Corey's Corner: World Series Edition

Posted 8/24/16 (Wed)

                Baseball is a tough sport to get right. It requires a bigger field than any other major American sport, and some equipment as well. And those are just the basics. Then there’s the added difficulty of playing multiple games in a row. The grounds require constant maintenance and schedules have to be balanced to keep things moving while giving teams time to prepare. It’s for all these reasons that the tournament in Williston this past week was a monumental achievement.

                 The 2016 Babe Ruth World Series brought together teams from all over the United States, and they all took the field at Ardean Aafedt in Boomtown, USA. And it was brilliantly run. A field that looked beautiful on Day 1 stayed that way throughout the 25 game tournament. And the teams had a blast as well. Oh by the way: so did the broadcasters. We were treated to some great baseball by some great young men. So let’s start it out with pool play.

                You’ll notice this recap only covers half the games. For those of you watching, you noticed that the lead broadcaster (play-by-play) changed after every game. So this recap will only cover the half where I was doing the play-by-play (the odd numbered games). For the other games, you have to check out Brian’s Monday Morning Rewind column.

                After a fun opening ceremony with MLB great Jack Morris, we were underway in the opening game between Atlantic Shore, NJ (Mid-Atlantic Champs) and Lynn, MA (New England Champs) The guys from Jersey were the champs at the 14-year-old World Series, and they flexed their muscle again to open up the 15-year-old edition. They struck first in the opening frame, bringing home Nick Atohi to take a 1-0 lead. A Dayshon Anderson 3B would come in response, but Lynn couldn’t push him across. Then in the 3rd inning, Ashore took over. In their second time through the order, Cole Vanderslice opened things up with a double, and the inning flew from there. The big hit came from Omar Hernandez, a 2-RBI 2B. That was followed up by a 2-RBI 3B by Nick Abrams. It was a 6 spot in the 3rd. Then, Bill Storck pitched in another 2 RBI in the 4th, and the guys from Jersey made it a run rule game. They pick up the first win of the Babe Ruth World Series. The win on the mound went to Cole Vanderslice, who stuck out six in his 4 IP.

                In game three, we’d see our first North Dakota team. There were three in the tournament, and it was time for the State Champs to do battle with the Southeast Champs from Tallahassee, FL. This one went pretty similar to our opener. It was defined by the adjustments made by the hitters the second time around. In the 3rd, Tallahassee worked a few walks and it proved to be too much for West Fargo. This was a team that had a long time off before returning to the field here in Williston, and they were a bit rusty. So Tally pushed across seven runs on one hit, and that would be the decisive blow. Nick Ferrara dazzled on the mound, with 8 Ks in 5 innings, allowing just two hits. So the Southeast Champs moved to 1-0.

                Fast forward to Day Two of pool play. Each team got one day off in the group stage, and that included the opener. The two teams from the Pacific regions sat and watched all of Day 1’s action, and then were the openers the second time around. Enter the team from Torrance, California. The Pacific Southwest Champions were the leadoff game on the Second Day, and they came out and announced their presence loud in Williston. They were matched up against an Eau Claire team that had won big on day one, so the momentum was seemingly against them. That thought lasted half an inning. Jesse Esphorst came out with a leadoff single, one of three hits in the opening swings for the Cali kids. They take a quick 2-0 lead. Kyle Hatai is dealing on the mound, perfect early on. Then, Jesse Esphorst strikes again, this time with a double that scored two. Hatai scored that same amount with a single, as Torrance scored in the first five innings. A Sam Stange solo shot in the 4th (our first homer of the tournament) was just about it for the guys from WI, and Torrance moved to 1-0 in pool play.

                The third game of the day once again saw West Fargo in action, this time against Atlantic Shore. And West Fargo, coming off a loss, had their best game of the tournament. They came out sprinting right out of the gate. The Rattlers also took advantage of some uncharacteristic miscues by the Mid-Atlantic champs, en route to a 2-0 first inning lead. Carter Dodd and Derrick Miraldi both came around to score. Then, it was an encore 3rd inning for Atlantic Shore. The errors came back to bite the Rattlers, combined with some timely hitting by Omar Hernandez to give AShore a 3-2 lead in the 3rd. Hernandez came up again, and cashed in again. That was part of a 3 run rally in the 5th that also featured the talents of Nick Atohi & Devin Sharkey. Those six runs would be the difference, as Atlantic Shore stayed perfect in pool play, and West Fargo lost a tough one to go to 0-2.

                It was once again Torrance, CA taking the field first on Day 3, this time against Bismarck, ND. First pitch coming in at 9 A.M. Pacific Time would, in theory, be a hindrance to the California team. But once again, they scored in their opening swings. And this one was all Jesse Esphorst. He was hit by the very first pitch he saw (that would happen to him twice in this one), then he stole a base and scored on the error. So the leadoff leader for Torrance put them up 1-0. Kai Hershberger would become the second run, and the Pacific Southwest champs seemed en route to another easy victory. Then Bismarck had their best inning yet. Taking advantage of a pair of miscues by Torrance, Paydin Slette brought home two with a double that would be part of a four run rally for the guys from the ND capital city. Tommy Battioni would end the rally as the 3rd pitcher in the game of Torrance, and he was brilliant the rest of the game. Four innings of no-hit baseball, striking out five. But California was down, and so they needed offense. They didn’t find it until their backs were against the wall. With Bismarck three outs away from their first win, Torrance showed they can turn it on. Keanu Yamashiro lead off with a single, Neil Feist reached via error, Kyle Hatai was given a free pass. Then Michael Ezer is called on as a pinch hitter. There are few spots as tough as that. Game on the line, fresh off the bench. But number 10 delivered. A two-RBI single had it tied. Then Tommy Battioni helped his own cause, repeating the two-scoring base knock. That was the difference in the game. Battioni slammed the door, and Torrance stays undefeated. Bismarck loses a heartbreaker, and the pool sees one team go to 2-0, the other to 0-2.

                For the third straight day, West Fargo was Game 3. They would take on Lynn, MA. The New England champs had an off day after their tough opening loss, and they came out angry in the one. A double by Anthony Nikolakakis brought home Brett Bucklin for the first run. Then in the next inning (the 3rd inning, again), it was Nikolakakis again bringing the damage. This time though, it was the loudest swing of the tournament. With the bases loaded, Nikolakakis was aggressive at the plate. And one swing later, the bases were empty. A grand slam. The big salami. That felt like the dagger in the heart of West Fargo, and Lynn would go on to win 10-0.

                So now we’re starting to get a feel for these teams here in Williston. Everyone has played, and shown what they can do. Tallahassee and Lynn both showed they can win a game, and so they went to battle to open up Day 4. And right off the bat, Tallahassee made their bid to stay undefeated. A pair of miscues by Lynn allowed FL to push across the three in the opening frame. They’d get another in the 4th. Then Lynn would get jumpstarted by a David Bernard double. Brett Bucklin would score a knock as well, and Lynn had cut the deficit. Then they tied it in the 3rd. Kevin Durant had his best game of the tournament, going 2-3 with 2 RBI. He cashed in here, along with Aedan Leydon. Then Lynn scored 2 again. A pair in three straight innings for the guys from Massachusetts had them in the driver’s seat. Tallahassee kept it in striking distance though, putting up one in the 4th, 5th, and 6th. In a back-and-forth affair, we were off to the potentially decisive 7th inning. Lynn got the first out after just three pitchs. Then Tyler Borges reached on an error, as did Beau Evans. Mark Thornhill came through with a base knock, one of two for him on the game. Walker Wilson got it done as well. David Barnard stood in through it all. His pitch count was way up there, but he was still effective. Have to give Tallahassee credit in this spot, they took advantage of the opportunities they were given. They get the win, and set up an undefeated matchup with Atlantic Shore on the final day of pool play.

                The kids from California weren’t playing in the first game of the day this time, so they were wide awake taking on the crew from Texas. And their defense needed to be. Neil Feist took the hill with a simple mission: induce grounders. There’s nothing wrong with pitching to contact, as long as your defense is there to back you up. And they were in this one, no doubt. Four balls left the infield in the entire game for Feist, who went the distance for the complete game shutout. Offensively, Thomas Bainton launched a two-run shot into left field, and that’s all Torrance would need. Though, Bainton did come through in the 3rd again, as did Keanu Yamashiro with a 2-RBI two bagger (there’s that 3rd inning again). Torrance stays undefeated, securing the top spot in the pool and locking up a first round bye when elimination play would began the following day.

