[MAW] 2019 Garden State Showdown Recap
SHORTBALLS FINISH WHAT THEY STARTED
In a tournament highlighted by the unpredictable nature of pitching, the Shortballs stand tall
May 18, 2018 (Jackson, NJ) - It was decision time for the Shortballs.
Undefeated after pool play for the second time in as many tournaments, the upstarts from the Ridley Park Wiffleball League watched as ATF and the Longballs battled it out in a play-in game. The winner of that game would advance to face the Shortballs in the tournament semi-finals. As they watched, they discussed their upcoming pitching plans. Up to that point, the club got five shutout innings from lefty Nate Smith, four shoutout innings from Opening Day breakout star Frankie Campanile, and six shutout innings from Teddy Drecher. Frankie pitched against and defeated the Longballs in pool play. Drecher did the same to ATF. The kids (who less than 24 hours earlier attended their high school prom) decided to go with a classic piece of advice – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The decision was made that if the Longballs won, Frankie would face them again. If it was ATF, then Teddy would get the re-match. Whichever of the two didn’t pitch in the semi-finals would throw the championship game.
In sports, decisions are often judged in hindsight. This one looks pretty great when you look back at it. Teddy kept the dangerous ATF bats in check for another five innings in the semi’s. In the finals, Frankie held down a stacked ERL lineup over seven innings, buying time until Nate Smith hit the tournament clinching walk off. Not only did the Shortballs play lights out wiffleball on their way to winning their first tournament title, but their decision-making process proved impeccable as well.
That the pitching path the Shortballs chose ultimately led them to the title doesn’t mean it was the objective right decision nor does it mean that another path wouldn’t have led them to the same destination. A very logical argument could have been made for Teddy and Frankie to flip opponents in the semi-finals. Since the veteran hitters on ATF had already seen Drecher once in the tournament, keeping them off balance by throwing Campanile would have represented a reasonable strategy. There was no right or wrong answer. The Shortballs chose their own pitcher’s familiarity with the ATF batters over the ATF offense’s familiarly with Drecher. You can’t argue with the results.
What the Shortballs’ pitching decisions demonstrate, however, is that in tournament wiffleball success is often dictated by how effective the pitching decisions we make turn out to be. For nearly every team in the field in Jackson, NJ this past Saturday, success or failure was determined by how well their pitching plans planned out.
Take the Shortballs’ RPWL mates, the Blueballs, as one example. Making their MAW tournament debut, the Blueballs had an understanding of what they had pitching wise but were nonetheless untested. 2017 RPWL rookie of the year, Zane Johnston, was given the ball against the Stompers in game one and led his team to a 3-1 victory. It was clear that Zane had the stuff necessary to hang with quality MAW teams and he would have to be a vital cog later in the tournament if the Blueballs were to advance. So they did the logical thing against the New School Risers – they tried out their other pitchers. Unfortunately, at least on this day, none of the other three players in attendance had much of anything and the Blueballs were mercy ruled by the Risers. Zane got back on the rubber in game three only to suffer a heartbreaking nine inning, total bases loss to tournament favorites, ERL. Needing a second win to have a shot at playing on, Zane threw against the Shortballs and again suffered a total bases loss.
Their decision to go away from Zane in the second game of the tournament was a logical one, even if in retrospect it seems that some of his 17-innings would have been better served against the Risers rather than “wasted” in loses against the two tournament finalists.
ATF – Gerard Fitzgerald, Phil Fresiello, Pete Slater, and K-Von – knew that their best shot of winning late in the day meant winning with a pitcher other than K-Von early in the day. Slater did yeoman’s work by pitching the bulk of three round robin games early in the day. Slater picked up one win and K-Von – utilizing one of the Meats’ favorite strategies even when not playing for them – closed it out versus the Stompers and Longballs. With only two innings on his arm, K-Von was able to beat ERL in the team’s final pool play game and earn ATF the play-in game against the Longballs (which he also won). In terms of executing a pitching strategy, few teams did it better on Saturday than ATF. Nine times out of ten any team will take their chance in the semi-finals with K-Von on the mound and less than a full game’s worth of innings on his arm, but the Shortballs simply didn’t cooperate.
Dave Capobianco threw his son Matt into the proverbial fire in scheduling his competitive starting pitching debut against the Juggernauts. However, not only did Matt gain quality experience for the future, but the decision was also likely made with that day’s tournament in mind. The Risers rolled the dice with Matt in their toughest on-paper pool play game so that Dave would be fresher for the team’s other opponents. It was a strategy that nearly paid off. After defeating the Blueballs, the Risers dropped a 0-0 total bases game to the Stompers and came up just short (2-1) against the Longballs.
