[MAW] 2019 Opening Day Tournament Recap
Expect the Unexpected
They were easy to overlook.
Browsing through the tournament schedule for the 2019 Mid Atlantic Opening Day event, certain games popped off the page. NY Meats versus the Stompers, Juggernauts versus Meats, and ERL versus Juggernauts – to name a few – all looked like important, meaningful pool play games. Others like ERL vs. Lemon Heads – a re-match of an intense semi-final series from the 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament – came with a built-in storyline. There was no shortage of intriguing pool play games to be found.
You can be forgiven, therefore, if you glossed over the 9:30 AM matchup between the Juggernauts and Shortballs or the 10:30 AM Sheff Field contest pitting the Barrel Bruisers against the Longballs. You certainly were not alone.
The former was an on-paper mismatch pitting a high ceiling but still developing team against one of the organization’s behemoths. The latter was a nondescript game where one of the participants went 3-15 a season prior. In every tournament, there are early day games that are forgotten as soon as they are over. Those two were strong bets to be just that.
Not so fast.
Not only will neither game be forgotten anytime soon, both proved that when it comes to predictions and expectations for the 2019 Mid Atlantic season, all bets are off.
The Shortballs – winners of two games in eight prior attempts in Mid Atlantic tournaments – slayed the giant in their opener. After being unable to buy a run in their previous tournaments, the Shortballs picked up three against a wild Adam Milsted and the Juggernauts. Frankie Campanile handled the rest on the rubber and just like that, the Shortballs flipped Opening Day on its head. There are upsets that lead nowhere in particular, but this was not one of them. From that game on, the teams essentially switched roles. The Shortballs became the tournament giants, going 3-0 to take the top seed in the elimination round. The Juggernauts – saddled with one of the tougher schedules in the field – dropped their next games to the Meats and ERL, respectively, on their way to an early 0-3 exit. It was a scenario that nobody could have possibly seen coming.
Just as the Juggernauts and Shortballs wrapped up on Buffalo, the Longballs and Barrel Bruisers got underway on Sheff.
While the betting line here would have been far closer than that of the Juggernauts and Shortballs game, the smart money was definitely on the Longballs. And it certainly looked like that was a good play early. The Longballs picked up two first inning runs courtesy of a Colin Pollag two-run homer. The Bruisers averaged just 1.5 runs per game against non-InHuman opponents last season, which must have made that 2-run deficit feel like a 20-run one. After one inning, the game had all the markings of another loss for the Bruisers.
Once again, not so fast.
The Bruisers got on the board in the second with an opposite field solo blast by the normally pull-happy Jerry Hill. A couple of batters later Jerry struck again, this time taking Colin Pollag out to straight away center with a two-run shot. In the third with Sean Bingnear now in the game for the Longballs, Jerry lifted a pitch into the wind and watched as the ball blew out over the high right field fence. It was only the third inning and Jerry already had his third home run of the game. Chris Owen got in on the home barrage with a line drive bullet to center field and added two singles as well. For an encore, Jerry walloped a FOURTH home run in the 4th inning. He then accomplished what he couldn’t last September in the Championship Tournament, which was shut the door on an opposing offense when his team held the lead. The fact that the Bruisers won the game was less shocking than the way they won – emphatically and by taking care of business on both sides of the ball. For a team that struggled so mightily on offense the season before, the offensive onslaught against a good team took everyone – perhaps even the Bruisers – by surprise.
Those two games perfectly encapsulated a tournament that was defined by its dramatic moments, unexpected nature, and fierce competition.
The New School Risers alone played in enough close and dramatic games to fill an entire tournament. The Capobiancos began their day with a 6-4 total base win over hometown favorites the York Yaks, with Dave out dueling Jarod Bull on the rubber. Next up was a 1-0 loss to ERL, where the game’s only run was scored on a two-out double by Ty Wegerzn in the bottom of the 4th and final inning. To complete the heart-attack inducing hat trick, the Risers surrendered a late lead against the Meats in their final pool play game which in turn eliminated them from playoff contention. It was that kind of tournament.
