Back-to-back champions

The rain came down hard on Saturday during the annual MacKenzie Invite, but the Alpena baseball team beat Sault St. Marie 8-4 before the championship game with Grosse Point North was cancelled.

Alpena (9-3) and Grosse Point North were both 2-0 in the tournament, but the Wildcats were declared the champion because they had given up four runs in the tournament compared to Grosse Point’s five.

“Its not the way you want to win it, but we still played good baseball,” Alpena coach Phil Schultz said. “We hit the ball really well.”

This win is Alpena’s second MacKenzie Invite championship in a row.

The Wildcats looked like it was on its way to mercying the Soo when it picked up six hits and five runs in the top of the first inning.

Tyler Pintar led things off with a double and was driven in by a Tim Atkinson single. Giulio Fantasia hit a single to drive Atkinson to second.

A Brady Marwede double drove in both runners while a Cody Tucker double drove in Marwede. Brad Styma then drove in Tucker.

Starting Soo pitcher Zac Jodoin picked up the loss, throwing 5 1/3 inning, giving up eight hits, seven runs, four walks and striking out two.

The Wildcats bats came up dry for most of the rest of the game. It picked up only two more hits and three more runs.

Many of its hits were deep fly balls to Soo centerfielder Kolbe Pellar, who fielded eight outs.

Atkinson pitched 6 2/3 innings for the Wildcats and struck out six, walked two and gave up four hits.

The first hit he gave up was a Matt Sirk home run in the second that narrowed Alpena’s lead to 5-1.

Alpena then went up 6-1 after a Dylan Glennie single in the third transformed into a run due to a series of errors.

Soo first baseman Jacob Casey missed the Glennie throw out at first, which drove him to third. Casey then hesitated too long with the ball, which gave Glennie time to score and give Alpena the 6-1 lead.

The Wildcats ran into some trouble in the bottom of the third after Atkinson walked Steve Thoreson. A Tucker throwing error at second advanced Thoreson to third and let hitter Ben LaCross make it safely to first.

Pellar then hit a single to knock in Thoreson. LaCross was then driven in by a Sirk single while Sirk was driven in by Michael James to suddenly narrow Alpena’s lead to 6-4.

Tucker redeemed his earlier error by tagging out Nick LaCross between second and third while Atkinson struck out Nathan LaJoie to end the inning.

The Wildcats pitching and defense settled down as Atkinson gave up no more hits while the defense committed no more errors.

Alpena scored again in the fifth when Glennie pulled a walk off pitcher Jodoin. Jodoin balked while attempting to pick him off and Glennie advanced to second.

Glennie then stole third and later stole home after a passed ball to give Alpena the 7-4 lead.

A minor crisis emerged in the bottom of the sixth when a line drive by the Soo’s James hit Atkinson hard in the wrist. He was in too much pain to continue and was replaced by Ryan Cadarette.

Cadarette struck out four out of the five batters he faced to pick up the save.

Alpena scored one last time when Fantasia pulled a walk in the seventh from Soo pitcher Andrew Dale. Fantasia stole second and made it home on a passed ball to give Alpena the 8-4 win.

The last three innings of the game saw rain heavy enough to make it difficult to play. Puddles were already forming as the ground crew and players pulled tarps over the pitchers mound and batters box.

While they waited to see if the championship game woudl be played, Grosse Pointe North and Alpena players started an impromptu game of “baseball bowling.”

This game consisted of players bowling baseballs at red Soho cups. Evan Hamp knocked down the last cup for the Wildcats, leading to wild cheers and celebration.

After the applaused died down, it was announced that the championship game was cancelled and that Alpena was the Mackenzie Invite winner.

Former baseball coach Scott MacKenzie then awarded players on each team game medals. MacKenzie, who would be honored later in the evening at the Alpena Sports Hall of Fame banquet, was hoisted onto the shoulders of several Alpena players in celebration.

“This was nice to be able to win it. Our pitching has been nice and I’ve been really happy with that,” Schultz said. “Its been so hard to get any rhythm going with all the cancellations so winning the invite is a nice way to gain some momentum.”

Alpena hosts Gaylord on Tuesday.

Eric Benac can be reached via email at ebenac@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.