Other teams did not get nearly as deep into the tournament before the circumstances forced them to change course.
The Lemon Heads had hoped to lay off their returning ace, Ray Lutick, at least early in the day. However, when Tim Beck and Dave Clark struggled to find the strike zone in the opener versus the Shortballs, the Lemons were forced to turn to Ray against ERL in game two. The Stompers had hoped to give Brice Clark multiple games on the carpet but when they quickly fell to 0-2, they turned to Gino Joseph the rest of the way in an attempt to get a play-in game. The Longballs were shorthanded all day and bounced around between Sean Bingnear and Colin Pollag on the mound, with even captain Dylan Harshaw making a rare MAW pitching appearance.
Speaking of short-handed pitching teams, the Juggernauts settled in early on a game plan, even if it was really there only option. Red took the pool play starts to get the ball to Ryan McElrath in the elimination round. Similar to the road taken by ATF, the Juggernauts plan worked out in the sense that Red got his team to the elimination round (with a 3-1 record to boot). Unfortunately, executing their pitching plan essentially to perfection only got them as far as the semi-finals.
ERL entered the tournament as the team with the most pitching depth. They put that depth to work midway through pool play when they suddenly found themselves locked in an extra inning total bases battle with the Blueballs. When the game flipped over to the sixth, Connor Young – who had thrown all of ERL’ innings to that point – bowed out in favor or Jordan Robles. The thought process employed there was a callback to a strategy ERL used on Opening Day. Tied 1-1 against the NY Meats in extras, ERL brought in the strike-throwing Robles to relieve Ty Wegerzn. ERL did the same in Jackson, swapping Soup for Jordan when not allowing baserunners was at its most important. The move worked – ERL beat the Blueballs – but that relief appearance turned out to be Robles’ only time on the rubber during the tournament. ERL went with Johnny Costa versus ATF in their next game rather than running Robles back out. Pitching a fresh Costa over a mostly fresh Robles isn’t a decision worth quibbling over, but the result – a loss that made ERL the second seed in the elimination round – was not what they hoped for.
The tournament for ERL hinged on their next pitching decision. Rather than go with Robles, Costa, or a combination of both against the Juggernauts in the semi-finals, Whitener got the call. ERL didn’t want to mess around with the dangerous Juggernauts’ offense but in going to Whitener before the finals, they risked extending Dan pass the ideal point. Dan got through the nine inning semi-finals and six innings of the finals before the workload finally caught up to him. With his hand starting to swell and no way of telling when the game would end, Dan let his foot off the pedal for just a minute. Nate Smith deposited the slow (relatively speaking), hanging screwball over the left field fence for the game winning home run. Whitener would later remark that he probably should have been pulled before that inning, citing the swelling in his hand which no doubt was the result of the heavy workload he shouldered late in the day.
With just four innings on his arm prior to the finals, fatigue was not an issue for Campanile. He stayed strong throughout the finals, immediately afterwards telling the MAW broadcast team that his arm “felt fine”. The Shortballs were able to spread the pool play innings out among their three pitchers – a luxury they weren’t afforded, but rather earned by executing on the carpet. Some teams lacked the pitching depth of the Shortballs and others weren’t able to take advantage of it in the same way.
The tournament victory is the first for the Shortballs and the first for an RPWL team in MAW. Their rise to the top of the MAW standings has inarguably been the best story of the early going in 2019. One of the most difficult accomplishments in tournament wiffleball is following up a surprise performance with another strong performance. The Shortballs did more than that; they bettered their results from their remarkable first tournament and did it in a confident, straight forward fashion. The message is clear – the Shortballs are for real and don’t take a backseat to any team in Mid Atlantic.
HERE AND THERE
Nate Smith’s championship game walk off home run was the first walk off in a regular season MAW Championship game (Tim Cooke hit a walk off single in game three of the 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship tournament finals). Thanks to his game winning hits in both the semi-finals and finals, along with his 5 shutout innings on the carpet, Nate was named tournament MVP.
More on the Shortballs’ hot start – their 10-1 start to the season matches the 2018 Stompers for the best start to a season in Mid Atlantic’s three years of existence. With six shutouts on Saturday, they became only the second team in Mid Atlantic to win a regular season tournament of 6 or more games without allowing a run. Their +36 run differential is the highest run differential of any team through two tournaments. Frankie Campanile has yet to lose a game in Mid Atlantic (5-0).