The intensity reached an even higher level when the tournament moved out of pool play and into the elimination round. As strong as the two semi-final match ups looked on paper – an all Ridley Park affair in one, two powerhouses in the Meats and ERL in the other – they both somehow managed to over deliver on their promise.
The Longballs recovered nicely from their early day loss to the Bruisers to grab the final elimination round spot. The Shortballs took the top seed thanks to a 3-0 pool play round where they won each game outright in regulation. The Shortballs got on the board first and took a 1-0 lead into the 5th inning. Campanile – one of the stories of the day from an individual performance standpoint – looked poised to shut the door but Austin Bleacher had other ideas. Bleacher deposited a no doubter over the right-center field wall at Sheff to knot the game at one.
The score stayed that way deep into extra innings. In the 8th and final extra inning, the Shortballs were far enough behind on bases that only a run would do them any good. With Tommy Loftus tiring on the mound, the scrappy kids from Ridley put runners on the corners with only one out. Sean Bingnear was called on to shut the door. He quickly picked up a strikeout to get his team one out away from advancing.
For the Shortballs, the game now rested on the shoulders of Ryan “Teddy” Drecher. Teddy took the first two pitches for balls and after the third pitch sailed wide, he cheered. On the sidelines Longballs captain Dylan Harshaw said what everyone was thinking – Drecher is looking for the free pass.
Whether or not that thought influenced Bingnear’s next offering – a fastball center cut – the truth was Drecher had no intention of letting a hittable pitch go by. With a compact and in-control swing, Drecher sliced the pitch through the second base hole for the game winning single. The groundball single set off a raucous on field celebration for the Shortballs. All the Longballs could do was smile – and once the celebration had ended, congratulate – their young league mates on punching their ticket to their first tournament final.
The Shortballs would have to wait more than an hour to find out their finals opponent, thanks to the other epic semi-final game playing out on Buffalo.
When Johnny Costa ended up as a late scratch, ERL added Kevin Norris and Ty Wegerzn to round out their roster. The additions likely changed ERL’s pitching plans but to what extent is anyone’s guess. Jordan Robles took the first two games of the day and Connor Young pitched against the Juggernauts in the third. Wegerzn was held back for the elimination round and given the ball against the Meats, who countered with Kyle VonSchleusingen.
The second semi-final had all the markings of a classic pitcher’s duel and played out that way early. In the third inning, Kyle worked himself into a little bit of trouble. The Meats – who showed a willingness to change pitchers mid-game throughout the day – summoned Ryan Bush. The tall righty worked the Meats out of the jam and would go the rest of the way for his team.
Despite the lack of scoring, the game had a very deliberate pace and took nearly an hour to complete five regulation innings. Both teams knew how dangerous the other could be and neither club was in any hurry to make a mistake. The sixth and seventh innings came and went and still there was no score. As the 8th and final inning before the total base tiebreaker commenced, there was a sense of déjà vu in the air that was not lost on the two teams. Many of the players involved in this game were involved in a similar 0-0 stalemate two months earlier at the Winter Classic – a game won by Connor and Jordan’s team on total bases after eight innings. Jimmy Cole saw a repeat in the making, complete with the Meats – who were down one total base – taking the tough luck loss just as his team had in February.
Jimmy’s worries over a repeat quickly evaporated, but probably not in the way he had hoped. After finding no luck against Bush for most of the game, Jordan Robles put his usual sweet line drive swing on a Bush heater. The ball sailed like a missile out to right field. Staying on a line the entire way, it easily cleared the fence and gave ERL a one to nothing lead. Following ERL’s celebration, Bush got right back to work and pitched his team out of the inning.
With one out in the 8th, Cole stepped to the plate. Jimmy homered in each of his three previous games and the Meats hoped he had one more left in his bat. Sure enough, Jimmy got a hold of one of Ty’s offerings and absolutely destroyed the ball, sending it sailing far past the left field fence. By the time the ball landed, it had cleared the row of trees that sit well behind the outfield wall. The prodigious blast tied the game but the Meats weren’t out of the woods yet.
