Thursday, April 2, 2020

Stoners hold off Eleven to win softball playoff opener

Oh it’s on

by Than Acuff

You know that when a last placed team plays like a middle of the pack team, a player gets hurt and even a dog gets hurt, it’s playoff season.

The regular season is merely a warm up for the big time, the post season. And while Eleven spent the entire regular season battling with Backcountry Cannabis Club for the last spot in the standings finishing tied with a record of 3-11, the post season provided a boost as they went toe-to-toe with the Whetstoners in the first round Tuesday evening at Gothic field.

Speaking of toes, you knew there was something different about Eleven as player Amelie Barry ignored a severe toe injury to play. As teammate Phil Dujardin pointed out, “that’s grinding it out.”

And Eleven did grind it out as a team while the Whetstoners appeared in and out of consciousness through seven innings before pulling off a 21-18 win.

Pumped at their first experience as a new team in the playoffs, Eleven spent the top of the first inning, first pitch swinging, scoring two runs off RBI hits from Ryan Kay and Barry.

The Whetstoners went immediately to work in their first at bat with almost their entire batting order stepping to the plate. While most of the hits were little dinks here and there, they still scored five runs led by Zach Matthias who swung his bat like a mighty flanged mace to crush a three run home run.

Given that the two teams were on nearly opposite ends of the spectrum coming into the playoffs, one just warming up winning five of its last six games and the other losing its last six games, it appeared we would have one of those games after that first inning.

But, alas, Eleven proved more than their 12th place seeding as they pulled off a two out, three-run surge. Lindsay Beltchenko sparked it with a big hustle infield single, Vic Chilson singled, Katy Kay popped a RBI single through and Neil Beltchenko and Andrea Schumacher each dropped RBI singles in shallow centerfield to tie the game 5-5.

Then disaster struck for Eleven, well specifically Lindsay, as an injury forced her and her husband Neil to leave the game and take a trip to the doctor. Following a long pause in the action, the Whetstoners remained at bat and rattled off five runs with Alex Mattes-Ritz driving a two run dinger over the right center fence,Barb Peters stroking a RBI single and Sean Feese smacking a two RBI triple.

The injury to Lindsay cast a shadow over the Eleven bench but they remained focused and responded to score a couple of runs and clamp down on defense to keep the Whetstoners well within reach.

They finally reeled the Whetstoners in during the top of the fourth inning as Ryan crushed a two run shot over the left field fence and Barry and Elliot Manning each connected for RBI hits to put Eleven on top 11-10.

The game then turned into a slugfest as each team traded blows through the last three innings racing the clock the entire time to get the full game in. The Whetstoners threw the initial punch scoring three runs off a walk and a big hit down the left field line from Meghan Dougherty. Eleven counterpunched in the top of the fifth when Josh Schumacher proved he’s still got it with a solo dinger and Ryan stroked a RBI triple.

The Whetstoners had Eleven against the ropes heading into the sixth inning knocking in four more runs including a two run inside the park home run from Lawson Yow. But Eleven’s rope-a-dope got them out of trouble as Dujardin led off with a big hustle single and scored on a single by Manning. Erinn Dalton connected for a RBI single to pull Eleven within two runs and the 6:30 p.m. time limit pending.

Eleven’s defense held the Whetstoners to one run to finish up the sixth inning at 6:29 p.m. and allowing a seventh and final inning to be played.

Eleven did what they could to continue to keep their hopes alive as they tied the game 18-18 in the top of the seventh inning. Andrea led off with a single and scored on a double by Dujardin. The Whetstoners turned the second out but Manning stepped up to the plate with two outs, two runners on and down by two runs to punch a two RBI single and tie the game 18-18.

The Whetstoners turned the third out to keep the game tied and then after a couple of base hits, Mathias went to his trusted flanged mace of a bat again to decimate the ball for a game-winning three run home run and the 21-18 Whetstoners win.

Fortunately for Eleven, the post season is a double-elimination format so they have a chance to keep chugging and slugging through the playoffs. Meanwhile, I’m expecting big things out of the Whetstoners.

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