The Metro-East Bears battled back from a second-game loss in the double-elimination Great Lakes Regional Baseball Tournament to put themselves within a win of the American Legion World Series.
But the relentless hitting of Midlands, Mich., ended that dream on the Bears home field at Alton’s Gordon Moore Park on Sunday. Midlands hammered 15 hits off four Metro East pitchers to defeat the Bears 14-4.
Midlands captured the Great Lakes Championship and the trip to Shelby, N.C. It the team’s fifth regional tournament title in the last eight years.
“It’s a great program over there,” said Metro East manager Ken Schaake. “They’ve been to there a lot and had a lot of success in the World Series. I’ve been there and know how hard it is to get that point.”
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Midlands (45-7) will play against the winner of the Northwest Regional at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The Bears (31-10) earned the automatic regional bid as tournament host, though they were defeated in the championship game of the state tournament. It took a 3-2 win over Madison, Wis., earlier on Sunday to advance to the winner-take-all finale.
With back-to-back games in humidity levels that made temperatures feel as if they reached the triple digits, Schaake knew his team had the hardest road to a title.
“But they did it two weeks in a row, coming up through the loser’s bracket up at state and they did it again here,” Schaake said. “Today was just tremendously hard playing in this weather through nine tough innings, then coming back and playing a very good team. But you can’t say these guys quit. They played hard like they have all year.”
Aaron Jackson, who allowed just one earned run and hit a two-run home run in a tournament opening win, got the start on the mound for Metro East Sunday. This time he lasted just three and two-thirds inning, allowing nine runs on 10 Midlands hits. He struck out three and hit one.
He just threw nine innings for us Thursday and was out here again yesterday telling me his arm felt great,” Schaake said. “He wanted to pitch yesterday and I had to say ‘no.’ I told him if we get to the point where we were in this game, the championship, he’d be our guy. It says a lot about him that he wanted the ball and It hurt him that he didn’t perform a little bit better. But he didn’t quit out there.”
Midlands opened up an early 5-0 lead with a run in the first and four in a difficult third. The Bears scored two in the top of the fourth when Jackson drew a lead-off walk and Mitchell Krebs got his team’s first hit.
Jackson went to third on a walk to Connor Melton and scored on a sacrifice fly by Maverick McSparin. Catcher Nick Paulda, who caught every inning of both games Sunday, singled home Krebs.
But Midlands scored four more in the fourth and two more in the fifth to open a 11-2 lead.
The Bears scored two more in the sixth on a two-run single by shortstop Jordan Hovey. But Midlands answered with two runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to complete the 10-run lead and short game.
“We made a couple of mistakes early and got ourselves into a hole we couldn’t dig our way out of,” said Schaake. “We didn’t get a hit a couple of times early on when we need one. But the kids didn’t quit. When we were down 11-4, I saw them run three guys down to the bullpen. I think we should take that as a compliment because they respected the kind of hitters we have.”
Midlands starter Alex Sova, who completed his freshman year at Iowa Western Community College, was alternately dominant and wild through his six innings. Seeing his first action of the tournament, the 6-foot 7-inch right hander allowed four runs on four hits while striking out five and walking six through six innings pitched.
Alec Justin completed the game in relief for Midlands.
Offensively, Midlands was led by lead-off hitter Derrek Clyde who had four doubles, scored three runs and drove in another. Cole Brooks had three hits and drove in five.
Metro East had just four hits in the game.
METRO EAST 3, MADISON (WIS.) 2
Jake St. Peters retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced to lift Metro East to a 3-2 win over Madison, Wis., and the championship game of the American Legion Baseball Great Lakes Regional.
Not a single earned run was scored in the game.
Madison (24-10) took the early lead by scoring the first two batters it sent to the plate. But Metro-East scratched out a pair of run in the third and one more in the sixth to capture the win.
The winning run scored when Jackson and Krebs led off the Metro East sixth with singles and advanced to scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Connor Melton. The next batter, McSparin, hit a liner up the middle that was snagged by Madison pitcher Sam Lund.
Lund had plenty of time to double Krebs off second base for the final out, but threw high into center fielder, allowing Jackson to score what proved to be the winning run.
St. Peters was brilliant after the first. He allow three Madison hits and walked just one. He got 21 ground ball outs with out a strikeout in a full nine innings.
Lund was solid for Madison as well. He allowed six Metro East hits while walking one and hitting another. He struck out six.