ALTON — The wins piled up for the Metro East Bears at the American Legion Great Lakes Regional at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park, but in the end it was still one win short.
The Bears ran into a buzz saw in Midland, Mich. — the team that finished runner-up in the Legion World Series a year ago and won it all in 2009 — losing 14-4 in eight innings Sunday. Midland (45-7) advances to the World Series for the fifth time in eight years. The 2015 World Series begins in Shelby, N.C. on Wednesday.
The Bears went 4-2 in the five-day tournament.
An emotional day for Metro East saw it win 3-2 over Madison, Wis. earlier in the day to get to the title tilt of its tourney, but run out of gas against Midland. The Bears finished up with a solid 31-10 record.
“They could hit, then they could hit and they could hit some more,” Metro East's Connor Melton said of Midland.
The Bears handed Midland its first loss in the tournament on Saturday, winning 9-7. But initially they erupted out to an 8-0 lead and then had stave off a strong rally to win.
“It almost wasn't enough,” Melton said of Saturday's victory.
Midland manager Steve Cronkright thought the experience of being in championship situations during regional play really helped on Sunday. Post 165 canned pitching to be ready for the title tilt and stayed calm after Saturday's setback.
“We won our first three games and naturally we were in the driver's seat compared to the other teams, because we played one less game,” Cronkright said. “I've got five coaches and they've all been to the World Series before and we're always throwing BP and doing something. With our coaching experience and we have seven guys back (from last year) and they're a solid seven.”
Advancing to the championship game was a great accomplishment according to Bears' manager Ken Schaake. He knows his team played a great tournament.
“The kids knew they were going to come here, but they didn't want to be coasting in, they wanted to earn it,” Schaake said. “They went through our District 22, went through the Fifth Division, got to the championship game in the state, so they legitimately earned both state runner-up and their position here. In that respect you have to be proud of the effort and the pride in what these kids do when they're on the field. There are tears in their eyes because some of them realize they're not going to play Legion ball again.”
Aaron Jackson got the nod on the hill for Metro East, going on three days rest. Jackson threw a complete-game victory in the tournament opener for the Bears on Thursday.
He began the game vs. Midland with a strikeout, but a double from Connor Smith and a two-out RBI single from tournament MVP Carson Eby staked Midland to an early 1-0 lead.
“I was a little nervous when Jackson went out there, pitching on three days rest, usually he gets a little more than that,” Melton said. “I thought we were making a mistake, but no we weren't. He did a great job. He felt good and we were all behind him, but it just felt like anything he threw over the plate they just clobbered it and there's not much you can do about it.”
Overall Midland banged out 15 hits in the win, including eight extra base hits. Leadoff hitter Derrek Clyde was 4 for 6 with four doubles to set the tone.
And on the other side, Midland saved its ace for Sunday. Alex Sova was solid. Sova was a top-25 player in Michigan according to Prep Baseball Report in 2014. He was a freshman at Iowa Western Community College in 2015.
“Sova threw well and we had a couple other arms we could use,” Cronkright said.
Midland tagged on four runs in the third to take a 5-0 cushion, but the Bears answered in the top of the fourth to dwindle it to 5-2.
Jackson coaxed a leadoff walk, followed by a Mitchell Krebs' single and another walk to Melton. Maverick McSparin then hit a sacrifice fly to score Jackson and a two-out single to center by Nick Paulda scored Krebs to account for the other run.
But Midland erupted for four more runs in the bottom of the fourth to balloon it to 9-2. Two errors plagued the Bears defense in the inning and chased Jackson from the game. He was lifted for Kory Loew.
Midland scored twice more in the fifth to extend it to 11-2, but Metro East tacked on two runs to slice it to 11-4 in the sixth.
Paulda drew a two-out walk, Chance Foss was hit by a pitch and Drake Hampton singled to load the bases. Jordan Hovey then came through with a two-run single.
In the end it wasn't enough, as Midland scored twice more in the seventh and then walked off with a short-game victory in the eighth when Clyde smacked his fourth double to score Caleb Sommerville.
“This is their fifth one in the last eight years,” Paulda said. “They're a heck of a ball club. They come out here and they can hit the ball, they can throw the ball and they make the plays behind them and I think they're going to represent us very well in Shelby.”
It wasn't a totally lost day for Metro East though, which got a stellar outing from Jake St. Peters in the early game against Madison. St. Peters threw a complete game and was happy to help get his squad to the finale and give them a chance at the World Series.
“I just tried not putting much pressure on myself,” St. Peters said. “I just stayed relaxed, calm. Today was probably the best I've ever felt. Without a doubt it was my best game.”
The Great Lakes Regional returns to Moore Park in 2016, so St. Peters is already thinking about that. Much of the squad, including St. Peters will be back.
“Losing this regional definitely left a sour taste in my mouth,” St. Peters said. “I definitely want to experience something different next year.”
GREAT LAKES REGIONAL TITLE GAME
MIDLAND, MICH. 14, METRO EAST 4, 8 INNINGS
Metro East 000 202 00X — 4 4 3
Midland 104 420 21X — 14 15 2
BEARS (31-10) — Drake Hampton 1-5, Jordan Hovey 1-3 BB 2 RBIs, Aaron Jackson 0-3 BB, Mitchell Krebs 1-4, Connor Melton 0-2 2 BBs, Maverick McSparin 0-2 BB RBI, Matt Zielonko 0-3 HBP, Nick Paulda 1-3 BB RBI, Chance Foss 0-1 HBP.
LP — Jackson 3.2IP 10H 9R 6ER 1BB 3K
Kory Loew 0.2IP 1H 2R 2ER 1BB 0K
Foss 2.0IP 3H 2R 2ER 4BB 3K
Hampton 1.0IP 1H 1R 1ER 1BB 1K
MIDLAND (45-7) — Derrek Clyde 4-6 4 2Bs RBI, Connor Smith 2-4 2 2Bs RBI, Cole Brooks 3-5 3B 5 RBIs, Carson Eby 2-3 2B BB HBP 2 RBIs, Michael Westley 2-3 2B 2 BBs 2 RBIs, Jordan Dopp 1-5 RBI, Ty Jones 1-5 RBI, Caleb Sommerville 0-3 2 BBs, Martin Money 0-2 2 BBs.
WP — Alex Sova 6.0IP 4H 4R 4ER 6BB 5K
Alec Justin 2.0IP 0H 0R 0ER 0BB 1K