Kalamazoo, Mich. — The 6,064 fans that packed Homer Stryker Field for the Kalamazoo Growlers' July 4 matchup against the Lakeshore Chinooks gave the ballpark an atmosphere as electric as Kalamazoo had ever seen, and for four innings, the Growlers were giving the fans more than enough reasons to cheer.
The Growlers scored three runs in the first inning and added another in the third to jump out to a 4-0 lead. Starting pitcher Caleb Baragar (Jackson Community College) was flat-out dealing, retiring the first nine batters he faced and allowing a lone run in the fourth.
But the fireworks wouldn't last. Baragar walked the leadoff batter and loaded the bases before he got an out in the fifth inning, and all three of those runners came home to score when Shane Bryant (Purdue) entered in relief. The Chinooks took a 5-4 lead in the seventh and added two more in the eighth to hand the Growlers a 7-4 loss.
"That's most of our young guys," Growlers manager Joe Carbone said, referring in part to Baragar. "…They're going okay, things are going well, and when they have to make an adjustment, they're not experienced enough to understand what to do."
The Growlers managed nine hits off Lakeshore, with Ryan Spaulding (Ball State) accounting for a third of them. He singled to lead off the third inning, then advanced to third on wild pitches and scored when Jared Kujawa (Western Michigan) singled to right. Spaulding added singles in the fourth and eighth innings and walked in the sixth.
But the Growlers' offense petered out after the third, and the Chinooks, the first half champions of the South Division, pounded their way to a win. Blake Butler (College of Charleston) doubled two runs home in the fifth to make the margin 4-3, and a subsequent sacrifice fly from Jake Noll (Florida Gulf Coast) tied the game.
"They got some big base hits with two outs and two strikes on pitches that needed to be down, but we left them up," Growlers manager Joe Carbone said.
Brant Valach (Eastern Illinois) two-out RBI double off Shane Bryant made it 5-4 in the seventh, and Connor McKay (Kansas) homered off Josh Buchalski (Eastern Michigan) expand the margin to 7-4. The Growlers were unable to claw back, and their second half record fell to 0-3.
The Kalamazoo Growlers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 21st 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 115 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit http://www.growlersbaseball.com