By Josh Sigler
Mike’s Italian Grill headed into Friday’s Joe’s Jerky Howard County minor league baseball tournament championship game at Robert M. Waddell Memorial Park with the sting of last year’s semifinal loss fresh on the coaches’ and players’ minds.
The squad wouldn’t be denied this time.
Trailing 8-7 in the top of the sixth, Gianni Pulverenti shot a single past second base, driving in two runs to help lead Mike’s to a 9-8 win over fellow Russiaville squad Eriks Chevrolet after the home squad was set down in order in its final three outs in the bottom of the sixth.
“I’m speechless,” Mike’s manager Ken Pulverenti said. “These kids persevered and did the job, and that means so much to me. These kids have been through a lot of adversity this season. We were challenged but we persevered through it and ended up here. It’s a great, great feeling. I’m so proud of these kids. I felt like my team was strong enough this year to get back to this point, and it happened.”
Mike’s (12-5) led for much of the game before Eriks made things interesting in the late innings.
Braden Erickson’s RBI double and Taia Pasquale’s RBI single gave Mike’s a 2-0 lead in the top of the first before Braydon Erb responded with an RBI double for Eriks to pull the home squad within 2-1 through an inning of play.
Jonathan Brown and Gianni Pulverenti both slapped RBI singles in the second to help Mikes go up 5-1, but an RBI triple from Dylan George and an RBI fielder’s choice from Josh Minns pulled Eriks within 5-3 in the bottom half of the frame.
Landon Lee’s RBI single in the third put Mike’s ahead 6-3, but Eriks erupted for four runs in the bottom half to take its first lead of the night. Will Liddle smacked an RBI double, and after a pair of runs scored on a throwing error, George put Eriks ahead 7-6 with an RBI infield single on a dribbler up the third base line.
Pasquale’s RBI double in the top of the fifth tied the game at 7-7, but Erb’s RBI single in the bottom half of the frame gave Eriks (15-4) the lead once more at 8-7 before Gianni Pulverenti’s heroics in the sixth.
“Errors killed us,” Eriks manager Tony Erb said. “We just couldn’t keep the ball in front of us. We took some bad hops, and although we got beat, we’re going to keep our heads up and keep going. We just couldn’t get the bat on the ball like we’re capable.”
Eriks had been on an six-game winning streak before Friday’s heartbreaker
“This is just a lot of baseball for 10-year-olds,” Tony Erb continued. “I’m proud of them. We have a tough schedule ahead of us in the [Russiaville league] tourney. We play Bullpen [today]. They beat us earlier in the season, so we have no easy room from here on out.”
Gianni Pulverenti finished the night with four hits and three RBIs to lead Mike’s to the victory. Pasquale added two hits and a pair of RBIs. Erickson went 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI, while Ashton Young added a pair of singles.
George and Braydon Erb both finished with two hits and two RBIs for Eriks. Trey Britton added three hits in the loss, while Luke Hopwood and Will Liddell both finished with two hits.