By Ben Murphy
Entering the bottom of the fifth inning of Tuesday’s division three quarterfinal at Traverse City West everything appeared to be going in Clare’s favor. The Pioneers held a 1-0 lead over Whittemore-Prescott and starting pitcher Hunter Ruby was in a groove, holding the Cardinals hitless through four innings.
The last three innings proved to be fatal however, as the Cardinals scored five runs to win 5-1 and end Clare’s season.
“We had a good season,” Clare head coach Skeet Colosky said. “We accomplished a lot. We won two tournaments, won districts and regionals. We ran into a good team. They had a good pitcher, he mixed it up very well and they had some kids that could swing the bat.”
Clare had several chances to score runs against W-P’s ace Tyler Janish (Oakland University commit) but couldn’t capitalize.
The Pioneers had runners on second and third with one out in the top of the first but a ground-out and a strike out ended the threat.
Ruby reached on an error in the second inning but couldn’t get in scoring position and Clare was retired in order in the third.
Garrett Jenkins and Logan Emery led off the fourth inning with a pair of singles and Matthew Magnus reached base on a fielder’s choice as the W-P catcher fired to third on the play to get the out there, but Jenkins slid in safely to load the bases with zero outs.
Brock Swan was up next, and hit a sacrifice fly to center field to put Clare up 1-0, while also moving Emery to third and Magnus to second with one out.
Clare tried a suicide squeeze next, but after they failed to get the bunt down Emery was hung out to dry in between third and home, getting tagged for the second out of the inning.
The Pioneers’ next batter grounded out to end the scoring threat.
“We didn’t execute very well,” Colosky said of only scoring one run in that sequence. “That happens, it’s baseball.”
Clare only had two baserunners the rest of the game, both of which reached on W-P errors.
“He was outstanding,” W-P head coach Ed Mervyn said of Janish. “He’s the leader on the field and he backed it up.”
W-P meanwhile got its offense going in the fifth inning, with Michael Wilson getting a one out base hit for the Cards first hit of the game. W-P’s next batter walked and Janish followed that with a base hit to left field to tie it at 1-1.
The Cardinals had another hit and then got a two-run double by Jose Rodriguez to pull ahead 3-1 and chased Ruby from the game in the process.
“When Rodriguez socked that ball it really got us riled up,” Mervyn said. “That made the difference.”
Ruby finished with 4 1/3 innings pitched, giving up three runs on five hits, four strikeouts and four walks.
“He pitched on short rest from Saturday (regionals) to today,” Colosky said. “We had a couple guys that were a little tender or tired from Saturday. He gave us a good outing we should have just given him a little more support.”
Charlie Bugbee relieved Ruby on the mound, getting a pair of ground outs to end the inning, preventing any further damage to keep the score at 3-1.
The Cards, who were in the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history, scored two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth to account for the 5-1 final.
Janish pitched a complete game for his ninth win of the season, giving up one run on two hits, four strikeouts and no walks.
Clare reached the quarterfinals by topping Meridian 5-4 in the Pinconning regional championship on Saturday.
“You can call it revenge, you can call it whatever you want but anytime Meridian and Clare play it’s going to be a good game,” Colosky said. “We played well in those two games (two regular season losses to Meridian) but we didn’t execute. To get them back in the regional final, that was fun, that was definitely a good thing for our program and a good thing for our seniors to go out on.”
Colton Punches was the winning pitcher in the game, pitching 6 and 1/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits, 10 strikeouts and six walks.
The Pioneers took a 6-2 lead into the seventh inning, but after allowing three runs brought Ruby in for the final two outs to get the save.
Emery had three singles to lead the Clare offense, Ruby and Cameron Dice both had two hits with Charlie Bugbee adding an RBI double. Dice, Emery and James Baer also had one RBI apiece in the game.
The Pioneers also topped Valley Lutheran 3-1 in the regional semi-finals earlier in the day.
Ruby pitched a complete game, giving up one unearned run on three hits and seven strikeouts.
Baer had a double and a single to lead the Clare offense, with Jenkins, Emery and Bugbee getting one single apiece. Baer, Jenkins and Emery all had one RBI for Clare.
“We played very well,” Colosky said of regionals. “We executed on offense and we had good pitching performances by Ruby and Punches. It’s fun when we’re playing good, solid fundamental baseball.”
Clare finishes the season 24-5.
“We have a lot of people returning,” Colosky said. “We lose quite a few too but our junior varsity team was solid this year and we have a lot of good returners. We have two summer league programs as well and we’ll start back up in the winter too.”
Photos by Ben Murphy