Kalamazoo, Mich. — In the Kalamazoo Growlers' 8-7 win against the Green Bay Bullfrogs on Sunday, tension and excitement suffocated Homer Stryker Field until the very end.
Austin Cangelosi (Indiana) stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. He fell behind, 0-2, causing the hearts of the Growlers' faithful to begin their descent.
Cangelosi hung tough, using his lightning-quick wrists to whip his bat through the zone and foul off Bullfrogs hurler Cody Pollack's (Midland) next offerings. When Cangelosi put a ball in play, the cause for concern was greater than ever. The ball was a playable roller to Green Bay shortstop Matthew De La Rosa (Lenoir-Rhyne), who was playing on the infield grass.
De La Rosa charged the ball. He stuck out his glove, ready to fire home and doom the Growlers' chances at a rally.
But the ball bounced off his glove and rolled away. Jared Kujawa (Western Michigan) came home to score and give the Growlers a win.
"George the Rally Monkey's been doing his job," Cangelosi said, referring to the plush hat that he acquired on a roadtrip to Kenosha and has sported proudly ever since.
The magic of George started in the sixth inning, with the Growlers down 7-3. With runners on first and second, Jalen Phillips (Duke) doubled to right-center, scoring Kujawa. Cangelosi drove Brett Sunde (Western Michigan) home with an RBI groundout.
In the bottom of the eighth, it was Ryan Bull (Notre Dame) doing the work. Bull entered as a pinch hitter for Jesse Puscheck (Canisius) and smashed the first pitch he saw from Luke Watson (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) to right-center for a two-run home run that tied the game at seven apiece.
"I was looking to go up there and find a fastball there to drive," Bull said. "Luckily, I got one and it worked out."
"Sometimes (when) you put a pinch-hitter in, the guys on the bench are all for him, cheering," Growlers manager Joe Carbone said. "…He goes up there and gets a base hit, it just invigorates them."
That positive energy was almost extinguished in the next half-inning. After Donnie Eaton's excellent outing — he allowed just four hits in 5 2/3 innings — ended in the top of the ninth when he hit the leadoff batter, Devon Bronson (Eastern Michigan) came out of the bullpen.
The left-hander worked his way into a jam, putting runners on second and third with no outs, but he induced a fly ball to short right to hold the runner. Then, with the fans stomping on the metal bleachers and chanting "Let's go Growlers," he whiffed Ryan Koziol (Gulf State College). And when Bronson retired Ivan Vietez on a flyout to center fielder Grant Van Putten (Calvin), the crowd truly exulted.
Kalamazoo wasted no time sending the Father's Day crowd home happy, tallying the winning run in short order in the ninth.
The Growlers head to Wausau, Wis. on Monday for a two-game set against the Wisconsin Woodchucks before returning to Kalamazoo on Wednesday for two games against the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. On Wednesday, mascots from across the state will descend on Homer Stryker Field for the Edward Rose & Sons Mascot Olympics.
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.