeil said. “We had a double dip, so the fact that we were able to do that, and win both of those … I think going out this way was a great way to kind of summarize the season.
“There was a resiliency. They (the Legends) weren’t going to be easy in that second game. It was a one-run game all the way to the fourth inning, when again one of our guys gets a big, timely two-out hit.
“Alex (Schmitt, from Traverse City) did a great job of keeping them (the Legends’ batters) off balance, and got a lot of weak outs. After that three-run home run, he threw a zero up there. That was kind of a back-breaker.”
Manistee jumped on the Legends for a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning on a two-out, two-run single by Dominic Palamara (Traverse City).
But, the Legends cut the Saints’ lead in half with what turned out to be their only run of the game in the bottom half, and that’s where it stood until the top of the fourth.
A leadoff walk to Tommy Reid (East Jordan) was followed by a single by Sam Schmitt (Traverse City), before Danny Passinault (Traverse City) jacked a three-run shot to the short porch in right field to send the Saints out to a 5-1 lead.
They would never look back, finishing the game with six runs in the fifth and Schmitt shut the Legends down in the bottom half to end it on the mercy rule.
“Obviously, we expected to do this, and we wanted to repeat (as regional champions),” said MacNeil.
“Every preseason, when you’re looking at goals and what you’re trying to get done, that’s the one we were looking for.
“Even though we do have some young guys, they were able to gel, and were able to find it, and we were able to pull this one together.”
Schmitt, who improved to 3-1 on the season, threw a sterling two-hitter with two strike outs and walked only one. He also was the winner in Thursday’s opener, a 1-0 shutout over the Midland Tribe when he rang up 11 strike outs.
The pitcher/outfielder also contributed six hits over the three-day tournament, and had 12 total bases with six walks, earning him the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
Manistee finished the shortened game with eight hits, with Passinault topping the charts with three and four runs batted in, as well as a run scored. Palamara had three RBIs and Jake Finkbeiner (Saline) two.
Kyle Gorski (Rapid City), a veteran righty, threw 4 2/3 shutout innings in the first game before suffering a shoulder injury and having to come out after surrendering just two hits, striking out a pair and walking just one.
MacNeil turned to third baseman Tommy Reid (Traverse City), and he finished the game, allowing six hits while striking out five to up the win in relief.
Alex Strickland (Traverse City) hit his team-leading seventh home run with a solo shot in the sixth, and Sam Schmitt finished the game 3-for-5 while Finkbeiner went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and scored twice himself. Passinault drove in two runs and scored two while going 2-for-4 and Lucas Richardson (Manistee) drove in a run as well.
“We had a lot of guys that were seeing the ball well today,” added MacNeil. “Obviously, they wanted to set the tone, and they wanted to jump on it early, and they did that.
“Our guys did a great executing enough so we have a guy like Alex Schmitt ready for the second game. Even, you know, Tommy Reid and Dylan Bates (who pitched one inning of the second game), who are normally position guys for us, stepped up and ate a couple innings.
“In a tournament like this, guys like that really can help you out in a pinch, and we’re find out that we have guys that can really produce that way, too.”
The Saints, who improved to 25-12 on the season, are scheduled to play their first game in the NABF Major Division World Series in pool play Thursday against the Brooklyn, N.Y. Regional champion at 11 a.m. at Nichols Field in Battle Creek.