NORWAY, Mich. — Baseball coaches like to say that teams that play solid defense and pitch well (with few walks) are likely to come out on the winning end of ball games. On Friday afternoon in Norway, Stephenson used that simple formula to down Ironwood 8-1 in the opening round Division IV District Tournament.
"It was a real good team effort," Stephenson manager Dan Koller said. "We played a clean game and the defense did its job (no errors). If you make the plays on defense, you've got a good shot at winning. And (Ricky) Chaney got ahead of a lot of hitters in the count and his curve ball was working. He only threw 60 pitches in five innings."
It was a little unusual to see a tournament game started by two lefties (Chaney and Ironwood's Brett Ossanna). Chaney was sharp in the five innings he blanked the Red Devils on three hits.
"I didn't give up any walks," Chaney said. "I was right around the zone all day. I also had quite a few Ks (seven). My fastball and curve were there today and I didn't have to throw my knuckleball. I just keep the ball low and let them hit it. Our defense has to make a lot of plays behind me and they did. I had a strong outing because of our defense."
Red Devil manager Dan Niemi said his team was hampered by its youth and inexperience.
"Our age really came out today," Niemi said. "We had a lot of errors and the errors killed us. I guarantee you next year we will be well-prepared for this tournament. Our kids played tough, but Stephenson did a good job, too. We have only one senior, so it was a tough end for a kid like (Travis) Mylly. (Desmond) Sackmann came in and kept them down. He was throwing a heavy ball."
The Red Devils lost two good starting pitchers before the season started but managed to start the year with a surprising 5-0 record. Then Matt Dary, who had moved up to the No. 1 starter in the rotation, was injured and Ironwood lost seven straight games. Niemi was not looking to make excuses, but Ironwood losing its top three starters was a loss a high school team could not overcome.
"When Dary went down, our No. 4, 5 and 6 starters became our No. 1, 2 and 3 pitchers," Niemi said. "But they'll all be coming back next year and we'll have two junior and two senior pitchers."
The Eagles got off the bus ready for action. Shortstop Eddy Becema singled off Brett Ossanna, stole second and was attempting to steal third when the catcher's throw went into left field. Brown Arack punched a soft line-drive down the right field line and clean-up hitter Alex Starzynski walked. Both runners advanced and scored on stolen bases, wild pitches and passed balls.
Stephenson went up 3-0 after one-inning and Sackmann took the mound and pitched the final 5 2/3 innings.
"We jumped on them early," Koller said. "We got some timely, aggressive hitting. Usually we don't score a lot and have to rely on our pitching and defense."
In the third inning, Eric Hanson roped a base-hit, stole second and went to third when the ball that was thrown to second base went into center-field. Hanson scored on another wild pitch. Starzynski was hit by a pitch. But Ironwood second base-man, Zach Combs, caught a liner and doubled off Starzynski at first base.
But Stephenson managed to score again when Andrew Dahlberg beat out an infield hit and crossed the plate when T.J. Raether hit a grounder to third base that was booted for a long error.
The Eagles scored three more runs in the fourth inning, with the highlight being Starzynski raking a double down the right field line. Stephenson had an 8-0 advantage after four innings.
The Red Devils avoided a shutout in the sixth inning when Mylly poked a single, Jon Clemens walked and Ossanna brought in Mylly, who whistled a low line drive between the third basemen and the bag.
Mylly closed out four years of baseball in the Ironwood program by going 2-3.
Arzack led the Eagle hitting attack with a 3-4 afternoon and Starynski scored three runs.
Even though Sackmann gave up five runs, only three were earned. He scattered five hits and whiffed one batter. The young Sackmann appears to have a future in Ironwood's pitching rotation.
The freshman Clemens did a fine job defensively from his shortstop position.
Norway won the district championship by defeating Stephenson 15-0 in a later game.