Connor Young had three MAW “firsts” within his reach heading into Saturdays tournament and knocked all three out in short order. With a victory over the Lemon Heads in ERL’s first game of the tournament, Soup became the first Mid Atlantic pitcher to reach 30 wins. In starting ERL’s next two games after the opener, Connor became the first Mid Atlantic pitcher to 40 career starts. In ERL’s third game of the day – a nine inning battle with the Blueballs – he collected his 400th plate appearance as well. Next up on the milestone watch list for Connor is his 500th strikeout, which should come in one of the June tournaments.
For only the second time in his 40 career Mid Atlantic starts, Connor failed to complete a game he started. He pulled himself in favor or Jordan Robles when the Blueballs game reached the 6th, acknowledging that the strike-throwing Robles was a better option in a situation where every base runner matters. It was the first time Connor was relieved during a game since the 2017 Mid Atlantic Championship tournament when he gave way to Joe Schlinedwein after suffering a mid-game wrist injury.
For the second year in a row, Sarno racked up some major innings in a May Mid Atlantic tournament. Red pitched all four pool play games for the Juggernauts, totally 16 innings. It was the most innings for Red in a single Mid Atlantic tournament since he threw 24 innings last May 5th in the second tournament of the 2018 regular season.
Dave Capobianco has been stingy all year on the carpet – in six games pitched, he has allowed more than two runs in a game only once – but it is apparent that the Risers could use an extra arm to allow Matt to develop at a reasonable pace and to take some of the workload away from Dave. This is not lost on the Risers. Rumor has it that Dave’s younger brother – who played alongside him on the Old School Risers – should make his New School debut sometime this season. Dave says his brother throws harder than him and if he shares Dave’s stuff, that’ll give the Risers a more-than-formidable one-two punch.
The eight innings played by the Blueballs and ERL during pool play ties for the longest (by number of innings) pool play game in Mid Atlantic history. On July 14, 2018, the Stompers and ERL played an eight-inning game ultimately won by the Stompers. ERL fared better this time around, overcoming an 8th inning triple off the bat of Dennis Donegan to rally for the win in the bottom half of the frame.
In their Mid Atlantic tournament debut, the Blueballs suffered a pair of tough total base loses – one against a veteran MAW team, once against a fellow RPWL team – on their way to a 1-3 finish. Sound familiar? It should. On August 4, 2018, the Shortballs made their MAW debut and went 1-3, with two of their losses coming on total bases – one against the veteran Yaks and one against the Longballs. If history continues to repeat itself, we should be seeing the Blueballs in elimination round sooner rather than later.
There was a little bit of everything in Jackson in terms of game results. Three pool play games were decided by the 10-run mercy rule, each on the result of a team trying to get a game out of their second or third string arms. Four games were low scoring affairs decided on total bases, including three scoreless games. In between those two extremes were a host of closely contested. With the exception of the three mercy rule games, every other game played on Saturday was decided by three runs or fewer. That’s 19 games with almost no margin for error!
As expected, the non-permanent fields in at the Holbrook Little League facility played differently but did not seem to have a significant impact on the run scoring environment. Most notable was a spacious right field on field number two that made it nearly impossible for a left-handed hitter to pull a homerun. In addition, the center field fences on fields 2 and 3 were a little closer than what is found in York but any uptick in overall homeruns was minimal.
With a Golden Stick Yard League tournament and Palisades WBL’s first week both in New York on Sunday, many players at the MAW tournament in Jersey pulled double duty making for a long (but fun) wiffleball weekend.
Things will be quiet over Memorial Day weekend, but MAW is right back in action the following weekend. On Saturday June 1st, in conjunction with the Ridley Park Wiffleball League, we travel to Ridley Park for the Philly Special. Come check out RPWL’s new digs and help kick of what promises to be an excellent 2019 RPWL season. This is a regular season MAW tournament meaning teams can earn points towards the Championship Tournament, qualify for the Championship Tournament, and compete for the first place tournament cash prize. The following week – June 8th – RPWL begins league play. Be sure to follow along with them all season long!
The day after Philly Special, the Wiff is Life League begins their new season in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Home of the 2018 NWLA Champions, WILL Waves, the league this year will be an innovative hybrid of tournaments and traditional league play. Many great players we have seen in Mid Atlantic over the years will be in action, including (but not limited to) Jordan Castelli, Gino Joseph, Jake Davey, Mike Graziani, Chris Sarno, Steve Keelon, and Austin Berger. Make sure to follow along with WILL all season long!
On June 15th, MAW is finally back in York with Wiffle Wars. Spend your Father’s Day weekend the only way worth spending it – playing wiffleball! Registration for both this tournament and Philly Special are open at the MAW Pro Shop. We hope to see you there!