AVON — All summer, Crushers pitcher Matt Rein has told manager Jeff Isom he wanted to be the team’s big-game pitcher.
Sunday he showed why.
Rein took a no-hitter into the sixth inning as Lake Erie defeated Traverse City 5-1 in Game 2 of the Frontier League Division Series and evened the best-of-five series at a game apiece.
Rein, who went 8-6 in the regular season with a 2.37 ERA, retired 15 of the first 17 Beach Bums he faced.
“(Rein) always talks about being a big-game pitcher, and being down 1-0 in a playoff series is about the toughest stage you’re going to find,” Isom said. “It was an outstanding effort from him tonight.”
Lake Erie also got an offensive boost from the most unlikely of sources, second baseman Max Casper. Casper hit .176 over the final 10 games of the regular season, but went 4-for-4 Sunday and gave the Crushers a 3-0 lead with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the fourth inning that scored Anderson Hidalgo and Andrew Davis.
Earlier in the inning, Hidalgo drove in Daniel Bowman with the game’s first run.
“Max stays in the lineup every day because of his defense,” Isom said. “Whatever we get from him offensively is a bonus. Tonight he took care of his business with four hits and those RBIs. That was really huge for us.”
Beach Bums starter Johnny Omahen allowed four runs over 5⅓ innings to take the loss. He was the first of four pitchers manager Gregg Langbehn used.
“I’ve been struggling a bit lately and pulling my head off the ball,” Casper said. “I was focused on seeing the ball all the way to the bat today. We didn’t hit with two out yesterday, but you just have to keep swinging. Today it was me with the big hits but all season it’s been the other guys in the lineup. All season everyone has been contributing. Tonight it just happened to be my turn.”
Rein, who left the game after allowing the first two batters in the seventh inning to reach base, said the team wasn’t tense going into Sunday’s game despite losing 8-0 in Game 1 Saturday.
“We were just excited to be in this game,” Rein said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re down 0-1 or not, we worked all year to get to this point. We want to be playing these games. My fastball was working for me and I was able to mix in my change-ups when I needed to. Later in the game, I started going to my breaking ball more and it all seemed to be working.”
The Crushers outhit Traverse City 11-3. Lake Erie scored a run in the sixth inning on a Craig Hertler RBI walk and another in the seventh when Bowman came home when a Burny Mitchem pitch bounced in front of home plate and went all the way to the screen.
Traverse City scored its run on a its first hit of the night, a Marcus Nidiffer solo home run to lead off the sixth inning.
Jordan Wellander recorded the final nine outs of the night for the Crushers to earn the save.
Games 3 and 4 of the series will be Tuesday and Wednesday in Traverse City with the Crushers returning home Thursday if Game 5 is necessary.
“I’d like to be 2-0 but that wasn’t going to happen after Saturday, so we had to refocus and worry about this game,” Isom said. “We’ll go up there 1-1 and just try to win Tuesday and worry about the next day from there.
“Traverse City is a good club and we’re going to see some good pitching, so we just have to do things fundamentally right and not make mistakes. All things considered, we’re happy with the position we’re in.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie vs. Traverse City
WHAT: Game 3, best-of-five series (tied 1-1)
WHEN: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Wuerfel Park, Traverse City, Mich.
PITCHERS: Alex Kaminsky (7-5, 3.28 ERA) vs. Mike Devine (6-2, 3.95)