Norse Sweep Pioneers; Still Alive In Playoff Chase

Click the thumbnails to see photos and videos taken by Brad Landis, and to hear comments from Jace Cota, Aedan Creten, Charlson Crodes, Zac Gomersall, and Manager Mike Pankow. Also listen to some radio replays.

Somehow, they're still alive, even as the time ticks away on the NJCAA baseball regular season.

For the first time ever, the Bay College Norse are contenders for an NJCAA playoff spot, and even though they didn't control their own destiny, the Norse put together a big weekend on the home field to at least temporarily save their season yet again.

The Norse swept another doubleheader from the Delta College Pioneers from Saginaw on Saturday, winning 9-2 and 12-9, after also winning twice on Friday, 5-2 and 5-1.

It's the first time the Norse have ever swept a four-game series from anybody, let alone an MCCAA team at crunch time. And the sweep keeps the Norse mathematically alive in the race for the final playoff spot, at least for a few more days.

Bay needs to sweep Alpena Community College on Tuesday, and have Mid Michigan lose twice to Delta College. And then on Wednesday, Bay would also need undefeated Grand Rapids Community College win two make-up games over Mid Michigan.

But whether or not the Norse ultimately make the NJCAA Regional Tournament or not, Norse Manager Mike Pankow says he's proud of his team's accomplishments.

“That's all we can do right now is make sure we do our piece, win our games, and hopefully, we have something to play for,” Pankow said. “These guys have accomplished more than any team we've had here. Our first series sweep in the conference, and I think, ever. We've got solid pitchers who can pitch, and it really is a resilient bunch. We get behind, but we keep coming back. They don't give up until the final out.”

In Saturday's first game, Bay had trouble hitting Pioneer starting pitcher David Walsh. He had a breaking ball that dropped off the table, and the Norse did not score in the first four innings of the game.

Lorenzo Feliciano was pitching well for Bay as well, but gave up a double to Dom Huyck in the third inning, followed by a two-run homer by Coltin Chany on a day where the wind was strongly blowing out to center field.

Trailing 2-0, the Norse rallied in the fifth inning, with their season on the line. Jace Cota and Mel Feliciano both drew walks to start the inning at the bottom of the Bay batting lineup, and as Feliciano was caught trying to steal, Cota scored a run.

Tyler Darmogray followed with a base hit, and with two out (and after a bad pick-off throw), he scored om an infield base hit by Josh Blake.

With the game tied at 2-2, the Pioneers went to the bullpen in the fifth inning. Bay took advantage as George Cooper led off with a hit, and scored all the way from first on a triple by Andres Franco. Franco also scored on the play as the throw to the infield got away, giving Bay a 4-2 lead.

Aedan Creten followed with a base hit, and then rode home as Cota smacked a long home run to center field, his first of the season, giving Bay a 6-2 lead.

“I guess I finally got a hold of one,” Cota said with a smile. “It was great. I've been waiting for it all season. It finally happened. In went up there, I was sitting on a fastball. He threw me one, pretty down the middle, and I guess I just got hold of it and sent it to center. I thought it was a ground-rule double until I heard everyone screaming.”

The icing on the cake cake in the top of the seventh inning (Bay was the visiting team on the scoreboard), when Creten launched a three-run homer to make it a 9-2 Bay win.

“I felt like we cane out a little slow, maybe the weather, right?” Creten said.

And of his home run that essentially put the game away?

“It was a battle,” Creten said. “I fouled off three balls, so it was a full count, or 2-2 count. Then he threw me a fastball right down the middle, and I got a good piece of it. It felt good, coming in as the DH, and coming through in a clutch situation. I tried to stay hot in between innings by running polls with Logan (Peterson).”

Feliciano pitched the entire seven innings when the Norse needed it the most, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out eleven batters, and walking only one.

In the second game, Bay took a 3-0 lead in the first inning when George Cooper launched a three-run homer. And the lead grew to 5-1 in the third inning when Blake and Zach Gibson both hit sacrifice flies with men on third base.

A Charlson Crodes RBI double in the fourth inning from the #9 spot gave Bay a 6-1 lead, but nothing is ever easy with this Norse team. Fans had to buckle their seat belts for a wild three innings that would see 14 more runs come across the plate.

Delta (11-23 overall, 6-12 MCCAA) scored four runs in the fifth inning. Gavin Malenfant smoked a solo home run into the jet stream to lead off the inning, then the Norse made two errors and a wind-blown pop fly landed several feet away from the plate for a base hit.

Layke Hourning smacked a two-run single, and Christian Magnee ripped a double. Then Ethan Edmondson drew a walk to load the bases.

