MIDLAND, Mich. – Back and forth things went in Game 1 of a best-of-three series to begin the Midwest League Playoffs Eastern Division Semifinals between the Great Lakes Loons and Lansing Lugnuts. Turns out the Lugnuts made one more play than the Loons to give them a 6-5 victory at Dow Diamond and a 1-0 series lead.
“It’s easy to quit when you’re down 5-2, but it’s the playoffs and that’s what you play the whole year for,” Loons manager Luis Matos said. “I know it’s a little different in the minor leagues, but you have the same mentality of winning.”
The Loons responded the first two times Lansing took the lead in both the 2nd and 5th innings with runs of their own to keep the Lugnuts from pulling away. But, a three-run 7th proved to be insurmountable despite the long ball doing its best to support Great Lakes. Mike Ahmed homered off Dusty Isaacs and Garrett Kennedy added another solo home run in the 8th for the Loons.
Despite being on a pitch count, Grant Holmes battled through 4 2/3 innings in his second professional postseason start. The right-hander allowed three runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out three in a no decision.
Lansing opened the scoring in the 2nd inning when Justin Atkinson walked and scored on a double by nine-hitter Gunnar Heidt.
However, Ahmed would score with one out in the 3rd on a single by Matt Beaty. Brian Wolfe then brought Jordan Tarsovich across to score with a sacrifice fly to give Great Lakes a 2-1 lead.
“It’s a tough loss, but we gave ourselves a chance to win the game,” Beaty said. “That’s all you can really ask for. We were down by one in the 9th and with one swing of the bat we could’ve been playing extras.”
The Lugnuts took back the lead in the 5th when Heidt led off the inning with a double, his second of the game. Chris Carlson would follow suit with a double to score Heidt and Jason Leblebijian singled off Loons reliever Luis De Paula to make it 4-3.
De Paula (0-1) took the loss after tossing 2 1/3 innings allowing three runs on four hits.
To lead off the bottom of the 5th, Gage Green was hit by a pitch from Shane Dawson on a 1-2 count. After a visit from trainer Kalie Swain, Green took his base. After stealing second base, Green advanced on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Tarsovich, which was a bang-bang play at third. Beaty then flew out to right field to bring Green in. A run without a base hit for the Loons as it was knotted 3-3 headed to the 6th.
Dawson (1-0) had a good night on the mound for the Lugnuts, limiting the damage despite only surrendering four hits. He was charged with three earned runs allowed while he walked two and struck out three.
Then came the top of the 7th when Lansing would plate three runs thanks to a sacrifice fly from Midwest League MVP Ryan McBroom and run-scoring hits from outfielders DJ Davis and David Harris.
Home runs from Ahmed and Kennedy would make things interesting down the stretch, but Jose Fernandez would not allow a run as he earned the five-out save.
Bubby Rossman and Matt Campbell did their part as they combined to pitch two scoreless innings to close out the game for Great Lakes, with Campbell striking out the side in the 9th inning.
With the win, Lansing now takes a 1-0 series lead back to the state capitol with Game 2 slated for Thursday at Cooley Law School Stadium. Andrew Sopko is set to take the mound for the Loons while the Lugnuts will send Justin Schafer to the hill. First pitch it set for 7:05 p.m. and you can hear Chris Vosters call the action on ESPN 100.9-FM.