THUNDER BAY -- Fans may dig the long ball but more often than not it’s pitching and defence that decides baseball games.
That was a lesson the Thunder Bay All-Stars learned the hard way Friday, falling 11-8 to the Montreal Rockies in their semifinal contest at the Canadian Big League baseball championships at Baseball Central.
“It just seemed like we couldn’t execute,” All-Stars manager Jason Hart said. “We outhit them, I thought we played well except for those few errors. It’s a tough one because I thought we had a good shot.”
The execution in the field was costly, as the All-Stars committed four errors to go along with multiple wild pitches and passed balls. Montreal scored their 11 runs on only eight hits.
Things looked promising early on for the home side as Thunder Bay jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first inning and starting pitcher Mitch Coulson was cruising.
The All-Stars had Montreal on the ropes right from the top of the order as their first three hitters reached to load the bases for cleanup hitter Mike Moskalyk. His ground ball resulted in a fielders’ choice that was botched by the Rockies defensively, leading to a pair of runs crossing.
That was all the damage Thunder Bay could inflict in the first, as runners were stranded on second and third.
Coulson got through the second relatively easily and his batters rewarded him by padding the lead, though not as much as they could have.
The All-Stars put runners in scoring position and Bryce Jorgenson delivered with a run-scoring single, but again left men on second and third.
That was the peak of the evening for the All-Stars as the Quebec representatives started to get down to business.
“The kids worked hard. They started really rough but after the third inning they settled down,” Rockies manager Mike Lalonde said. “They got their hits and played good defence.”
It was in the third where Montreal began to chip into the deficit, starting with a Thunder Bay defensive miscue. The Rockies’ first run crossed after a Coulson wild pitch, with a second scoring courtesy a Liam Griffin sacrifice fly.
The Rockies kept coming in the fourth. After Coulson retired the first two batters in what appeared to be a routine frame, Samuel Fagen tied the contest with a run-scoring single before a passed ball by All-Stars catcher Matt Sutor gave Montreal their first lead.
Thunder Bay was able to tie it up in the bottom half with a rare piece of clutch hitting from Cooper Lamke, who delivered a two-out run-scoring base hit.
The game was blown open in the fifth when Montreal plated four runs. The first was another defensive breakdown when Griffin hit a ball between the dish and mound that Coulson was late sending the ball home for a play at the plate.
Hart took Coulson out of the game shortly after, giving way to reliever Nick Nigro. Nigro struck out his first batter before Guillaume Gravel lined a two-run double down the leftfield line.
That play gave Montreal their first solid lead of the ballgame and Lalonde identified it as a turning point.
Montreal added three more in the sixth to pad the lead with much needed insurance.
That margin for error came in handy as the All-Stars chipped into the lead down the stretch, getting to within three but ran out of outs.
Chris Antonakopoulos tossed a complete game for Montreal to pick up the victory, coming up the biggest in tight spots. He was able to avoid conceding a fatal big inning, stranding eight Thunder Bay runners in scoring position throughout the seven innings.
“Every single time he got guys on base he was really able to settle down, re-compose himself and come up strong throwing strikes,” Lalonde said. “He got some key outs that really allowed us to push that game and keep that lead.”
Montreal will face the British Columbia representatives, the Fraser Valley Chiefs, in the final at 1 p.m. at Baseball Central. Fraser Valley prevailed 9-6 over the Ottawa West Crusaders in the other semifinal.
The winner between Montreal and Fraser Valley will advance to the Big League World Series, which will be held in Easley, SC. later this month.
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