Legion baseball: Marquette Blues’ aggressive baserunning leads to win over Ishpeming Blue Storm

MARQUETTE – The Marquette Blues are used to having good hitters and they’re always known for a deep, quality pitching staff.

This American Legion baseball team has plenty of those but something else, too, this season.

“We’ve got some speed so we can do some things on the basepaths,” Blues manager Derek Swajanen said about a new wrinkle for the team this season.

“A big credit goes to (assistant coach) Randy Larson. He’s worked on some things that go back to the fundamentals on the bases.”

The Blues used some of this “small ball” to break open a close game and post a 10-1 victory over the Ishpeming Blue Storm at Gerard Haley Memorial Field in north Marquette on Tuesday evening.

Leading 2-1, Marquette broke loose for five runs on just one hit in the bottom of the fifth inning to effectively seal the win and improve to 11-5.

“As long as we play good, solid baseball, if we play smart, we should be in just about any game,” Swajanen said. “This is a completely different lineup than last year, so I’m happy they’re playing this well.”

The Blues used three unusual sacrifices in the rally coupled with a pair of hit batsmen and a two-run triple by cleanup hitter Ryan Hanson for all their runs in the fifth.

The first sacrifice was a bunt that scored a runner from first base and put batter Sam Leow on third base due to two Ishpeming errors on the play.

The next was a sac-fly that also didn’t get an out due to another Blue Storm error, while the last sacrifice was another fly ball, but to foul territory that was caught but still deep enough to bring another runner home.

“We played real well for four innings, but we had that one inning get away from us,” Blue Storm manager Brian Fisher said after his team fell to 3-3. “We’re getting used to a different system this season, and the guys are still learning.”

Though he was batting eighth in the order, Ishpeming’s Kirk Guckenberg had two of his team’s four hits, including a ground-rule double that bounced once in deep left field before going over the fence.

“Kirk’s really been coming along, and he’s going to be big at the plate for us later in the season,” Fisher said.

But other than a first-inning run that was helped along with two Blues errors, winning hurler McKinley Larson was in control virtually the whole game, striking out 11 and walking two.

He and several other pitchers are in their first season with the Blues, but get help from veteran catchers Levi Underwood and Ryan Hanson.

On Tuesday, Underwood called every pitch himself and caught a foul pop-up with a lunging grab behind the plate in the sixth.

“Me and the pitchers work together pretty well,” Underwood said. “McKinley, he picks his spots and hits them.

“He can place his curve and his slider, and his fastball jumps.”

The catcher said his No. 1 priority this season is to become the best catcher he can, though on Tuesday, he managed a run-scoring single and scored two runs with a bat in his hands.

Blues’ leadoff hitter and centerfielder Ryan Walther was 3 for 3 with two RBIs, three runs scored and one of those unusual sac-flies, while Hanson had two hits, one the big triple, as he knocked in three runs and found time to steal a base.

Marquette’s next games are a doubleheader at Antigo, Wis., starting at 6 p.m. EDT on Friday.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.