Legion baseball: Young, yet full of fight, Marquette Blues sweep Kingsford in home doubleheader

MARQUETTE – Maybe they could be called the Marquette Purples – a mixture of Reds and Blues.

This year’s Marquette Blues don’t look as young and inexperienced as their Reds counterparts, who are generally just starting in American Legion baseball, but they also don’t have many veterans who often lead the Blues to the most success.

This in-between Blues team made strides Tuesday night when it swept a Mid-Pen League doubleheader from visiting Kingsford at Gerard Haley Memorial Field, however.

One of their most experienced players, centerfielder Ryan Walther, clinched Game 2 when he turned a 7-6 deficit into a walkoff victory in the nightcap.

Kingsford took the lead four times in this game before the final Marquette rally. Shortstop Ryan Hanson led off the bottom of the seventh with a sharp single to left off Kingsford pitcher Cole Michaud before McKinley Larson walked to set himself up as the winning run.

That’s when visiting manager Kevin Murdock decided to bring Game 1 starter Aidan Weinke back in to quash the rally.

Instead, he threw a wild pitch to move the runners up a base, then gave up a screaming liner by Walther down the rightfield line that landed a few feet foul.

“It was fair in the air, but it sliced about three feet foul,” Walther said.

Two pitches later, the righthanded Walther went the opposite way, slamming the ball about 10 or 15 feet inside the leftfield line. Hanson cruised home and by the time Kingsford leftfielder Dan Olson rushed a high throw to the plate, Larson also came in standing up.

“I knew his stuff after he pitched the first game,” Walther said. “That second hit (to left field) was an inside fastball. And I like to hit fastballs.”

The sweep was a testament to a persistent team that didn’t have its best night statistically – Marquette committed nine errors and issued 10 walks while recording 16 hits and giving up 16 hits.

“We had some mental errors in both games, but these guys just battled back,” Marquette manager Derek Swajanen said. “You have to remember, we have a lot of younger kids this year, and they’ve never played more than 30 games in one season.

“Now that we’re getting to that point, there may be some mental fatigue, at least until you start seeing the finish line.

“But I think they learned a lot today.”

Marquette improved to 9-2 in the Mid-Pen and 22-14 overall.

Murdock was pleased to be in a tight game after the hosts ran away early in Game 1 on the strength of a five-run first inning for a 9-5 victory.

“It’s nice to see how this team handles, or doesn’t handle, a close game like this,” the Kingsford manager said. “We kept battling back, and that’s the kind of thing I like to see.”

Like the first game, Marquette started strongly in Game 2, getting doubles from Larson and Riley Lynch for a 2-0 first-inning lead.

But Kingsford tied the score in the top of the second following three hits and two Marquette throwing errors. Marquette starter Colin O’Neal kept the score tied by inducing a bounce-out to strand runners on second and third.

The teams traded single runs in each of the next five times up, with Kingsford taking leads of 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4 before Marquette’s Luke Swajanen laced a one-out single to left to score two runs and put his team up 6-5 in the fifth.

But Kingsford kept scoring a run an inning and went up 7-6 in the top of the seventh on an ugly play by Marquette on a weak infield bouncer that resulted in two throwing errors and Weinke scoring.

Further damage was averted when Hanson took another bouncer and made a throw home from his shortstop position to gun down Kingsford’s Wes Paupore.

Luke Swajanen pitched the final two innings and got the win in relief of O’Neal, even though the pair combined to give up seven hits and seven walks while the Marquette defense committed five errors.

In the opener, Lynch went the distance for Marquette, allowing nine hits and three walks while he fanned nine. Weinke took the loss, going just one inning and allowing six runs on three hits and five walks.

Walther, who collected two hits each game and totaled four RBIs, was one of several hitting stars Tuesday. After a hitless first game, Larson doubled his first two times up in the nightcap, with both balls reaching the fence. Kingsford gave him respect after that by issuing him walks.

Kingsford’s Brien Johnson was the most prolific batter, though, reaching base his first seven times up before he successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt in his eighth plate appearance.

“And I almost beat that one out,” the stocky first baseman said after collecting four hits, two walks and getting hit with a pitch another time.

Marquette hosts its annual Fourth of July game against the Ishpeming Blue Storm at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Haley Field. Marquette’s Major Division All-Star team will also be introduced with the players before the start of the game.