[MAW] Philly Special Tournament Recap
STOMPERS ARE CHAMPIONS ONCE AGAIN
RIDLEY PARK, PA (JUNE 1, 2019) - The defining moment for the Ridley Park tournament champion, the Stompers, came at an odd time – the second inning of their second pool play game.
The Stompers defeated the Barrel Bruisers in their opener. The win marked the first time in three tournaments that the team won a game before their third pool play matchup. A two-run homerun by Gino Joseph put the Stompers up early against the Juggernauts in game #2. After surrendering one run and walking Dan Potter to load the bases in the second inning, pitcher Tom Gannon retrieved the ball and headed back to the carpet. His two teammates – Gino Joseph and Tim Cooke – were already waiting for him and a brief mound conference ensued. Seconds later, Tom tossed his ball to the sidelines, took his ‘atta boys’, and watched as Gino began to warm.
A pitching change in the second inning of a team’s second pool play game might seem a tad reactionary. Even more so when one factors in that the Stompers were already 1-0 in pool play. A loss versus the Juggernauts would have hardly killed off their playoff chances. From the outside, it looked like a curious move. For the Stompers – 2-5 heading into the Ridley Park tournament and craving a deep tournament run – the decision to swap pitchers was a no brainer.
When asked, Cooke insisted that the decision was a team one. The Stompers were eager for a signature win, having defeated the Barrel Bruisers twice and the New School Risers once (on total bases) for their prior three wins. Although the team was and ostensibly still is in rebuild mode, the entire squad – including the absent Brice Clark – were frustrated at not seeing more tangible gains being made. Given that, they weren’t about to let a lead over the Juggernauts slip away without a fight, which meant putting their best pitcher in the game in a high leverage situation regardless of any other factors.
Unconventional, maybe, but did it ever pay off.
Gino escaped the one out, bases loaded jam. Two innings later, the 2017 and 2018 Mid Atlantic champions had their biggest win of the 2019 season and also their first two-win tournament of the year. After the tournament concluded, the Juggernauts’ Potter noted that he felt that one decision – despite coming very early in the all-day tournament – was the biggest reason the Stompers ended the day as tournament champions. That one move provided the team their biggest win of the season, provided positive momentum, and helped alleviate some of the pressure they had played with during the first two events of the season.
It also meant that the ball was now going to be in Gino’s hand the rest of the day. The Stompers would go as far as their talented, teenage hurler and their underachieving bats would take them.
The win against the Juggernauts proved especially big given what came next. After the Juggernauts, the Stompers’ slipped a little by dropping a highly competitive game 4-3 to ATF. It was the second time they lost to ATF in as many chances. In a tournament as highly competitive as the Philly Special was, momentum could be fleeting. Just like that, the Stompers went from the driver’s seat for a playoff spot to potentially fighting for their tournament lives against ERL.
The game against ERL provided an opportunity for the Stompers to show off their tenacity and big game ability that due to the circumstances, had gone unseen in April and May. On both sides of the ball, the story was tournament MVP Gino Joseph. Joseph struck the big offensive blow off former Stomper Jordan Robles, with a two-out running scoring double. On the carpet, he kept the trio of Connor Young, Dan Whitener, and Robles in check, which is no easy task. When Gino struck out Robles swinging on a high riser, the Stompers punched their ticket back to the elimination round for the first time since last summer.
Symbolically, the Stompers victories against the Juggernauts and ERL in pool play – and the fact that those teams were eliminated before the playoff round while the Stompers moved on – carried some added weight. Chris Sarnowski and Jordan Robles were – to put it mildly – major factors in the Stompers’ 2017 and 2018 Mid Atlantic successes. That the new-look Stompers took down Red and Robles’ new teams and played a role in them missing the playoff round was an added storybook wrinkle to the usual tournament drama.
The Stompers, however, had more pressing matters to deal with than symbolism and stories; they needed to find a way to get an elusive win against ATF. That had proven difficult in both Jackson and earlier in the day in Ridley. Now their tournament lives – and a trip to the finals – depended on cracking the ATF code. Once again, the veteran team proved to be a huge challenge. The Stompers got out to an early lead but surrendered it in relatively quick fashion thanks to home runs by Pete Slater and Phil Frisciello.
Despite the long balls, Gino’s resolve never wavered. He battled until his offense finally broke through in the sixth inning to take a 3-2 lead. That was all the Stompers’ young right-hander needed and he promptly closed the door in the bottom half to send his team to their first finals since last July.
Awaiting the Stompers in the title game were the NY Meats. The Meats once again ran roughshod over their competition in pool play, bringing their 2019 pool play record to a perfect 7-0. Although the Meats advanced over the Longballs by total bases in the semi-finals, as far as total base games go this one was not particularly close. The combo of Ryan Bush and Kyle VonSchleusingen held the hometown Longballs to a single base runner while picking up eight total bases of their own against Tommy Loftus. For the Stompers to finish what they started, they would need to take down arguably the best and most consistent team of the day and season.
