Kalamazoo, Mich. — The Kalamazoo Growlers' win over the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters Thursday night at Homer Stryker Field couldn't have been more different from their loss the night before.
It wasn't just the outcome. Wednesday's affair was a 14-11 slugfest full of errors and walks, where the Growlers homered four times and the two teams combined for 26 hits. But on Thursday, Ryan Smoyer (Notre Dame) made the start for the Growlers and gave them 7 1/3 strong innings as the two teams engaged in a pitchers' duel that ended with a final margin of 3-2.
"It was what we've wanted to see all summer," Growlers assistant coach Cody Piechocki said. "You don't want to have to depend on your offense to score 10-12 runs a night."
Smoyer has proven to have some of the best control on the Growlers' staff, but in his last start, against the Rochester Honkers on June 13, he allowed 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Rafters were less successful on Thursday, managing just six.
"Fastball was a little flat (in the previous start)," Smoyer said. "I just worked on getting over top, getting a little plane to it, so it was top to bottom as far as the strike zone goes."
Most of the time, Kalamazoo's offense came from John Rubino (Eastern Michigan). The shortstop led off the game with a triple down the right field line, then knocked Jesse Puscheck (Canisius) home from second with an RBI double to left-center in the third inning. Puscheck provided the Growlers' third run with a solo home run to right to lead off the fifth inning.
Devon Bronson (Eastern Michigan) and Shane Bryant (Purdue) came in to finish the game for the Growlers. Rafters right fielder Michael Jurgella (St. Cloud State) came up with two outs in the top of the ninth and hammered a ball to left field that came frighteningly close to sailing over.
But it bounced off the wall, and Jurgella pulled in at second with a double.
"As soon as it hits the fence, you feel a whole lot better about your situation," Piechocki said. "When it's in the air, you hold your breath and hope the baseball gods help you out a little bit, and we got that help tonight and ended up winning the game."
Jurgella proceeded to wander too far off second base during the subsequent at-bat, and Rubino tagged him out in the ensuing rundown to end the game.
The Growlers will begin a four-game road swing on Friday when they travel to La Cross, Wis. for a two-game set against the La Crosse Loggers and then Mequon, Wis. for two games against the Lakeshore Chinooks. The Growlers return to Kalamazoo on Tuesday, June 24 for two games against the Kenosha Kingfish. Tuesday's game is Little League Night, featuring a pre-game parade.
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 significanlty more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpries 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 Zimmerman (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel.