By Lyle Kittle
This past weekend was a breakeven proposition for Grand Lake.
The Mariners swept a doubleheader from Youngstown on Saturday, beating the Express, 5-0 and 6-2, extending their winning streak to four games, following a doubleheader sweep of Indianapolis the night before that pushed Grand Lake's record over the .500 mark at 5-4.
Grand Lake dropped back under the .500 mark on Sunday after dropping a twinbill to Southern Ohio. The Copperheads beat the Mariners, 6-3 and 4-2, to drop Grand Lake to 5-6.
"It was a good weekend," said Mariners' skipper Mike Stafford. "The wins got us out of the cellar, and a split today (Sunday) would have been better, but going 4-2 over three days is positive."
Grand Lake 5, Youngstown 0
Grand Lake 6, Youngstown 2
Pitching and speed were the difference against the Express. Evan Smith and John Prejsnar combined on a four-hit shutout in Game One. Smith went five innings to pick up the win, scattering three hits and walking just one. Prejsnar worked the final two innings, allowing just a single.
Grand Lake gave Smith all the support he needed in the third inning. Jeff Warnock walked and stole second, and after Billy Grace walked, the Mariners' speedsters combined on a double steal. The Mariners took a 2-0 lead when Geoff Orr booted Andy Hudak's grounder at short.
The Mariners gave Smith more cushion in the fifth, with three runs crossing the plate on run-scoring singles by Hudak, Phil Disher and Kris Moorman.
"We ran well with runners in scoring position, and we ran hard on every ball," Stafford said of his club's aggressiveness on the basepaths. "We showed some good patience at the plate. We're pretty well into the season, and the guys have demonstrated good patience at the plate. We want to let the pitcher come to us, and try to take advantage of mistakes."
Andy Delagarza took the mound for Grand Lake in the second game and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Youngstown's Brian Kimutis singled with two outs. Kimutis and Matt Henne eventually scored on a double by Brian Boone, but the Mariners had already put six runs on the board by then.
Grand Lake got its first run in the third inning as Dusty Hammond doubled, advanced on Grace's sacrifice, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jon Hatfield. A bases-loaded walk to Grace produced another run in the fourth.
The fifth inning was the big one for the Mariners, and a real nightmare for the Express. Hatfield walked and was sacrificed to second by Hudak. Hatfield stole third as Moorman walked, and scored when catcher Shane Davis' throw sailed past third. Jeff Warnock walked with two outs and Josh Stewart was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Youngstown reliever Justin Edwards then issued consecutive walks to Hammond, Grace and Michael Bertram to force home three more runs.
"Evan and Andy are two key parts of this staff," said Stafford. "They really contribute a lot and they throw strikes. We have a deep staff, with some good pitchers, but they may be the keys."
Southern Ohio 6, Grand Lake 3
Southern Ohio 4, Grand Lake 2
The pitching on Saturday was perhaps the biggest factor in the two wins, and on Sunday, two bad innings by the hurlers may have been the difference.
A four-run inning in the 6-3 loss and a three-run frame in the 4-2 defeat were the keys.
Walks to Mike Minkel, Victor Alvarez, Phil Sabatini and Dave Lambert followed by a Kyle Dygert's bases-clearing double accounted for the four-run outburst in the opener, and Ben Rulon's two-run double capped the three-run sixth in the second game.
Four errors by the Express were responsible for the three Mariner runs in the first game, and a run-scoring groundout by Stewart and Moorman's RBI double in the bottom of the seventh inning produced the only runs of Game Two.
"Sometimes, hitters will get a little overzealous at the plate instead of looking for their pitch," Stafford said. "I think we were doing that today, especially in the second game, and we were popping up a lot of balls and hitting some weak grounders. We chased a lot of first pitches."
Grand Lake hosts the Portland Rockets in a non-league game on Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. at Jim Hoess Field.