Prep baseball: Negaunee finds pitching prospect in losses to Gladstone

NEGAUNEE – Mark Hill liked what he saw from a new arm in his rotation on Wednesday evening.

The Negaunee High School baseball manager watched sophomore Owen LaJoie take a hard-luck loss as the Miners were swept by a powerful Gladstone team at the Negaunee baseball field.

The Braves improved to 16-1 this spring with 16-6 and 4-2 victories.

LaJoie has pitched this spring for the first time in four years due to injuries. He was tagged with the Game 2 loss in 40-degree weather with a bit of a breeze blowing in from centerfield.

He scattered eight singles and walked two though he didn’t strike out anybody.

“Owen should have a pretty bright future,” Hill said, “especially since he’s only pitched one other time so far this spring.”

Gladstone put on its hitting shoes in the opener, knocking around three Miners pitchers to end the game after five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.

“I called on him to pitch and he really stymied them,” Hill said about LaJoie stopping the visitors momentum in the nightcap. “We just weren’t able to string any hits together to get him enough support.”

LaJoie is the younger brother of Negaunee senior catcher Tyler LaJoie, who was also a standout running back for the Miners football team for several years.

Despite catching, Tyler LaJoie is his team’s best base stealer, including three he swiped in Game 2. Owen finds pitching to his brother interesting.

He added that since his body has matured from the time he was a sixth-grader, he’s now able to throw a curveball.

“I tried to throw it before, but I just couldn’t,” he said about the old days. “That gives me another pitch other than the fastball.”

He admitted one thing about his best attribute as a pitcher: “I like to think about how I’m going to get them out.”

As they did in the opener, the Braves scored once with an unearned run in the top of the first inning to take an early lead.

But unlike Game 1 when Gladstone rolled to advantages of 6-0 and 9-6, Negaunee (7-5) answered in the bottom of the first with two runs for its only lead of the day.

Tyler LaJoie, junior Chad Larson and senior Eric Lori led off with walks to load the bases with nobody out when Braves manager Donald Lauscher pulled pitcher Christian Groleau in favor of Jake Peterson.

Peterson had the rare line of getting every out in a winning effort despite not starting.

“Usually I start, but coach wanted Christian to get some innings in today,” Peterson said. “I think his arm was bothering him, though.”

Peterson surrendered a two-run single to the first man he faced, sophomore Jay Lori, then got the next three men out to prevent further damage.

“I just try to throw strikes,” Peterson said. “With the wind blowing in, as long as I didn’t leave any pitches in the middle of the plate, I felt like I had a pretty good chance to be successful.”

He allowed just four singles and two walks while striking out six.

After Gladstone tied the game 2-2 in the top of the second, Negaunee had a chance to retake the lead and possibly break it open.

Eric Lori reached on a tough grounder to shortstop to load the bases with two outs, but Tyler LaJoie strayed too far from third base and was caught with a quick throw by the cagey shortstop, Justin Jurek.

“We still have to work on some of those basics since we haven’t had a lot of time to practice outside,” Hill said.

The Miners had just one more runner in the next four innings while the Braves added single runs in the fifth and sixth to take a 4-2 lead.

Each of those rallies featured two singles and Gladstone’s version of “small ball,” including several sacrifice bunts and steal attempts.

In the bottom of the seventh, Tyler LaJoie reached on a slow roller bobbled by the second baseman and Larson walked to put the tying run on.

But Eric Lori struck out attempting to get his third hit of the game, ending the rally.