Summer Collegiate : : Story
Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer Collegiate Playoff Roundup

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Patrick Grecinger

Eventful Saturday in Summer College Ball; Chase for Nation’s No. 1 Spot Up For Grabs

The Coastal Plain League’s Edenton Steamers and Cape Cod League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks have dominated Perfect Game CrossChecker’s weekly ranking of the nation’s top summer college league clubs from the outset of the 2011 season, but the final ranking will almost certainly see a fresh face atop the heap.

Edenton had occupied the No. 1 position in each of the last five weeks and needed to win only one of two playoff games at home Saturday against the Gastonia Grizzlies to almost assuredly end up No. 1, but the Steamers (49-14) were beaten twice by the upstart Grizzlies, 4-2 and 2-0, to fall in the CPL’s Petitt Cup championship series. Gastonia, the No. 6 seed, won the best-of-3 final two games to one.

Earlier in the week, Hyannis was unexpectedly knocked out of the Cape Cod League playoffs after easily posting the best overall record in the league in the regular season and rising to No. 1 in the national rankings in June and early July. The Harbor Hawks (30-17) had already dropped to No. 4 in the latest PG CrossChecker rankings.

Not only did the Steamers chances of an unofficial national title probably evaporate in an eventful series of games played around the nation Saturday, but so too did the hopes of another top-ranked team, the West Coast League’s two-time defending champion Wenatchee Apple Sox, who fell to the surprising Walla Walla Sweets in two straight games in the WCL semi-finals. No. 3 Wenatchee had dominated that league from the outset, but by failing to win a playoff game it all but killed its hopes of a No. 1 finish.

Meanwhile, the Cape League’s Harwich Mariners and California Collegiate League’s Santa Barbara Foresters both threw their hats in the ring for a possible No. 1 finish by winning championships Saturday.

Harwich finished second in the Eastern Division standings during the regular season, but caught fire in the Cape League’s eight-team playoff by winning six of seven games. In the process, the No. 7-ranked Mariners (29-20) captured three straight best-of-3 series and clinched their second Cape title in four years by hanging on to beat Falmouth 7-5 to win the league final in two straight games.

Santa Barbara, ranked No. 5, made its case for No. 1 by breezing to its third National Baseball Congress World Series title in six years Saturday night in Wichita. The Foresters, co-champions in the Cal Collegiate League, defeated the Alaska League’s 10th-ranked Kenai Peninsula Oilers 1-0 in the championship game to complete an undefeated run through the 32-team tournament. Both Kenai losses in the double-elimination competition were to the Foresters.

Saturday’s developments are not only expected to contribute significantly to a shakeup at the top of the PG CrossChecker rankings (the final ranking will appear shortly after the Northwoods League concludes its season on Friday or Saturday), but they could possibly raise the fortunes of two other clubs with national-title aspirations, the No. 2-ranked Bethesda Big Train of the Cal Ripken League and No. 6-ranked Quincy Gems of the Prospect League.

Bethesda’s season has been over for more than two weeks, but the Big Train (36-9) made its case for No. 1 by breezing through the Cal Ripken League regular season and winning its third straight league title with an undefeated run through the league playoffs.

Quincy dominated the Prospect League throughout the 2011 season and won both its playoff encounters in convincing style. The Gems (40-18) earned their second league title in three years Thursday with a 6-0 win over West Virginia.

It is unlikely that either the No. 8-ranked Alexandria Beetles of the Northwoods League or No. 9-ranked Keene Swamp Bats of the New England Collegiate League can muster enough support to make a run at No. 1, but the Beetles (44-24, 28-10 in the second half) have been on a late-season charge and enter the NWL playoffs, which begin Monday, with the league’s best overall record, while the Swamp Bats (34-16) made a case by winning the NECBL title on Wednesday.



Steamers Stunned by Grizzlies

All season long, the opportunistic Edenton Steamers found a way to win on their way to posting an impressive 44-11 record, winning both half-season titles in the Coastal Plain League’s North Division and achieving a No. 1 national ranking.

It seemed like destiny was in their corner in the playoffs, as well, when the Steamers pulled out two improbable extra-inning wins against Peninsula in the opening round of the league playoffs, and they were victorious against Gastonia in the opening game of the best-of-3 championship series, Friday in Gastonia, winning 1-0 in 11 innings.

An apparent national title was in their grasp as they returned home for Games 2 and 3, needing just one win, but the Steamers dream season came crashing down with a pair of close losses to Gastonia, which struggled to qualify for post-season play with a 29-26 record overall in the regular season and was stretched to the limit in all three playoff series. Both games were played Saturday because of a significant threat of rain in Edenton on Sunday.

Plagued by ineffective starting pitching and an inability to deliver a big hit when it counted against a suddenly-stout Gastonia Grizzlies pitching staff, the Steamers lost Game 2 by 4-2, and then dropped the third game of the best-of-3 series later that night, 2-0.

Edenton had the best-hitting and highest-scoring team in the Coastal Plain League all season, but managed only five hits in the first game and three in the second. In Game 1, they scratched out just five hits.

In the deciding contest, the Steamers struggled to get anything going against 6-foot-6, 250-pound Gastonia lefthander Michael Heesch (USC Beaufort), who went 8-0 this season and did not allow a run in 23 playoff innings covering three starts, and four Grizzlies relievers.

