WHAT A BATTLE: Eskymos Fall To No. 7 Southgate

Click the thumbnails to see photos and videos, and to hear post-game comments from Escanaba's Ben Johnson, Manager Scott Hanson, and STA's Nolan Prater, Memphis Davenport, Rico Valdovinos, and Manager Andy Green.

A long trip to the Upper Peninsula was worth it this weekend in more ways than one for the Southgate Anderson High School baseball team. The STA Titans bolstered their seventh-in-the-state ranking four victories over the Escanaba Eskymos and Gladstone Braves, but also made memories that will last a lifetime.

The Titans finished their weekend with 9-4 and 1-0 wins over the Eskymos at Al Ness Field, the place where STA Manager Andy Green spent many late-June evenings as an American Legion Baseball coach participating in the Delta County Jaycees and Gregg Johnson Memorial Tournaments.

Green was happy to see his STA team play well this weekend, but, also, to see the boys enjoy the unique experience of playing outside of suburban Detroit.

“In the last few years (with COVID-19) the world definitely changed,” Green said. “To be able to do something like this again, you realize, after the last few years, how important some things are. The kids enjoyed it. Over half of my kids have never been here before. We'll eat at the House of Ludington as a team tonight (Saturday).”

Escanaba Manager Scott Hanson, despite two losses, was equally happy.

“I got exactly what I wanted out of this,” Hanson said. “It was a great experience for us. I'm glad they were able to come up here. We're 100-percent committed to go to their place next year. We need to play teams like this. In reality, it really doesn't matter who's in the other dugout. We're not afraid of anybody, and we just have to play our game. We could've given them a better game in the first one, but that second game was a great baseball game.”

Indeed, the second game of the doubleheader was a playoff-style classic. Escanaba senior Ben Johnson went up against STA's Nolan Prater. Both guys went toe-to-toe all afternoon long, with plenty of great defense behind both of them.

The only run of the game came in the second inning, when the Titans got a lead-off walk to Jace Walerski. Thomas Laskowski followed with a single, putting runners at the corners. Green then tried a delayed steal, and it worked, as Laskowski stole second and Walerski came home as the throw went to second base.

“(Catcher) Mikaiden (Hughes) is a freshman with some inexperience,” Hanson said. “It's stuff that we've got to work on. He (Laskowski) had the base stolen. So, he (Hughes) has got to eat the throw at that point. Throwing it down didn't help the cause. That's just an experience thing. Mikaiden is doing fine.”

Green, though, thought there was some a little deeper.

“I preach the little things, and I know that Scott does too,” Green said. “That 1-2 pitch to Laskowski, He fought one off and he bled one into right field. He didn't strike out. Then we run a first-and-third play that just worked for us. That 1-2 pitch that he didn't strike out on. That's so big in one-run games like this.”

The Eskymos had chances to score against STA pitcher Nolan Prater, but were turned away every time. In the fifth inning, a single by Hughes started the inning, then Lenny Peacock was safe on an error to put two men on. Nick Chiu popped up to the catcher to end the threat. Then in the bottom of the sixth inning, Eli Gardner walked and Ben Johnson was safe on an error.

With runners at second and third, LaChance scorched one ticketed toward the left field corner. Walerski, at third base, somehow caught it.

“I am shocked that he caught that,” Hanson said. “I don't think Bon could have hit that any harder. That was the play of the game. I was waiting to see it go through, and all of sudden, it's in his glove. Oh my gosh, what a great play. He (Walerski) had several great plays. He is a good first baseman.”

“He saved the game,” Green agreed. “If we play defense and do little things like that, we will be tough to beat. But we have to square up the ball a little bit more (offensively).”

Senior Ben Johnson threw one of his best games in an Eskymo uniform, limiting the potent STA lineup to just five hits.

“I'm just really proud of how we played,” Johnson said. “That's a really good team. I had some arm issues the other day, but I felt good. I threw 100 pitches and we just weren't able to manufacture any runs. They were able to, and that was the story of the game. We left so many runners on base and that's something we've got to work on. It didn't work out. But that was our purpose for getting a hard schedule. It's all preparation for districts.”

“Johnson threw a great game,” Green said. “My kids are coming back to the dugout, saying that he had a little ride on his fastball. A really good curveball that had some break. He was locating his pitches. He made my kids battle. He kept us off-balance all day. I just can't be any more impressed with how their kid pitched.”

Unfortunately for Johnson, Nolan Prater was just as good on the mound for the Titans. He threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit ball, but when the Eskymos got two men on in the sixth inning, Green brought in Rico Valdovinos to finish it out. Valdovinos got the final two outs of the sixth inning, and all three outs in the seventh, to preserve the 1-0 win.