                So we reach the final day of pool play. There were still few things that were certain. One thing we did know: Atlantic Shore and Tallahassee were both in. They both went 3-0 in pool play. But only one could skip the first day of elimination play. In order to secure that honor, they had to advance to 4-0. And they were playing each other. There can only be one. Nick Ferrara and Devin Sharkey absolutely dominated the first five innings. Neither offense could find an answer. Then, everything changed in the 6th. Nick Atohi lead off with a double. And then the sirens went off literally. As Ferrara was trying to head to 1st base to cover on a grounder, the weather alarm went off. But it was a test. Every week in Williston at this time, they do this same test. And it sounded like an air raid siren out of World War II. Either way, it was enough to get Ferrara out of his rhythym, and AShore took advantage. The big hit here came from Nick Abrams, a 2-RBI single. Sharkey finished with a complete game shutout, giving up one hit over seven innings. So Tallahassee would play on the opening day of do-or-die play, and Atlantic Shore would get their second day off. (Actually, this final day of pool play was the beginning of do-or-die time, but for that game you’ll have to head over to Brian’s Weekly Commentary)

                The 3rd game of the day was a big one for everyone. Every spot in the elimination rounds had been locked up, except one. And there were three times vying for it. South Brazoria County, TX had the inside track for it. If they won this game, they were in. No questions asked. If they fell to Bismarck, the door opened for one of the remaining North Dakota teams (West Fargo had already been eliminated) to find themselves in on the final day. So Bismarck took the field playing for the whole state, as well as looking for their first win. Bismarck had played a lot of close games over this tournament, but the W had eluded them. They also had a couple guys going back-and-forth to football practice each day (for those who don’t know, that’s over three hours one way.) This is a resilient Capitals team, and they showed it here on Day 4. And you can guess where the bulk of the offense came in this one. The first time through for Bismarck was largely kept off balance. Then, in the second time the hitters came to the plate (in the 3rd inning) Bismarck took off. Back-to-back singles by Treyton Mattern & Kirk Irey put Bismarck in the driver’s seat. Even with a double play turned against them, Bismarck still manged to push across three. That’s because with two outs, they worked four free passes and capitalized on an error. Then closing in on a spot in the elimination rounds, Bismarck got excited. Irey turned the lineup over with a single, then Cannan Fagerland also put up a base knock, scoring one. Then Will Madler had the extra-base-hit to put it away. Bismarck had unleashed chaos on the bracket.

                So everyone in the press area scrambled to put together tie-breaking scenarios. Honestly, it it was some of the best fun I’ve had all summer. It felt like March Madness bracketology. The first tiebreak was head to head, which was now useless. So we went to runs allowed. Texas was out, and the two North Dakota teams (Bismarck & Williston) were in quite the pickle. Go check out Brian’s commentary to see how it all works out, but trust me: this was one of, if not the, most fun games of the tournament.

                Now it’s Elimination Thursday in Williston. A single elimination, five team tournament to determine the World Champion. And it was Tallahassee opening things up, looking to avenge their first loss in the tournament the day before. And they did just that. But not before Bismarck got going. In the first inning, Cannan Fagerland got a single, and Paydin Slette delivered again with a bases clearing two bagger. Tallahassee got the hardest hit ball of the tournament from Victor Castillo to half the deficit, but it was Bismarck who lead after 1. Then, the Southeast champions put together the offense they had all tournament. Tyler Sims reached on an error, and then the first out was recorded. 7 of the 9 next hitters reached base, including five base hits. And one of those was a triple from Beau Evans. The Southeast champions had busted it open to the tune of a 6-2 lead. Destin Todd & Mark Thornhill crossed the plate as FL batted around. Sims got on base twice in the same inning. They would drop another five bomb in the 4th, this time lead by three scoring on a Tyler Borges extra-base-hit. Bismarck had put together a resilient show in Williston, but Tallahassee was moving on to the semifinals to take on Torrance.

