7/14/2017 7:28:00 AM Lakeland downs Merrill Red 7-1 for Senior League title
Bob Mainhart for the River News
Keegan McJoynt delivers a pitch during the Northwoods Babe Ruth Senior League regular season championship game between Lakeland and Merrill Red at Stafford Field in Rhinelander Monday, July 10. McJoynt allowed a run on three hits over five innings in Lakelandís 7-1 victory.
By Jeremy Mayo River News Sports Editor
RHINELANDER - One week earlier Lakeland's spot in the Northwoods Babe Ruth Senior League championship game was far from certain. On Monday, the Thunderbirds capped off a strong late season run to finish No. 1.
Keegan McJoynt pitched five strong innings and Eric Walbruck chipped in three RBIs from the bottom of the order as Lakeland downed Merrill Red 7-1 for the Senior League regular season title at Stafford Field.
The T-Birds scored a run in each of the first three innings and put things away with a four-run fifth capped off by Walbruck's two-run double to left center.
Lakeland finishes the regular season 11-2 after a grueling final week of pool play which saw it play four games in four days. The T-Birds went 3-1 in that stretch, to earn a berth in the title game.
One of those wins was a 11-1 victory over Merrill Red, which finished second in the league standings (9-4). Monday's title game had a very similar look.
McJoynt helped his own cause in the first, singling home Erik Albertus to give Lakeland the lead. Chuck Burgess reached on an error to lead off the second and scored on a Walbruck grounder. Alex Fortier singled home Max Toijala to give Lakeland a 3-0 lead in the third.
But the fifth inning was the difference for Lakeland. The first four batters of the inning all got aboard thanks to a combination of a hit, two errors and a walk. Toijala scored from third when Fortier reached on an error following a sacrifice bunt attempt. Tim Crisco then drew a bases-loaded walk to force Merrill starter Spencer Schneider from the hill. Walbruck greeted reliever Ty Bailey with the back-breaking double.
McJoynt had a no hitter going through three innings, which was broken up by Reid Hogan's leadoff hit in the fourth. Schneider drove Hogan in on a two-out single, but Merrill was unable to do any further damage despite stringing together three hits in the inning.
Those were the only three hits McJoynt allowed. He struck out four with no walks over five innings. McJoynt was pulled just before reaching the 75-pitch threshold, meaning he was eligible to return for Lakeland's postseason tournament opener Wednesday against Tomahawk.
Fortier came on in relief and worked out of a couple of jams unscathed over the final two innings. A pair of one-out hits and an two-out error loaded the bases for Merrill in the sixth, but Leeland Valliere was well positioned for Caleb DeJong's hard hit ball to right field and made a routine catch to end the inning.
Fortier worked around a leadoff walk in the seventh to secure the win. He recorded two strikeouts in relief.
Lakeland outhit Merrill 7-5 in the contest, getting two hits each from Toijala and Fortier.
Provided Lakeland defeated Tomahawk in the tournament quarterfinals, which concluded after deadline, it would face Rhinelander's Laser Pros International or Merrill Black in the semifinals Tuesday night in Tomahawk.
All-Star roster, schedule announced
The roster for the Northwoods Babe Ruth 15-year-old All-Star team is set as the team prepares to begin state tournament play this weekend in Green Bay. Two Lakeland players are on the 12-man roster - Crisco and Isaac Lung.
Merrill Red led the way with four All-Star selections; Laser Pros had two; Rhinelander Green, Tomahawk, Eagle River and Crandon each had one.
The 15-year-old state tournament takes place Saturday through Wednesday in Green Bay. Northwoods will face Green Bay and Janesville in pool play on Saturday.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached via email at email@example.com.