By DARREN ELKIN The one thing on everyone’s mind was: “Could the Sweepers collect the elusive threepeat or would they fail in their attempt, as previous teams had?”
The season started slowly for the defending champs and they never really found their groove all year - except for brief moments. The Swingers started on fire and even swept the season series from the Sweepers, but a late season collapse, combined with the Sweepers winning their final seven games, enabled the Sweepers to grab first and knock the Swingers to second.
The Sweepers ended the season with a 14-6 record, followed by the Swingers at 13-6-1, the Gloverboys third with a 12-7-1 record, and the House of Ashkenazie next at 9-10-1. The Diamonds - last year’s surprise team who made it all the way to the finals, finished fifth at 8-11-1, the result of losing four key players after an off-season of turmoil. The Hammers once again finished in last place at 2-18, which was a marked improvement from the season before, when they ended up 1-18-1. Sorry - I joke! To the shock of everyone including himself, Joel Samphir kept his managerial job, again!
The same format would be used for the play-offs: third versus sixth, and fourth versus fifth, in one-game eliminations to see who would move on to the semi-finals. Our series were set: The Gloverboys would play the Hammers and Ashkenazie would play the Diamonds.
The Gloverboys had little trouble with the Hammers, defeating them soundly, 20-2. Once again they were moving onto the semi-finals, this year hoping not to play the Sweepers, who had knocked them out in each of the past two seasons. Our other game saw the Diamonds take an early lead but, trailing 17-10, the House mounted a late surge to prevail 19-18 over the Diamonds and prevent what would have been an upset.
The semi-finals would feature the first place Sweepers versus the fourth place House of Ashkenazie, and the Swingers versus the Gloverboys. Let me start with the Sweepers versus House series, as the pain still lingers and I just want it to end!
Game one saw both teams come out a little tight and the score was close until the House scored a five spot and took a lead that they never gave up. With solid pitching, defense, and some timely hitting, the House defeated the Sweepers 13-5 and were one game away from returning to the finals - after a two-year absence.
The Sweepers looked like they had all year: ordinary, and perhaps not as hungry as they should have been!
Game two saw the House come out early and often. They stormed to a 19-12 lead after six innings and it looked to be over for the Sweepers, but wait - this is the same team that overcame a 16-4 deficit in game three of last year’s semi-finals so, could they do it again?
The answer is sort of, having scored four runs in the seventh inning and three more in the ninth, while holding the House to no runs in the last three innings.
The Sweepers had fought back to tie it at 19 runs apiece and we were headed to extra innings. The Sweepers were up first but, before the fans had a chance to get back to their seats, the Sweepers went three up, three down, and we were still tied at 19 headed to the bottom of the 10th inning. The House, with one out and a runner at second, got what they needed: a single up the middle by, who else but Richard Hechter, who not only led the House on the mound, but also with his bat. With that the House were headed back to the finals and the Sweepers were headed to an early exit.
I tip my hat to the House who, behind the solid pitching of Richard Hechter, played inspired ball and, when needed, came up with the big plays. They were well deserving of the series sweep.
Our second series was very interesting. Game one saw the Gloverboys hit early and often. What was once thought to be a solid three-man rotation for the Swingers (Yes, I said a “three-man rotation” in slo-pitch.) turned into a route, as the Gboys pounded the Swingers 32-12. They were once again one game away from making the finals.
We all know how hard it has been for the Gboys to close out a series, after losing the past two seasons to the Sweepers when up 1-0 in the best of three semi-finals. The question on everyone’s mind was: “Would the Gboys finally close a series off or, would the pressure get to them and, once again they would be headed to a deciding game three?”
The Swingers came out blazing and grabbed an early lead. Despite the best efforts of both teams to give the game away, the Swingers withstood a late Gboys rally and won 22-17. We were headed to a third and deciding game.
Game three started slowly, but the Swingers, behind some solid pitching early on and some very strong hitting took a commanding lead over the Gboys.
The Gboys did manage to mount a small rally in the later innings, but by then the game was far out of reach. Despite the 26-18 final score the Gboys were never really in the game but for a brief shining moment. Jason Lichtman, the captain of the Swingers, had finally done what he had been talking about for years and that was making a trip back to the finals.
So the finals were set: It would be the Swingers versus the House - the Swingers looking to win for the first time since 2010, and the House looking to win for the third time in five years after the Sweepers interrupted their talk of a dynasty in 2014. For the record, I’m not sure one can claim a dynasty with three championships in five years if there is another team with two in those five years, but hey- one can dream.
Game one of the finals was on another windy night at Red River College Field and both teams could not make a play or stop hitting the ball. When it was all over the Swingers had emerged with a 34-26 victory in, believe it or not: five innings, as the sunshine vanished! The Swingers were now one game away from the championship and the House, who had to use their fourth string pitcher in game one, as Richard Hechter was rolling the dice in Vegas (Who takes a holiday in the finals?), had their backs against the wall.
Game two would prove to be a different story. The House brought up Gary Minuk from the senior league and, behind his all-star pitching, continued to batter Swinger pitching. They played solid defense and went on to mercy the Swingers 23-8, tying the series at one game apiece heading to another deciding game three.
The House must have been very confident with the return of their all-star pitcher Richard Hechter, but the Swingers not so much, as they were missing their starting shortstop and a couple of outfielders - not to mention two of their players were also hobbled by leg injuries heading into game three.
The Swingers’ captain Jason Lichtman now had a tough decision to make: Which of his three pitchers to start? Despite the fact they were in the finals and heading to a game three they had a team e.r.a. of 23.20 and had yet to stop anyone from scoring.
Game three was over pretty quickly as, once Richard Hechter stepped on the mound the Swingers had no answers for his slider. The House put up a five spot early on and the Swingers could never really shut the House down, nor plate a big inning. When all was said and done the House had claimed their third championship in the last five years with a dominating 23-7 win.
My congratulations to the House on a job very well done. After what was an ordinary regular season they managed to follow it up with a dominating post-season and prove, once again, that anything can happen and often does in the WJMBL.
A few questions linger for 2017:
1) Will we see the return of The Big Red Machine?
2) Will the Swingers go to a four man rotation?
3) Will the House claim their fourth championship in six years, so we then can put the House and dynasty in the same sentence?
4) Will the Gloverboys ever finish off a series after taking a one game lead?
5) Will the Diamonds return to their 2015 form or remain the Diamonds of old?
6) Will the Hammers win three games in one year and, if so, will we hear cries of “Break Up The Hammers”?
The following were the awards handed out:
Earl Barish Championship Trophy-House of Ashkenazie
Jack Koffman Trophy-Sweepers (first place in the regular season)
Trevor Paul Trophy - Jason Lichtman (sportsmanship/attendance/dedication to his team/league)
Richard Tapper Trophy - Joel Samphir (spirit/enthusiasm/commitment to his team/league)
David Guttman Award - Darren Elkin (dedication and commitment to the league for many years)
As always, a special thank you to league commissioner Shael Glesby for all his hard work, and to Garth Nemy for keeping the Facebook page up and running, schedule making and for coming out to watch the playoffs. As well - to Don Smart, our chief umpire and to all his crew for making this year another successful year in the WJMBL.