Heesch held the Steamers hitless until one out in the sixth, while Grizzlies closer Derek Epps (Northwestern Oklahoma State) fanned the final two Edenton hitters of the game, with runners on first and second, to secure Gastonia's first Petitt Cup title.

"It just goes to show the best team doesn't always win in the playoffs, the hottest team does," Edenton manager Dirk Kinney told the local Daily Advance after his team’s disappointing finish. “Gastonia played well and deserved to win. But we had a great season, broke a lot of records, and, more important, they all got better as players. That's what I'm going to remember.”


Harwich Gets On Timely Roll

The Harwich Mariners could do no better than a second-place finish in the Cape Cod League’s Eastern Division during the regular season, but clearly were a different club with the 2011 season on the line.

The Mariners surged through three rounds of playoffs, winning six of seven games, and clinched their first Cape playoff title since 2008 with a 7-5 win over the surprising Falmouth Commodores, who upset the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, the Cape’s best team, in the opening playoff round, and unexpectedly made their way to the final after posting a 19-25 record during regular-season play. The Commodores were denied their first Cape League crown in 31 years with the two-game sweep by Harwich.

Lefthander Jake Davies was ineffective in his role as a starter for Harwich, giving up four runs in just 1-2/3 innings of work, but the Georgia Tech two-way player remained in the game as a DH and delivered a double in the seventh that scored Darnell Sweeney (Central Florida) to break a 5-5 tie. Davies later scored on a wild pitch.

Harwich closer Chris Overman (North Carolina State) preserved his streak of 33 innings without allowing a run this summer, by pitching a scoreless ninth to save the win. But it wasn’t without drama as Falmouth loaded the bases with none out in the final inning on three straight singles, before Overman worked out of the jam without allowing a run. In all, Falmouth stranded 17 players in the game.

It's a great feeling, two unbelievable ball games," Harwich manager Steve Englert told the local Cape Cod Times. “They wanted to win it and everyone wanted to keep playing with each other. They didn't want it to end.”


Walla Walla Does 2-Step on Wenatchee

The Wenatchee AppleSox won the West Coast League title the last two seasons and dominated the league this season, while the Walla Walla Sweets (26-28) posted a losing record during the regular season while finishing 13 games behind the AppleSox.

But the Sweets turned the table on the AppleSox, ranking No. 3 nationally by PG CrossChecker, beating them in two straight games in their best-of-3 Eastern Division playoff. They clinched the series with a come-from-behind 5-4 win Saturday in Wenatchee. The Sweets will now face either Bend or Corvallis, after Corvallis squared the Western Division series at 1-1 with a 7-5 win.

The AppleSox jumped to an early 4-0 lead against Walla Walls, only for the Sweets to score two runs in the sixth inning and three more runs in the eighth for the win. Righthander Owen Jones (Portland), who set a WCL record with seven regular-season victories, was the loser for the AppleSox.


Santa Barbara Wins Third Title in 6 Years

Just like they did in 2006 and 2008, the California Collegiate League’s Santa Barbara Foresters won the National Baseball Congress World Series by going undefeated in the 32-team, double elimination tournament.

The Foresters, ranked fifth nationally by PG CrossChecker, won the 77th annual NBC title Saturday with a hard-fought, 1-0 win over the Alaska League’s Kenai Peninsula Oilers in a game that surprisingly turned into a pitcher’s duel.

Offensive-minded Kenai led the tournament in scoring with 54 runs in its previous six games, and was also in the unenviable position of being very thin in pitching after scheduled starter Gabriel Asakura (Cal State Los Angeles) came down with an injury.

Santa Barbara quickly scored the game’s lone run in the first inning on a single by Brett Vertigan (UC Santa Barbara), a bunt hit by Jeff McNeil (Cal State Long Beach) and a resulting error on the play by Kenai pitcher Jordan Mills (St. Mary’s), and an infield out by Jeff McVaney (Texas State), who led the Foresters in the tournament with a .409 average and nine RBIs. But that was the extent of the scoring.

The Oilers, ranked No. 10 nationally, kept the Foresters off balance throughout by using eight different pitchers, each working one inning. Mills was nicked for the one run, much of it his own doing as he struggled to field a bunt up the first-base line, and absorbed the loss the Oilers.

Righthander Mitch Mormann (Wichita State) pitched seven shutout innings for Santa Barbara, before righthander Spencer Messmore (Cal State Bakersfield) took over in the eighth with a man on and none out. Messmore retired all six batters he faced, including the final two on called third strikes, to preserve the win.

The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Mormann had already been named the outstanding pro prospect in the NBC tournament for his dominating performance in Santa Barbara’s third-round win earlier in the tournament, and his championship-game performance was the culmination of a challenging 2011 season.

After being forced to sit out last spring while in the process of transferring from Louisiana State to Wichita State, Mormann started slowly this summer for Santa Barbara. His velocity was initially in the 88-90 mph range, but slowly crept up into the low-90s during the summer before peaking at 96 mph in Wichita.

With his impressive performance, the Detroit Tigers were expected to make a serious run at trying to sign Moorman before Monday’s signing deadline, depriving Wichita State from deriving any meaningful value from him after he spent all of the 2011 season in the program on the sidelines. Mormann was picked in the 25th round of this year’s draft.

Predictably, long-time Foresters manager Bill Pintard was elated with his team’s showing in the tournament, especially the tightly-contested final.

We won big in this tournament, and we won small, like tonight, 1-0,” Pintard told the Wichita Eagle. “We finished undefeated. It's really sweet.”

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