Cole’s home run got his team within one total base. They still needed one base runner to keep the game going. ERL engaged in a long mound conference and made the decision to pull Ty for Robles. Jordan entered the game and – perhaps not fully warmed up – proceeded to throw three straight balls to Bush. Unlike Drecher, Bush had no intention of swinging 3-0 and took strike one. The next offering from Robles sailed wide and the Meats had the base that they needed. Jordan worked out of the inning from there and the game marched on.
Finally, ERL broke through with a walk in the 10th. In the bottom half of the inning – with the game time nearing the two-hour mark – Robles struck out Bush to send ERL into the finals.
After all of that the finals between the Shortballs and ERL could have been anti-climactic. It was anything but. Drecher and Robles were on their games and despite the big gulf in experience level, there was little margin for error on either side. Unfortunately for the Shortballs, their minor errors proved costly. A couple of fielding miscues in the second inning proved to be their undoing. Drecher pitched a great game opposite Robles but fell just short of pulling another major upset. Showing why he is one of the best big game players – and one of the best players overall – in the sport, Robles was undeniable on the rubber in the finals. Despite having thrown his first pitch of the day more than 10 hour earlier, Jordan was steadfast in his approach and gave the hungry Shortballs very little to work with on his way to a 1-0 shutout victory.
Robles – the tournament MVP – started three games for ERL over a ten-hour period. He won all three games he started and picked up a fourth victory in relief.
“Jordan Robles gets every bit of hype he deserves,” ERL captain Connor Young replied when asked to comment on his new teammate’s Opening Day performance. “I’m not surprised by the way he came into the semi-final matchup in relief and just completely shut the Meats down. That’s just what Jordan does.”
When all was said and done, one of the tournament favorites was the final team left standing. The tournament, however, was anything but predictable.
From major upsets, to players shattering expectations and others falling well below them, to games that played out in ways that could you never even begin to script, Opening Day was a roller-coaster of a tournament. If that tournament is a sign of what is to come during the 2019 MAW season, then it is clear that they only thing we should expect this summer is the unexpected.
Emptying the Notebook
High Praise for an Opponent: ERL prevailed over the New School Risers in pool play on Saturday, but post-game Connor Young had strong praise for the Riser’s Dave Capobianco. “Cap is a top tier player in MAW,” the difficult to impress ERL captain said. “One of the handful of guys you could really build a team around.” Last May, the Risers knocked ERL out of a tournament with an extra-innings semi-final victory. On Saturday, ERL extracted some measure of revenge when Ty Wegerzn hit a walk-off double in the bottom of the fourth to seal a 1-0 victory. The rubber game – whenever it comes – will be one to watch.
No upset here: Although there were some players that viewed the Shortballs semi-final win over the Longballs as an upset, Longballs captain and RPWL commissioner Dylan Harshaw was not one of them. Before the game, Harshaw dismissed “what if they beat you?” inquiries from other players by stating that the Shortballs are a very good team and they could easily win. Dylan added that just because the Shortballs are younger, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t beat the more experienced Longballs. Although he may have wished it wasn’t, Dylan’s assessment turned out to be spot on.
Who? What? – Gino Joseph has gone from an unknown to a highly regarded player in just three tournaments. Such a rapid ascent has placed him in the odd position of being both prolific and unknown depending on who is doing the talking. When it became clear that the Stompers were starting Joseph against them, NY Meats’ captain Jimmy Cole told his team “we are getting Gino”, trusting his teammates would understand what that entails. Not missing a beat while playing catch, the Meats’ Ryan Bush – making his MAW debut – matter-of-factly responded, “I don’t know what that means.”
Record Setting HR Performance: Per the MAW Stats & Information department, Jimmy Cole became the first player in Mid Atlantic history to homer in each of his team’s four tournament games. What makes that already impressive feat even more stunning is who the home runs were hit off of. Cole took Gino Joseph (Stompers), Chris Sarnowski (Juggernauts), Dave Capobianco (Risers), and Ty Wegerzn (ERL) deep during the day. In every game but the Risers one, Jimmy’s home runs counted for all of his team’s runs.
