TRAVERSE CITY — Sean Gusrang’s two-out, game-wining RBI single in the 10th inning Sunday night set the stage for what promises to be an intriguing end to the Frontier League’s regular season.
Traverse City edged Joliet 4-3 on Fan Appreciation Night at Wuerfel Park, keeping the Beach Bums in a first-place tie with Lake Erie in the East Division. Traverse City hits the road to face Lake Erie in a three-game showdown series to decide the title starting Tuesday night. The two teams are 54-39.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Gusrang said moments after his single drove in Jose Vargas with the winning run. “That’s why you play the game. Hopefully, we’ll pull it out.”
The Beach Bums pulled one out Sunday after surrendering a 3-1 lead in the seventh. Vargas led off the 10th when he was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. Chase Burch followed with a walk, his fourth of the game. After Zach Kometani bounced into a double play, sending Vargas to third, Gusrang hit an 0-2 pitch up the middle into center. That touched off a mob scene in the infield as players piled on Gusrang.
“I was trying to run from it,” Gusrang said. “It was like a swarm of bees.”
The Slammers brought in reliever Brett Zawacki after the Beach Bums put the first two runners on in the 10th.
“He was making some pitches,” Gusrang said. “It was a battle. You just try your hardest to put the ball in play. You get a good pitch to hit and you try to put a good swing on it, try to win the game for your team.”
The Beach Bums had seen Zawacki on Saturday night as well.
“Guys we’re talking,” Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn said. “I don’t want to get into specifics, but we knew what was coming. I’ll leave it at it. It certainly helps when you’re hitting to know what’s coming.
“It was a good win.”
A night after failing to get a hit in a 10-inning loss to the Slammers, the Beach Bums came out swinging. The first three batters all collected hits. Ryan Still singled, Carlo Testa doubled and then Vargas ripped a two-run double.
Joliet’s Niko Vasquez belted a solo home run off Scott Dunn in the second inning.
Traverse City got that run back in the fourth when Scott Woodward tripled and Still singled.
Dunn, who was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year earlier in the day, left the game after the fifth with that 3-1 lead. But the Slammers struck for two runs in the seventh to tie it off Chris Squires.
Squires worked two innings and then Matt Miller came on to hurl the final three to gain the win.
Dunn, who came into the contest 15-1, was working on three days rest.
“That’s a conversation between Scott and I and he has to be honest with me,” Langbehn said. “If he says he can go, I’ll let him go. If he’s apprehensive at all, I’m not not letting him go under any circumstances. That’s a big part of why I have been monitoring the pitch counts the second half. I’m not letting these guys throw 110, 120, 125 pitches. He threw 76 pitches today. I think he threw 80 the other day. He said he felt great. If he would have said otherwise, I would not have put him out there.”
The win gave Traverse City the weekend series, two games to one. Both wins were in 10 innings.
“Give those guys (Slammers) credit,” Langbehn said. “They’re 20 games out of first and it was like they were playing for a playoff spot, too. We had to fight for everything we got.”
Traverse City finished the regular season 34-19 at Wuerfel Park after closing out a 7-2 homestand.
“I thought at least 6-3 would get us in (to the playoffs),” Langbehn said. “I don’t know if we’re in yet. That’s’s just how tight it is.”
River City was still playing when the Beach Bums game ended. A Rascals loss would have earned Traverse City a spot in the playoffs, but River City came back to beat Southern Illinois.