Prater says he had no problem handing the ball to Valdovinos.

“I was completely fine with that,” Prater said. “I had full confidence in Rico to finish up that game and he did a great job at the end there.”

And as for his own pitching?

“My mechanics felt great,” Prater said. “The change-up was feeling really good. The curveball was a little iffy, but I think I was really locating with the fastball. It felt great. It was a scrappy game, and I think my teammates just did a great job of holding it down back there.”

“I felt pretty good,” Valdovinos said. “I just had to come up in a pretty big spot, and do what I do. And I got the job done.”

And what about when LaChance smoked a would-be two-run hit that Walerski snared?

“I just felt relief,” Valdovinos said. “I mean, Jace is really good at third and I trust my defense really good. I don't have a fast fastball. The curveball was doing pretty good today, and my fastball, I was really locating.”

The first game saw Eskymo pitcher Peacock struggle with the strike zone, and when he resorted to throwing the ball right down the middle, the Titan hitters made contact. Peacock was also unlucky as a couple of those hits were weakly-hit on the infield, and then STA first baseman Logan Lynn smoked a two-run single to make it a 4-0 lead for the Titans before the Eskymos even came to the plate.

“Four runs in the first inning, with only one well-hit ball,” Hanson said. “But they did such a good job of putting the bat on the ball. Good two-strike approach.”

Escanaba cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third inning when the Eskymos cashed in on two walks and an error. Bon LaChance took a curveball the opposite way for a two-run single, making it a 4-2 game.

But Peacock never could get comfortable on the mound. He gave up five hits in the top of the fourth inning, with Rico Valdovinos, Memphis Davenport, and Thomas Laskowski all delivering run-scoring hits to effectively put the game away.

Cannon Arnt and Nick Chiu came on to pitch for the Eskymos and they held the Titans off the board for the final 12 outs (allowed no hits and only two walks), but the damage was done. Escanaba scored two unearned runs late to make it a 9-4 final.

Davenport, a freshman pitcher for STA, is an interesting story, not only because of his talent, but, also, his name. His name is Memphis, named because that is where the late singer Elvis Presley became famous. But he is one of five siblings, and...

“I have a brother named Elvis, I have a sister named Presley, another sister named Harley, and a brother named Bristol (Tennessee).” Davenport said. “My grandma loves Elvis. She passed it down to me, and I love him too. I actually named my brother. He's seven.”

Daveport threw a great game for the Titans, with all four runs against him being unearned. He was one pitch away from a complete-game in the seventh inning, but LaChance ruined that when he smoked his second double of the game with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Davenport also had to battle through allergies that made his eyes water, not something a pitcher wants to have happen.

“My dad taught me since I was little that you've got to push through everything,” Davenport said. “Just conquer it. I love it up here. It's really peaceful up here. I love it.”

It was an emotional visit for Green, remembering the late Gregg Johnson, the Escanaba Cubs assistant coach for many years, and the late Nick Nolde, the former Eskymo who died after several battles with brain cancer at the age of 41 in 2021. Nolde was the chief umpire for those Legion tournaments that Green's teams played in up here.

“I love it up here,” Green said. “I love the people up here. It's almost like a second home for me. I can't say enough about this place up here. We're going to do this at our place next year, and I'd like to do it all the time.”

Escanaba fell to 9-7 on the season, but Hanson says it was a great effort as the Eskymos prepare to host future-district opponents Kingsford and Sault Ste. Marie next Saturday.

“The reality is, the pitching is fine, the defense is fine, but we've got to find a way to manufacture some runs,” Hanson said. “Normally, we go 'small ball', but we haven't been able to get our bunts down, either. So, that will be a point of emphasis coming into the week.”

And for STA (14-3 overall), Green says it was important to play a 1-0-type game, as his team heads into a huge game against rival Trenton on Monday in Southgate.

“This was good for us,” Green said. “We needed these games today. I thought we did a really good job with two-strike approaches today. Even though we didn't square it up, we didn't strike out a lot. This Escanaba team is a really good baseball team. Including us, we've got three other ranked teams in our league (Woodhaven, Allen Park, Trenton).”

LISTEN: STA Manager Andy Green post-game comments
LISTEN: STA pitcher Rico Valdovinos comments
LISTEN: STA winning pitcher Nolan Prater comments
LISTEN: STA pitcher Memphis Davenport post-game-comments
LISTEN: Scott Hanson post-game comments
LISTEN: Ben Johnson post-game comments