                We’ll fast forward to that game, but the semi we’re skipping here (again, check Brian’s work) was both our only walk-off and an atmosphere changer. But let’s talk about the battle of the Ts. Torrance was coming off a bye, Tallahassee off a big win. The two teams hadn’t played yet (there would be no rematches in Williston.) The Florida guys set the tone early, with a single from Victor Castillo. He would come around to score on a double from Tyler Borges. Torrance took their cue from Tally, as the first two hitters reached via the free pass, and both scored on a double by Thomas Bainton. Keanu Yamashiro would add on to that total, scoring Hatai. After one, its 4-1 Torrance. After one-and-a-half, its 4-4. Brandon Fristoe helped his own cause with a leadoff single, Sims reached on an error, and Victor Castillo struck again with a single. And Tyler Borges struck again with a double, this time with double the effect: it scored two. The first three hitters in Tally’s order had the exact same result their first two times. (Castillo actually had three singles in a row, then a triple.) But Jesse Esphort would work hard on the base paths again, pushing one across to reclaim the lead for Torrance. They got another from Keanu Yamashiro to stretch the lead to two. They small balled that one in. Including a suicide squeeze. We saw more of that from Torrance than in the history of Brian or I calling games, but that’s how they do it in the Golden State, apparently. It definitely worked for them, all tournament long. The 4th was the blip in this one: no one scored.  In the 5th, it was Tallahassee’s turn. Beau Evans knocked one to left, and Fristoe doubled him home. 6-5 Torrance through five. This one is good. An even inning in the 6th would keep things in favor of Torrance. That Castillo triple I mentioned earlier was the highlight, along with a double by Thornhill. But, seeing the lead evaporate, Torrance answered again with a championship mindset (spoiler alert). Cary Arbolida got on with a single, Bainton walked, and back-to-back hits b Hatai and Yamashiro gave Torrance a one lead going into the 7th inning. Torrance was hoping for a quick top half to go to the championship. That isn’t what happened. A strikeout to open up by Neil Feist was great for Cali. The second strikeout was not, because Ray Rice reached on a dropped 3rd. He was putout though on a fielder’s choice. So runner on 1st two outs. Torrance is closing in.

                Then Ferrara walked. He was called in to pinch hit in a huge spot, and he got the job done by reaching base. Destin Todd walked as well. Bases loaded. 7th inning. One rune game. Winner goes to the championship. Victor Castillo comes up. Again his previous AB’s in this one: single, single, single, triple. He quickly falls behind 0-2. Has to protect. He hits one hard. But its right at Villareal at second. 4-3. Game over. Torrance is going to the championship game. Tallahassee gets third place. These two teams, along with Atlantic Shore, played so well in this tournament. They were fun to watch, but only two can play for the World Championship.

                Torrance. Atlantic Shore. Two teams coming in with undefeated records. Just like last time with Tallahassee and Atlantic Shore, only one can stay undefeated. This time though, it’s with everything on the line. And in this huge sport, Torrance sent Kevin Ishimaru to the mound. Ishimaru had been used sparingly in relief, and hadn’t had his best tournament. Turns out, he was saving the best for last. Seven innings. Three hits. No earned runs (Vanderslice did score after reaching via error.) Six strikeouts. Ishimaru stifled the best offense in the tournament. And one last time, Torrance scored in the 3rd inning. A walk by Kai Hershberger, a single by Jesse Esphorst, and a double by Cary Arbolida were the impactful moments here. Torrance lead 2-1 after three. In the 4th they put up another deuce, thins time because of Keanu Yamashio, Kyle Hatai, Hershberger, and another suicide squeeze this time by Tanner Schafer. Hershberger would score again in the 6th on a single by Schafer, and Cary Arbolia lead off the 7th with a triple. Thomas Bainton flexed the power one last time, and got a 3B of his own. Ishimaru got even better as time went on, striking out four of the last six hitters. With two outs, a ball is hit at Bainton. He tosses it over to Feist.

                Game over.

                World Series over.

                Torrance wins.