With Malenfant at the plate for the second time that inning, and the Norse clinging to a 6-5 lead, Crodes made a season-saving play behind the plate. He caught the runner leaning too far off of first base, threw to Zac Gomersall, and got the biggest out of the season.

“I just saw that he he had a big lead and he wasn't looking fast to the base,” Crodes said. “So, I looked at Zac, and he saw me, I saw him, and I decided to throw the ball and I got him.”

That kept Bay in front, 6-5, and in the sixth inning, Bay rallied for four more runs.

Crodes had an RBI double, and Darmogray added an RBI double. Then Gomersall, the Australian sophomore who is the vocal and inspirational leader of this Norse team, launched a long one. The fly over the 30-foot right field fence gave the Norse a 10-5 lead.

“It felt great,” Gomersall said. “I had had a couple of singles, but I was up there trying to get a good barrel and keep the train rolling. It felt good to finally get one to go. I stepped in, and I told myself that I'm not trying to do too much, I'm just trying to enjoy it. I knew the wind was howling out to center field, so I was just looking for a middle-away fastball. But I got ahead in the count and he hung me a breaking ball. So, I thought, why not just turn on it a little bit? And that's what happened.”

And yet, it STILL wasn't over, as the Pioneers came back yet again.

Malenfant, who was at the plate when the baserunner was picked off of first base the previous inning, launched another home run. But fortunately for Bay, instead of being a grand slam, it was a solo shot, so the Norse still led, 10-7.

Delta kept chipping away, though, cutting Bay'e lead to 10-8 in the bottom of the sixth inning. Catcher Jay Olivarez had a two-run double in that inning before Gomersall got a called third strike on Hornung to end the threat.

In the top of the seventh, the Norse got some needed insurance runs on two walks, a couple of wild pitches and passed balls, and an error in right field. In the bottom of the seventh, Gomersall pitched much better, delivering a 1-2-3 inning with two pop ups and a ground out.

The resilient 12-8 Norse win, a result that probably wouldn't have happened in other recent years, kept the Bay season alive heading into Sunday.

“I'm on top of the world right now,” Gomersall said. “Just compete. I was telling myself on the mound, just win every pitch. I wasn't trying to get ahead of myself. I knew that we had a good lead because the offense was going crazy. I told Josh (Blake, at third base), that I'm gonna get you a bunch of ground balls. Second one comes straight to Josh, so it was exactly what I was trying to do.”

The win shows that the Norse are not the “same old Norse” baseball club that have never come close to a winning season in its six-year history.

The team's record improved to 18-18 overall, and 9-9 in MCCAA play. Both are by far the best in school history.

“Normally, we give up a four-run inning, with last year's team, and sometimes with this year's team, we would have dropped off and and given up,” Gomersall agreed. “But we came back out and put up four more. Obviously, we're hoping on GR, and do what they do, I have complete faith in our guys to come out and get us into that playoff game. It would mean a lot for me and for our team.”

In Friday's Bay-Delta games, Blake hit home runs in both games of the doubleheader, and Zach Gibson also went deep in the nightcap. Hunter Ballantyne was dominant on the mound in the opener, throwing a complete game three-hitter. The Norse rallied from a 2-0 deficit and Ballantyne did the rest after giving up runs in the first and third innings. Ballantyne struck out eight batters and walked only one.

In the nightcap, Gomersall relieved fellow Aussie George Cooper in the final inning to preserve the sweep. Gomersall got out of a bases loaded, no outs jam with a 1-2-3 double play ball, and then got a fly ball after the bases were reloaded to keep the Norse playoff hopes alive.

Cota had a triple in the second game and scored on a wild pitch. Blake, in addition to his two home runs, had an RBI single in the sixth inning to bring home Darmogray, who had a double earlier in the inning. Zach Gibson added a hit and a run batted in.

Cooper threw six innings, walking four and striking out three. Gomersall got the save

Now, it comes down to Tuesday, with an Alpena team coming to town for a 2:00 doubleheader. The Norse had their most disappointing loss of the season two weeks ago in Alpena, blowing a 4-1 lead in the final inning and losing on a 5-4 walkoff.

The Delta-Mid Michigan doubleheader also starts at 2:00 on Tuesday, so there will be plenty of scoreboard watching for the Norse.

“I told Billy (Delta Manager Billy Cook) I'll buy him a case of whatever he wants if they can help us out,” Pankow laughed.

LISTEN: Charlson Crodes post-game comments
LISTEN: Mike Pankow post-game comments
LISTEN: Aedan Creten post-game comments
LISTEN: Jace Cota post-game comments
LISTEN: Radio replay of Aedan Creten home run
LISTEN: Radio Replay of George Cooper home run
LISTEN: Radio Replay of Zac Gomersall home run