Saints on the march, get 4-game sweep of Michigan Sports Academy

Manistee's Preston Shazri hits an RBI double in the first game of the Saints' four-game sweep of the Michigan Sports Academy on Saturday. Manistee won this game 4-1. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Manistee’s Preston Shazri hits an RBI double in the first game of the Saints’ four-game sweep of the Michigan Sports Academy on Saturday. Manistee won this game 4-1. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

By KYLE KOTECKI

For the News Advocate

MANISTEE — The Manistee Saints went into their four-game Great Lakes United Baseball League series with the winless Michigan Sports Academy over the weekend shooting for a sweep. Thanks to some hot bats and clean defense, they accomplished their goal.

Manistee won the Saturday doubleheader by scores of 4-1 and 14-4 and won Sunday’s doubleheader by scores of 6-3 and 15-0 in a game ended after six innings due to the mercy rule.

“For crying out loud, we hit the ball well,” said Saints manager Tyrone Collins. “We’ve been doing that.”

The Saints drew first blood in the series opener when Alex Strickland drove in Jake Ryan with an RBI single in the third inning. The three-run third was supplemented by a run in the fourth.

“Game one, we only put up four runs but we were hitting the ball pretty well for the most part,” Collins said.

Things got interesting in the seventh inning when Michigan Sports Academy (0-8) had the go-ahead run at the plate, but Nick Brzezinski struck out the batter to secure the win for Manistee (9-3).

Robin Van Orden was the starting pitcher, giving up five hits and one run while striking out 10 in 6 1/3 innings. Brzezinski closed the game, striking out two of the four batters he faced.

Van Orden kept the Michigan Sports Academy batters on their heels, recording 15 first-pitch strikes.

“Robin pitched a great game,” Collins said. “That’s exactly what we expect when he goes out on the mound. We give him the ball and he’s going to do a good job for us, and he did.”

Preston Shazri paced the Saints’ offense, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Strickland chipped in by going 2-for-3 with an RBI.

Saturday’s nightcap saw Manistee score early and often, with five runs in both the fourth and sixth innings essentially putting the game out of reach.

Strickland had a stellar performance at the plate, going 4-for-4 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs. Trenton Smiley was no slouch either, batting 2-for-4 with a huge grand slam in the sixth.

“The ball was looking pretty good to me,” Strickland said. “I’ve been seeing it well this summer. When you’re in a groove, you’re in a groove.”

Michigan Sports Academy scored four runs in the fourth inning, but that was all the offense they could muster.

Patrick Brautigam was the starting pitcher, giving up two hits, four earned runs and six walks in three innings. Levi Irish finished the game, allowing two walks and tallying four strikeouts in four hitless innings pitched.

In Sunday’s opener, the Saints went into the bottom of the sixth with a 3-3 tie. Brzezinski hit a timely two-out, two-run double to give Manistee the advantage, and then Lucas Richardson drove him in with a single for an insurance run.

“Brzezinski is just getting it done,” Collins said. “Between him and Strickland and those guys near the top of the lineup, they’re just doing it. Brzezinski is just coming through in the clutch and he’s hitting the ball hard every time he hits it.”

Brzezinski finished the game 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a double.

Andrew Childs was the starting pitcher for the Saints, giving up five hits, three runs and four walks while striking out four in five innings. Tyler Waslawski pitched the final two innings, not allowing a hit while striking out one.

The Manistee bats heated back up in the final game of the series, as exemplified by the Saints’ eight-run third inning that featured a Smiley home run.

Smiley went 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and three RBIs. Brzezinski went 2-for-4 with a triple, a double and two RBIs while Strickland had yet another strong showing, going 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and two RBIs.

“Strickland is just a machine when it comes to a bat,” Collins said. “Last year we knew what we had in him and it didn’t quite click for him but this year he’s having a lot of fun and he’s sticking the ball and he’s just having a blast.”

Kyle Gorski threw five innings for the Saints, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out six in five innings. Onekama junior Austin Harper pitched an inning of relief in his Saints debut, retiring all three batters he faced and striking out two.

“It was a lot of fun,” Harper said. “Just being out here with the guys in general. They welcomed me really well. Just being part of the team is a great honor, especially me just being a junior in high school. It’s just been really fun for the two days I’ve been here and I hope to continue to keep playing.”

Collins was pleased with the newcomer’s debut.

“We wanted to see what he could do,” Collins said. “Fortunately, our offense got a nice big lead and (Gorski) pitched a great game for us so we were able to get him in and see what he could do and he was good.”

The Saints committed no errors Sunday and only two Saturday. Limiting errors has been a point of emphasis for Manistee, and it appears as though it may be paying dividends.

“I think we were error-free (Sunday),” Collins said. “We played good baseball.”

The Saints next see action next in a four-game series when they travel to take on the Michigan Collegiate Braves next weekend.

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