USPBL Weekend Recap: Diamond Hoppers jump back into first place

Let’s have a look back at all the action from the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica this past weekend.

NOTE: All game recaps are of games listed on the USPBL official schedule. However, final standings at end of piece will not accurately reflect all compiled game recaps (with listed schedule), as the USPBL plays additional games throughout the week.

Thursday, June | Woolly Mammoths 6, Beavers 4

The Westside Woolly Mammoths pushed their record against the Beavers in 2017 to 3-1 with a 6-4 win in the opening game of the weekend for the USPBL. The kicker? They scored all their runs in the eighth inning.

Yes, visiting Birmingham-Bloomfield carried a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth. They had gotten a pair of RBI from Gerard Hernandez and one from Jon Crank. And they got five scoreless innings of two-hit ball from starter Kevin Matthews. Things were looking good for the Beavers.

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Then came the eighth… RBI hits from Jeff Smith, Kyle Hamner and Kent Blackstone made it a 4-4 tie; Hamner’s hit drove it two. That set up Tyler McVicar to be the hero. McVicar clubbed a two-out, two-run homer to give Westside the 6-4 lead, capping the comeback. Of the six runs, five came with two outs in the eighth, and it all came off Beavers reliever Brian Heldman.

Friday, June 2 | Diamond Hoppers 10, Beavers 5

Tough back-to-back stretch for the Beavers. After losing in stunning fashion the night before, it was déjà vu all over again the very next night. They again blow an early lead and get ambushed, this time by the Eastside Diamond Hoppers.

The Beavers again held a respectable lead early on, a 5-0 cushion through five innings of play. RBI hits from DonAndre Clark II, Nichols Buckner and DJ Martinez helped bolster that lead early on. Both Clark and Buckner each had two hits; Buckner with a solo home run and two RBI.

Then came the Eastside ambush. The Hoppers quickly take over the lead after consecutive four-run frames in the sixth and seventh, followed by single insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings. Among the ten runs scored, eight were officially driven in, including two each from Esteban Gomez, Chris Power and Mark Krueger.

A big tip of the cap to Eastside reliever Jordan Pannell, who tossed 3.1 clean innings of baseball on Friday – no hits, runs or walks allowed.

Saturday, June 3 | Unicorns 7, Woolly Mammoths 1

The Utica Unicorns finally get into the fold on Saturday, as their week off from action was prolonged some after playing three games last week, including on Memorial Day Monday. No problem for Lancer’s crew, as they shut down Westside 7-1.

That whole theme of “blowing leads late in games” in the USPBL this weekend continued into Saturday. Albeit a very slim lead, the Mammoths held a 1-0 lead after four innings of play, on a solo home run from Hagen Wilkey in the third inning.

That proved to be the only real blemish for Unicorns starter Donny Murray, who went seven innings and allowing just the one run on the Wilkey homer, five hits in total. As for the offense, a three-run fifth and seventh inning, with a one-run sixth sandwiched in between, made for a good recipe late game for Utica.

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Six different Unicorns collected at least one RBI on Saturday, including Mike Rampone, who two-run double in the 5th inning game Utica the lead, one they would not surrender back to the Mammoths.

Sunday, June 4 | Diamond Hoppers 9, Unicorns 8

What a wild game this turned out to be to conclude the weekend action for the USPBL. Both the Diamond Hoppers and Unicorns had a chance to ‘win the week’ if you will with this afternoon tilt at Jimmy John’s Field. Eastside ultimately survived the back-and-forth affair with a 9-8 win.

All of the runs scored between the two teams came in the first six innings. Utica was up 3-0 entering the home half of the first inning, eventually 4-1 into the bottom of the third. Then Eastside hung a touchdown (plus a PAT) to make it 8-4, Hoppers. Single runs were exchanged by the two over the next two innings, making it 9-5. Utica put up another three in the sixth, but could not quite overcome the deficit.

There were a total of 20 hits; with 13 of the 18 combined starting players between the two clubs each recording at least one hit.

Chris Cruz and Brett Balkan had the biggest days for Utica. Cruz had a pair of hits and four RBI, three of which came on his first-inning three-run dinger. Balkan collected three hits and scored once.

For Eastside, four players had multi-hit games, including Kam Stewart. Like Cruz for Utica, Stewart also clubbed a homer on Sunday, going 2 for 3 with three total runs batted in and reached base safely five times, adding a couple walks.

Updated USPBL Standings (Through June 4)

Eastside Diamond Hoppers 8 5
Utica Unicorns 7 5
Westside Woolly Mammoths 5 6
Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers 4 8

Written by Alex Muller

MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).

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