The team took what was very much a traditional Stompers approach to the finals against the Meats, coupling patient at bats with shut down pitching while waiting for a scoring opportunity to exploit.
That opportunity came in the third inning. Bush hit a wall and walked the first three batters of the inning. Kyle was called on to put out the fire and was well on his way to doing so after he struck out both Joseph and Cooke. Gannon studied Kyle’s warm ups and felt he had a good read on the hard thrower. Always an aggressive hitter, Tom swung at the very first pitch he saw from K-Von and sent it sailing towards the opposite field. The ball cleared the left field fence without much trouble, leaving a bewildered K-Von and Cole to wonder exactly what just happened.
“I was looking at K-Von when he was throwing warms up from the back of the box. I noticed that when he threw over the top it was that screwball,” Gannon recounted after the tournament. “So, when I saw him reach back and go over the top, I figured it was going towards the strike zone and I just took a swing at it.”
Staked with a four-run lead, Gino went aggressively after the Meats’ hitters. Having already thrown around 20 innings in the tournament, his command and stuff started to wane ever so slightly but his determination never did. Gino shook off a two-run, nobody out blast in the fifth and continued about his business as if nothing had happened. Displaying a poise that belied his age, Joseph retired the next three Meats to lock down the tournament title.
In his post-game interview on the MAW live stream, Gino made it clear that he did not view losing in the finals as an option.
“I could have went another ten innings. I had to get the job done,” Joseph commented during his post-game. “We’ve been working hard since April 20th and we got better and better. Our bats our alive. We are feeling better. All our pitching is getting there. We’re really going to make a run for the playoffs.”
While a tournament win after only three events might seem to place the Stompers’ ahead of schedule in their rebuilding plan, Gannon disagrees.
“I don’t think it’s early at all, I actually think it’s late. I know the first two tournaments were sort of a disappointment in terms of where our expectations were.”
As for Cooke, he had nothing but accolades for his young teammates.
“I couldn’t be happier with where the Stompers stand right now. Saturday was a great step forward as Gino got to show the top-level pitcher he is. He also had some terrific at bats. And Tom gave us exactly what we needed. A win, a couple more innings, and increasingly better at bats as the tournament went on.”
The victory was the Stompers’ first in a regular season tournament championship game since May 5, 2018. More importantly, it shoots the team up to the top half of the playoff standings and places them firmly in contention for one of the three opening round byes.
HERE AND THERE
Hometown statement: The Ridley Park Wiffleball League was well represented on their home turf with thirteen players competing on four separate teams. While the Shortballs and Blueballs failed to make the elimination round, those two teams lost three games on total bases and surrendered only five runs the entire tournament. The Longballs, meanwhile, finished in the top five for the third straight tournament.
Silverman’s Regular Season Debut: Noah Silverman made his competitive wiffs debut in February 2018 at the MAW Winter Classic in Medford, NJ. One year later, he made his competitive pitching debut in Palmyra, PA at the second annual Winter Classic. Pitching in the regular season (and outdoors!) for the first time on Saturday, Noah led the Yaks to a solid 2-2 record. Relying on a nice mix of pitches and pinpoint precision, Noah sat down some of the game’s better hitters while pitching every single inning for his team. While not official, word is the Yaks are hoping to make Noah a more regular fixture on their tournament roster for the remainder of the season. If so, a pitching combination of Noah and Jarrod Bull could put the 2017 regular season champions right back in the mix of things.
Pone a boost to the Bruisers: Speaking of substitute players turned permanent fixtures, the Barrel Bruisers are hoping that they found an addition in Jay Paul Volpone. The Ridley Park Wiffleball League veteran filled in for a short-handed Bruisers squad on Saturday and performed admirably. After a rough start against the Stompers, “Pone” found his groove in game #3 versus the New School Risers. In addition to picking up the win, Pone hit the game winning two-run home run. He held his own for a couple of innings against the Meats in the Bruisers’ final game before tiring late. After the tournament, the interest in Pone remaining Bruiser appeared to be mutual. Hopefully we will see him later this summer in York.
Not your normal pool play pitchers: Coming into the Ridley Park tournament, ERL’s Connor Young carried a 3-0 record with one no decision while pitching exclusively in pool play. With both Jordan Robles and Dan Whitener available to work elimination round games for ERL, Soup has become Mid Atlantic’s most prolific pool play pitcher. But is he the best? After Saturday’s tournament, the NY Meats’ Jimmy Cole now has a spotless 6-0 record in 2019 MAW tournaments with all six wins coming during pool play. And while Connor added a pair of pool play wins himself in Ridley Park, he also dropped one game, which just happened to be against Jimmy and the Meats. In a tournament environment where less than half the field – and on Saturday, close to two thirds – doesn’t reach the elimination round, having the luxury to throw a pitcher the caliber of a Cole or Soup throughout pool play constitutes a major advantage.
