Sam McNeice has already lost one league final this year and he did his best to make sure the Brandon Marlins didn’t put themselves in a deep hole in another one.
McNeice, an Australian import who helped the Toowoomba Rangers reach the Pacific League final in March, threw a gem for the Marlins as they evened the best-of-seven Manitoba Senior Baseball League championship series at a game apiece with a 6-1 victory over the Brandon Cloverleafs on Friday at Andrews Field. McNeice threw a complete game, allowing one run and five hits while striking out seven to earn the win on the mound and was focused throughout the contest, despite battling a knee injury and the 30-degree heat.
"Probably just mental approach (was working so well)," he said. "I wasn’t afraid of (Matt) Gunning. I wasn’t afraid of anyone. I just went out there and went hard against all of them. They’re all good hitters and they all deserve respect. I just have to bring my best and my best did the job and I’m happy with that."
The Marlins gave McNeice some early support with a pair of runs in the third inning and two more in the fourth.
Pat Vandoorne led the way with three hits, including a pair of doubles. He scored once and drove in another run for the Marlins.
Tanner Jago also had a run and an RBI, while Paul Thompson, Ty Webber, Ryan Boguski and Bret Heselwood all crossed home plate.
The Marlins, who finished one point behind the Cloverleafs in the regular season standings, added two more runs in the eighth.
They had a shutout going into the ninth, before the Cloverleafs loaded the bases with none out.
Mason Schiff then scored when Casey Clark grounded into a double play and Jason Rae popped out to end the game.
"We got hits off them today," McNeice said. "It really is a pitchers’ competition. Friesen dominated against us (in the first game on Tuesday) and Paul (Thompson)’s hopefully going to dominate on Sunday. There’s a handful of pitchers that take control of the league and I guess I did that today. I’m proud of the help the team gave me."
Sean Dryden took the loss for the Cloverleafs. He was charged with all six runs — four of which were earned — and six hits in 7 1/3 innings. Zach Steckler struck out the two batters he faced to close out the game.
Cloverleafs head coach Ryan Potter feels these two teams match up well against each other and isn’t surprised to see the series going at least five games.
"There’s good players on both teams and they had players perform well tonight," he said. "McNeice threw well for them, and we just didn’t get started. We made some mistakes and gave up a couple runs early and we just didn’t recover from that.
"Dryden threw fantastic for us as well. In seven inning he gave up four hits and so did McNeice, but they had four runs. That’s just the way it works sometimes. We’ll be better Sunday. We’ll come back and get back on the right track and see if we can win Game 3."
Game 3 is set for Sunday at 7 p.m., at Andrews Field.