December 20, 2014

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Back to the finals: Crushers survive long weather delays to bounce Beach Bums with three-run rally in the seventh

Lake Erie Crushers' Max Casper slides into second, but is called out as Traverse City Beach Bums' Sean Gusrang turns to first to make a double play Thursday. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Lake Erie Crushers’ Max Casper slides into second, but is called out as Traverse City Beach Bums’ Sean Gusrang turns to first to make a double play Thursday. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

AVON — The Lake Erie Crushers had to outlast three rain delays that lasted a total of three hours and 23 minutes, overcome two deficits and hang on in a game that began Thursday night, ended Friday morning and lasted six hours and five minutes.

You better believe the wait was worth it because it means for the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2009, the Crushers will play in the Frontier League Championship Series.

Russell Moldenhauer’s two-out, two-run, opposite-field double capped a three-run rally in a rain-soaked bottom of the seventh inning and gave the Crushers a hard-fought 5-4 win over the Traverse City Beach Bums in front of an announced crowd of 1,046 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium, few of which were still around to see the Crushers celebrate.

“They stayed focused,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said of his players. “From the first pitch on, I knew if we could hang around and keep it close, I knew we’d have a chance. We kept it close and took care of an opportunity.

“Things worked out for us, someway, somehow, and we ended up getting in the situation where we could win it.”

There was a 27-minute rain delay in the bottom of the sixth and a two-hour, 25-minute rain delay in the bottom of the seventh. But when the rain finally stopped and play resumed, it was the Crushers that answered the bell.

The third delay lasted 31 minutes, with play resuming at 1 a.m. The second and longest delay cleared out most of the crowd, but those who stayed witnessed one of the Crushers’ best innings of the season.

“When that first rain came, and we were starting to get to (starter Scott) Dunn, I thought, ‘Oh boy,’” Isom said. “When the rain came the second time, that actually played in favor for us, because we hadn’t hit (reliever Matt) Miller all year. We took advantage of that.

“I didn’t say a word to them during any of the delays. I came in to my office and watched some football and they were watching football in the clubhouse. They’ve been focused from the start. They have their mind set on a championship, and it’s a credit to them.”

Multiple rain delays stopped game play at the Lake Erie Crushers final playoff game. Many fans stuck out the weather and took shelter beneath stadium underhangs during the delays.

Multiple rain delays stopped game play at the Lake Erie Crushers final playoff game. Many fans stuck out the weather and took shelter beneath stadium underhangs during the delays.

Play was suspended in the bottom of the seventh with the Crushers trailing 4-2 and with Seth Granger on first after being hit by a pitch. Johnny Omahen, the Beach Bums’ Game 2 starter, came on in relief when play resumed at 12:09 a.m., but the Crushers didn’t show him much relief in return.

Daniel Bowman drew a walk and Anderson Hidalgo followed with an infield single to load the bases for Andrew Davis, the hero of Game 4 with his two-out seventh-inning grand slam.

Davis grounded to first for the second out, but Granger scored to cut the deficit to one. That set the stage for Moldenhauer, who delivered an opposite-field liner to left on a full-count pitch that put the Crushers in the driver’s seat.

“They hung around and took advantage of the opportunity,” Isom said. “And what a timely hit by Moldy right there. Unbelievable.”

Moldenhauer, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, felt some vindication with his game-winning hit.

“Last season, we came a game shy of getting into the playoffs, and I made the last out of our season,” he said. “I came within 10 feet of hitting a game-tying grand slam in that game. So to come from that scenario to this one, where I can deliver the game-winning hit, is fantastic. That’s the way baseball is, though. One day, you hit the ball a ton and it’s an out. The next day, you hit a little liner and it turns into a two-run double.

“Nobody likes to sit there and twiddle your thumbs for all that time, so to come back and win and come together as a team, it feels awesome. None of us really got our heads down. We just kept our minds busy doing other stuff, and when we went back out there, we got it done.”

When the last delay hit at 12:29 a.m., the Crushers were clinging to that 5-4 lead with two outs in the top of the eighth. When play resumed at 1 a.m., reliever Jordan Wellander made quick work of the Beach Bums, retiring the final six men.

Wellander picked up his second save of the series with two scoreless innings and four strikeouts.

“Wellander’s been lights out for us all year,” Isom said. “We’ve really relied on him hard during this playoff series. We got a day off now, so he’ll get some rest. But we put him in a key situation (Wednesday) in the sixth inning and he got us out of that, and fortunately we scored some runs to get him out of the game so he’d be ready to go (Thursday).

“That was huge, because he was able to throw multiple innings today. Without him, it would be a different ballgame, that’s for sure.”

The game was a rematch of the Game 1 pitching matchup between Dave Middendorf and the 15-1 Dunn. Middendorf struggled in Game 1 after being hit on the forearm of his pitching hand in the first inning, while Dunn had been 3-0 against the Crushers lifetime.

Traverse City got on the board first after a fielding error in the top of the second. Bowman dropped Marcus Nidiffer’s fly ball in right to put a runner on second with one out. He scored two batters later on No. 9 hitter Scott Woodward’s RBI single to right.

The Crushers answered in the bottom of the second. Moldenhauer led off with a single off Dunn. After Juan Sanchez struck out, Moldenhauer was forced at second on Max Casper’s fielder’s choice. However, Emmanuel Quiles drilled a full-count pitch to the warning track in dead center for an RBI double, scoring Casper with the game-tying run.

A great piece of baserunning and an even better slide by Sanchez gave the Crushers their first lead in the bottom of the fourth and gave Quiles an RBI infield single with a runner on second.

Lake Erie Crushers' Juan Sanchez bats in between multiple rain delays.

Lake Erie Crushers’ Juan Sanchez bats in between multiple rain delays.

After Sanchez hit a one-out double, Quiles hit a grounder deep in the hole at second. Ryan Still made a nice play, but Sanchez, on a dead sprint, rounded third and headed for home. Instead of throwing to first, Still, who was behind the second-base bag, fired for the plate.

The throw beat Sanchez home, but Sanchez slid past the tag. Then, Sanchez dove to the plate, getting his hand on it just a split second before catcher Nidiffer tagged him on the leg to break the tie.

Middendorf had only allowed one hit through his first five innings, but the wheels came off in the top of the sixth.

With one out, Chase Burch drilled a solo home run to left, tying the score at 2. Then, Middendorf issued a walk to Zach Kometani, followed by an RBI double by Seth Gusrang to give the Beach Bums the lead.

Middendorf was relieved by Matt Rein (2-0) after Nidiffer flied out to center. Rein promptly uncorked a wild pitch, which allowed Gusrang to score from third to cap a three-run inning and give Traverse City a 4-2 lead.

Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or dangilles73@gmail.com.