Grandslam Gannon: Less than 24 hours after hitting a tournament winning grand slam against the NY Meats in the tournament finals, Tom Gannon added another one. Playing for the Palisades Giants on Sunday, Gannon drove in four runs with one swing in the third of a route of the White Sox.
Ridley Park Hospitality: The atmosphere at the new Ridley Park Wiffleball League fields could not have been better. The two permanent fields were the talk of many players pre-tournament for their layout, polished look, and hand painted strike zones. The two permanent fields and the makeshift third one took a lot of work and man hours from the RPWL players to set up, but if the feedback at the tournament was any indication the work was well worth it. Ridley Park Water Ice served water, pretzels, and water ice later in the afternoon to hungry players and onlookers. All in all, it was a perfect spot for a tournament and MAW officials are already discussing making Ridley Park at least an annual stop in the future.
No margin for error for the Shortballs: The Shortballs entered their hometown tournament with a 10-1 record, two championship game appearances, and billing as the top team in Mid Atlantic in the The Rise Power Rankings. Given that, their 0-4 record in Ridley Park was certainly a major disappointment. However, that record is also somewhat deceiving. The Shortballs had a tournament run differential of only -2, losing two 0-0 games on total bases (to the Risers and Blueballs), losing one 1-0 (versus the Longballs), and suffering a walk off 2-1 loss to the NY Meats. A loss is a loss, but the Shortballs were far from blown out. The difference between their finish this tournament and the previous two was really a little bit of bad luck and an inability to create runs.
Loftus lights up the radar gun: Tommy Loftus – the Longballs’ ace pitcher – was clocked at 95 MPH+ multiple times throughout the day, maxing out at 98 MPH late in pool play. While tracking the speed of perforated plastic ball with a pocket radar is an inexact science, Tommy was clearly throwing gas all tournament long. For his part, Loftus remarked that he felt as if he was throwing as hard as he ever has. While that kind velocity is a weapon, what made Tommy extra tough on Saturday was the difference in speed between his screwball and sweeping curve was as large as 20 MPH at points.
ATF Finessing its way to final fours: On the opposite end of the spectrum from a fire baller like Loftus were the ATF duo of Pete Slater and Danny Morra. Substituting a big bag of pitches, deception, and pitchability for overwhelming velocity, Slater and Morra are two pitchers that are proving that the radar gun is not the be-all-end-all even in a fast pitch environment. The duo pitched ATF to a 3-2 record in Ridley and were just a big extra inning hit away from reaching the title game. That performance came two weeks after Slater helped pitch his team into the final four in Jackson.
A follow up walk off and a home run first: Prior to May 18th in Jackson, there had never been a walk off home run in a regular season MAW tournament. It didn’t take long for the second one. Less than a handful of games after Nate Smith walked off on ERL in the finals of the Jackson tournament, K-Von did the same against Smith’s Shortballs. Kyle’s 4th inning walk off home run set the Meats on the fast track to the elimination round while the Shortballs never quite recovered on their way to 0-4.
Meanwhile, there was one home run-related first on Saturday in Ridley Park. When Gerard Fitzgerald homered off the Stompers during a pool play game, he became the first player in an MAW tournament to take a celebratory trot around the bases. Running the bases on a home run has never been prohibited in MAW and is welcomed, but until Gerard’s blast no player ever made the trip around the bases.
1. Stompers 5-1 16 pts.
2. NY Meats 5-1 14 pts.
3. Longballs 3-2 12 pts.
4. ATF 3-2 10 pts.
5. ERL 2-2 8 pts.
6. Blueballs 2-2 6 pts. (TB Win, TB Loss)
7. Yaks 2-2 5 pts. (TB Win)
8. Bruisers 1-3 4 pts. (TB Loss)
9. Juggernauts 1-3 3 pts.
10. . Risers 1-3 2 pts. (TB win)
11. Shortballs 0-4 1 pt.
Next week – Father’s Day weekend – MAW is back at its home base in York, PA for Wiffle Wars! As hard as it is to believe, the season turns to the backend of the schedule at Wiffle Wars, with half of the regular season schedule already in the rearview. With at least one regular team not scheduled to attend and a couple of teams in the middle of the pack that are expected to be at or near full strength, this should be another wild tournament. Will we see a fourth different 2019 tournament champion crowned in York?
And three weeks after that celebrate your long July 4th weekend with MAW at Wiffle Bash on July 6th in York!