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Chinooks stay the course, drop Growlers in marathon battle, 7-6

Mequon, WI — Two days, 13 innings, four hours and 39 minutes, 32 total runners left on base, and 11 combined pitchers used. These were some of the eye-opening statistics from the first game of the series between the Kalamazoo Growlers and the Lakeshore Chinooks, a game which began on Saturday night and carried all the way into Sunday. Despite a valiant come-from-behind effort, the Growlers could not pull out the win, succumbing to the Chinooks on a Zac Taylor (Houston) walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th inning as they fell 7-6.

The first game of the series began as planned on Saturday night with first pitch coming at 6:31 PM CDT. The Chinooks (24-33, 9-12) would strike first in the contest, getting a run in the bottom of the 2nd inning off of Growlers starting pitcher Grant Wolfram (Central Michigan), and tacking on three more in the bottom of the 3rd. The Growlers answered with a run in the 4th as Dan Robinson (Central Michigan) singled in Nick Hutchins to make the score 4-1.

The Chinooks answered right away, however, plating another run in the bottom of the 5th, and the score would stay that way until the 7th inning as the Growlers struggled to find answers against Chinooks starter Keenan Bartlett (Richmond).

The Growlers (30-27, 10-11) found their bats in the top of the 7th inning, and would chase Bartlett in the process while plating three runs on three hits on Chinooks reliever Nick Horvath (Florida). Nick Hutchins (Southern Illinois) and Brandon Gomez (Nova Southeastern) both hit double to drive in runs with Hutchins plating Sam Griggs (Southern Indiana) and Matt Lloyd (Iowa Western), while Gomez drove in Hutchins to make the score 5-4 Chinooks.

The score remained that way until the top of the 8th, when the Growlers struck again with two more runs to take their first lead of the ballgame. After Griggs singled with two outs, and Connor Smith (Western Michigan) was hit by a pitch, Connor Kopach (Southern Illinois) gave the Growlers their first lead of the night, with a two out triple to plate both base runners.

The Growlers took the 6-5 lead into the final frame and Garvin Alston (Arizona State) tried to get the save but was unsuccessful, allowing a run which tied the game for the Chinooks. The game remained tied at 6 at the end of the 9th which set in play the wild sequence of events in extra innings.

The Chinooks used Horvath for the remained of Saturday night’s contest, and he ended up going 5 1/3 innings, while striking out five and allowing three earned run, all of which came in the 7th and 8th innings. The Growlers went with David Hensley for most of the extra inning duration, as the Growlers starting center-fielder for the game went three inning, while striking out four and walking just one.

Despite having ample chances to walk off, the Chinooks could not find the answer to the Hensley puzzle. After the Growlers bats went quietly in extra innings as well, the game was called on account of the lights agreement with the town of Mequon, WI, where no inning is allowed to begin at Kapco Park after 11:15 PM.

The two teams did not have to wait long after restarting the ballgame on Sunday at 4:00 PM CDT to get a result, as Taylor proceeded to hit a walk-off solo home run to left-field off Growlers reliever Drake Hermann to lead off the bottom of the 13th, giving the Chinooks a 7-6 win.

The Growlers have now dropped back-to-back games against the Chinooks, with the previous loss also coming at Kapco in a 9-2 decision on July 24. With the win, Winter improves to 1-0. Hermann fell to 1-3 with the loss. The walk-ff home run was Taylor’s second of the season for the Chinooks. The Growlers are now 3.5 games behind the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the NWL South second half standings and 7.5 games behind the Rafters in the overall division standings. They are still 1.5 games ahead of the Battle Creek Bombers for 3rd place in the NWL South overall standings keeping them in the playoff hunt.

The Growlers will turn it around rather quickly, as they will face the Chinooks in the second game of the series with first pitch slated to begin at 5:05 PM CDT. Zach Vitkuske (Muskegon C.C.) will get the nod for the Growlers as he makes his second start and tries to help salvage a split for Kalamazoo.

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The Kalamazoo Growlers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 23rd season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 150 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit  northwoodsleague.com/kalamazoo-growlers/ or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store and set the Growlers as your favorite team.