Traverse City Record-Eagle

Beach Bums

September 5, 2011

Crushing loss for Beach Bums

Lake Erie clinches playoffs in 10 innings

TRAVERSE CITY — Almost as quickly as Jeff Flagg’s bat exploded in the 10th inning, so did the season of the Traverse City Beach Bums come to an end.

Kellen Kulbacki hauled in Flagg’s broken-bat fly out Sunday to finish off a 3-1 extra-inning victory that propelled Lake Erie into the Frontier League playoffs instead of the Beach Bums.

The win was a rewarding one for Lake Erie manager John Massarelli, whose team started the season 7-17.

“Especially with the adversity we had in the field in the 10th inning,” Massarelli said. “We basically had two first basemen and an outfielder in the infield. (Andrew) Davis is in the hospital right now with a toe infection. (Jodam) Rivera is hurt. We talked about you’ve got to pick each other up, and the rookies did it. We’ve got rookies from (Joel) Collins on down. The six, seven, eight and nine hitters are all rookies. They just found a way to get it done.”

Robby Kuzdale started things off in the 10th for Lake Erie, pinch hitting for shortstop Zac Messer. A second baseman by trade, he moved to short when the Crushers lost both Rivera and Davis to injury. Then Messer suffered one of his own, pulling a muscle in his ribcage that wouldn’t allow him to lift his arm over his shoulder. He had to throw across the diamond sidearm, and aggravated the injury enough on a running throw to get Chase Burch to lead off the TC half of the ninth that he couldn’t bat when it was his turn.

Kuzdale lined the ball off the leg of Beach Bums closer Scott Mueller to lead off the 10th, then stole second.

A Patrick Norris bloop single gave Lake Erie runners on first and third. After a pop-out, TC intentionally walked the bases loaded and Joel Collins muscled a flair hit into right field to bring in two runs.

Traverse City went 1-2-3 in the 10th, ending with Flagg’s exploding bat that preceded season-ending fireworks at Wuerfel Park.

The game ended Traverse City’s season, but extended Lake Erie’s. The last time the Crushers clinched a playoff spot very late in the season, they went on to be Frontier League champions two seasons ago.

“We clinched it on the second-to-last day,” Massarelli said. “It was a similar thing. We were down four in the 10th inning and came back to tie it and win it in the 11th. They had a die-hard attitude, similar to how Traverse City had that attitude last year.”

Right after the game, the Crushers gathered just outside the walls of Wuerfel Park with four large coolers full of beer, spraying each other suds and drinking in celebration.

The Beach Bums had a prime opportunity in the second inning to break the game open when Jose Vargas led off with a single, Matt Brown bunted his way on and Tom Zebroski was hit by a pitch. But Flagg hit a come-backer to Roberts that was turned into a 1-2-3 double play, and Stephen Shults flew out to the warning track to end the threat.

“It could have been a 2-0 game right there,” Massarelli said, “but we’ll take any break we can get.”

“In my opinion, we really had a chance to put the game away in the second inning,” Traverse City manager Gregg Langbehn said.

In the fifth, Flagg hit a bomb that was knocked down by the wind blowing in. When struck, it appeared to be a two-run homer in the making before the gusts had it settle in along the warning track in Kulbacki’s glove.

“He hit that ball as good as you can hit it, but it was right into the wind,” Langbehn said.

TC didn’t have a hit from the third inning until Flagg’s bomb in the eighth, a solo shot that knotted the game at 1-1 and forced extra innings.

Lake Erie struck first in the seventh inning. Jason Taylor doubled and Kulbacki singled to left on the next pitch to bring in Taylor.

David Nathanson and Roberts dueled for seven innings, each giving way in the eighth.

Nathanson faced the minimum through five innings. Lake Erie got its first base runner on a Collins single in the fifth, but he was quickly erased on an unassisted double play by Flagg at first on a line drive by Brian Erie.

“It was a great ballgame,” Massarelli said. “Nathanson pitched great. Roberts held them down.”

The Beach Bums didn’t get a hit off Roberts from third through seventh innings.

“That was a classic pitchers’ duel,” Langbehn said. “Unfortunately, somebody had to lose.”

At the beginning of the year, it didn’t appear that this season-ending series would amount to much in the standings, as both teams struggled out of the gate.

“They were 7-17 to start the year and we were 5-10,” Langbehn said. “It wasn’t looking pretty grim early for both teams.”

In that run that made Traverse City a contender, the Beach Bums completed 18 come-from-behind rallies, but weren’t able to finish off the last one.

NOTEBOOK: The Saturday and Sunday games of the series each had three umpires, one more than the typical Frontier League crew. … Nathanson struck out the side in the fourth. … TC had the leadoff batter on base in four of the first five innings. … Due to a rain delay, the first pitch was at 5:54 p.m., when Nathanson whiffed Jerome Milons on three pitches, catching him looking for strike three. … Roberts came in with plenty of experience facing the Beach Bums. He’d started five previous games this year against TC, going 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA. He had struck out 16 in 32 innings, but walked 13.

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