Kalamazoo, Mich. — Ryan Smoyer walked back to the dugout, sat next to teammate Jared Kujawa, and laughed.
It was all he could do after what had happened on the field. Through the first seven innings, Smoyer (Notre Dame) was masterful. He allowed one hit to the Kenosha Kingfish and blew through the order with such haste that the sun was still up by the time the eighth inning rolled around. It was the same modus operandi for Smoyer — strikes with four pitches, all coming in quick succession, low in the zone — but it worked better than ever.
Then it all fell apart, to the tune of a four-run eighth inning by the Kingfish. The Growlers couldn't muster a sufficient response, and they took a 4-2 loss on Saturday night.
Smoyer entered the eighth with a 1-0 lead. Jesse Puscheck (Canisius) had given Kalamazoo that advantage by singling Justin Fletcher (Northern Illinois) home with two outs in the first inning, but that was all the Growlers got off Kenosha starter Rex Morrow (Madison College). The right-hander worked with similar efficiency and effectiveness to Smoyer. Morrow allowed eight hits, but they were all singles. He walked one.
Steven Sensley (LSU-Eunice) grounded the first pitch to second to start the eighth. Smoyer then walked C.J. Saylor (San Diego State) and surrendered a soft single to Alex Borglin (Central Michigan) that moved Saylor to third after he had advanced to second due to an errant pickoff throw.
Taylor Douglas (Tennessee-Martin) then connected for perhaps the hardest-hit ball all night off Smoyer. He scalded a liner that hit Smoyer in the chest, but the right-hander recovered and gathered in time to throw for an out. Saylor froze just past third base.
But Smoyer turned and threw to second, and though the throw was on time, it was wide of the shortstop and into went into center field. The tying run scored.
"I'm not happy with giving up four runs in an inning," Smoyer said. "Hopefully you can limit that to one or two. But, I mean, if you let that define your whole outing, it's not going to be good mentally."
Borglin scored on a sacrifice fly to give the Kingfish the lead, and they added two more runs on RBI singles. That made the score 4-1, and while the errors were of Smoyer's own doing, none of the runs went down as earned. The Growlers pushed a run across in the bottom of the eighth, but they went quietly in the ninth.
The Growlers are back in action on Sunday for Princesses & Ponies Night, presented by Housing Resources, Inc. and Abraxas. Fans who come dressed as princesses receive complimentary tickets to the game. The third set of Growlers baseball cards will also be given away.
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 and free of charge via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit http://www.growlersbaseball.com. Follow the team on Twitter at @kzoogrowlers.