Another HR record for Cole?: Although there is no way of knowing definitively, Cole might have very well set another Mid Atlantic home run record on Saturday. In the 8th inning of the semi-final contest between the Meats and ERL, Cole hit a game-tying home run down the left field line on Buffalo that cleared the trees behind the fence. After the tournament, the distance down the left field line on Buffalo from home plate to the middle of the row of trees behind the field was measured at 168 feet. Jimmy’s home run appeared to travel at least that far – if it did not completely clear the trees – resulting in one of the longer home runs you will see.
No HR record for Hill: Some were wondering where Jerry Hill’s four homer game against the Longballs on Saturday ranks in terms of single-game home run performances in Mid Atlantic. Ryan McElrath holds the record with five home runs in a single game, which came last July against the Wyld Stallyns. In fact, Saturday was not even the first time that Jerry had a four home run game. His first came last season against the InHumans. Jerry’s firework display against the Longballs is certainly the most impressive of those three, however, considering the quality of pitching he faced.
Like father like son: We heard some rumblings before Saturday that Dave Capobianco worked with his son, Matt, over the winter on pitching and that he could make his competitive pitching debut at Opening Day under the right circumstances. That opportunity arrived in the Risers’ final game of the day. After a couple of late home runs by the Meats put the game slightly out of reach at 6-3, Dave handed the ball to Matt. With a southpaw motion that is almost the spitting image of his dad’s, Matt flashed a solid riser while pitching his team out of the inning. Between Matt’s already solid command and with some room to grow velocity wise, the Risers just might have found themselves a secondary pitcher.
Clark impresses on the rubber: Bum shoulder and all, Dave Clark of the Lemon Heads impressed fellow players – including the Yaks’ Nick Shirey – with the way he handled himself on the carpet on Saturday. Clark did not allow much at all to the Yaks and then gutted his way through a couple of more innings against the Shortballs in relief of Tim Beck.
· It took Jordan Robles three months and two full tournaments to reach the 14-inning pitched mark in MAW last season. This year, he hit that mark in less than one tournament and finished the day with 14 2/3’s innings pitched.
· With his home run in the second inning against the Shortballs, the Juggernauts’ Ben Stant extended his MAW regular season home run streak to seven games. The streak began last Opening Day with a two home run game against the Barrel Bruisers. Unfortunately, the streak came to an end in the Juggernauts’ second game on Saturday when the Meats’ K-Von and Ryan Bush teamed up to keep Ben in the yard.
· Prior to Saturday, one semi-final game in MAW history reached eight innings (Bruisers vs. Stompers, 9/9/17). That total doubled on Opening Day when both semi-finals lasted at least eight innings. At ten innings long, the semi-final between ERL and the Meats tied for the longest game in history (ERL and C4 also went ten innings in the 6/16/18 tournament final).
· At 13 to 12 in total bases, not only was the Meats and ERL semi-final nail-bitingly close, but the two teams went about getting those base runners in a virtually identical manner. Until Ty Wegerzn’s game winning walk in the 10th, the two teams compiled their total bases in the exact same manner: two singles, one home run, and six walks.
· While ERL spread their walks around, all six of the Meats free passes – including the important total base tying walk in the bottom of the 8th – were picked up by Ryan Bush.
· Jarod Bull’s thirteen innings of work for the Yaks on Saturday was the most innings he has thrown in a single tournament since pitching 15 innings at the July 2017 tournament. Bull pitched in seven tournaments in between those two.
· At the 2018 Opening Day while pitching for Way Too Beautiful, Adam Milsted allowed eight walks to the Naturals in his first game of the year. Last Saturday, Adam repeated that feat by allowing eight walks to the Shortballs in his first game of the season. The good news for Juggernaut fans is that at least in 2018, that opening bout of wildness proved temporarily. Adam allowed just four walks over his next ten innings and ten over his final fifteen regular season innings in 2018.
On May 18th, MAW makes its way to Jackson, New Jersey for a tournament co-hosted by the Lemon Heads. This is a normal Mid Atlantic regular season tournament, which means teams will earn points towards the Championship Tournament. Registration is open now at the MAW Pro Shop. Just two weeks after that, MAW debuts in Ridley Park, PA for a regular season tournament co-hosted by the Ridley Park Wiffleball League. Registration for that even is also open now at the MAW Pro Shop.