[MAW] 2019 WIFFLE Bash Tournament Recap
July 6, 2019 (York, PA) - 357 days.
That’s how long Jordan Robles had to wait to avenge the most lopsided loss of his MAW pitching career.
On July 14, 2018 at the 2018 MAW Wiffle Bash tournament, Robles and his Stompers teammates squared off against the McElrath brothers, Tim and Ryan, in that day’s title game. A relatively uneventful inning and a half lead to a bottom of the second that was anything but. In that one half-inning, Tim and Ryan combined to hit three singles, a double, and two 3-run homeruns. That kind of offensive barrage against a pitcher the caliber of Robles was stunning to witness. Future ERL teammate Connor Young said as much on commentary, remarking that he never saw Robles bombarded quite like that before. To his credit, Robles got through the remainder of the game by relying on a steady diet of changeups, but the damage had already been dealt.
The McElraths handing it to Robles was in no way an isolated incident. By his own admission, Jordan has never experienced much success against the twins. The McElraths – as they have done to many others – have given Jordan nothing but nightmares over the years. Finding a way to silence their deadly bats had proven difficult, even for one of the game’s great players.
It was with that backdrop that Robles took the ball against the Juggernauts in the championship game at the 2019 Wiffle Bash tournament. But this time, not only did Jordan have to contend with the McElraths, but also two of MAW’s better hitters, Chris Sarnowski and Ben Stant. And if that wasn’t enough to make a guy nervous, just hours earlier Jordan watched that same offense touch up Connor Young for four home runs in a game where Soup didn’t even make it out of the second inning.
Yet if Jordan was dealing with any nerves or feelings of consternation, they were completely hidden by his steely demeanor. Staked with a one run lead – thanks to the red-hot bat of Kenny Rodgers, Jr. – Jordan managed to make quick work of the Juggernauts’ imposing lineup in the first. The second inning played out in similar fashion. A usually emotional pitcher, Robles was uncharacteristically stoic as he maneuvered his way through the opposing lineup for the second straight inning. He looked focused, but he’s always focused. Knowing exactly what he was up against, perhaps he rightfully determined that it was far too early in the game to celebrate, even with a 2-0 lead.
In the third, the Juggernauts’ proved that decision to be a wise one.
Red got things going with a laser back up the middle that caught Jordan in the chest. The sound of plastic meeting flesh at that velocity – the ball was hit so hard that it was still rising when it reached the carpet – echoed throughout Sheff. If the ball stung him, Jordan didn’t allow anyone to know. He got right back to work and nearly induced a double play ball from Stant but got slightly ahead of himself in making the turn and ended up dropping the ball for a single. Another bad break followed when Robles was unable to field a Tim McElrath dribbler before the ball came to a complete stop.
With one out in the inning and the bases full, ERL’s 2-0 lead was suddenly hanging in the balance. Red got a good piece of a pitch, but was just slightly under it and lifted it down the left field line where Soup corralled it in. The next batter, Stant, made harmless contact and dribbled the ball to Rodgers at second base. Rodgers made the put out to help Robles complete the escape. For the first time in the championship, Jordan allowed himself to let out one of his patented “Let’s go!” war cries.
When he returned to work the fourth inning, Jordan seemed like a changed pitcher. While still using his riser to set up drops below the zone, the riser now had a little extra giddy up on it. Several people watching the game remarked afterwards that the speed Robles had on his riser the last two innings was as hard as they have ever seen him throw that pitch. In addition to throwing the pitch harder, Robles made what appeared to be a conscious effort to either throw the pitch up and out of the zone or at the bottom of it. All the while, he masterfully mixed in his effective drop pitches and changed speeds in all the right counts. Constantly keeping the opposing batters’ guessing did the trick and the Juggernauts remained off balance for the rest of the affair.
Robles’ demeanor on the mound changed in line with his stuff in the fourth and fifth innings. Escaping the precarious position he put himself into in the third provided a spark – a sense that that he could close out the win as long as he stayed grounded – that was dormant earlier in the outing. With each out in the final two innings, Robles’ normal enthusiasm began to show more and more, culminating in a leap into the air to chest bump Young after striking out the final batter of the game.
The celebration had the look and feel of something more akin to what one might see after a Mid Atlantic Championship tournament victory rather than a regular season one. That’s because for Robles, this win was at that level.
“Hell of a tournament,” a celebratory Robles told MAW’s Nick Schaefer during the post-game interview. “Everyone feels better than the last one. This one feels like the best one I’ve won, over the two [Mid Atlantic] championships. This one feels good.”
The championship win was ERL’s second straight and they remain in the mix to capture one of the first weekend bye spots, an incredible feat in itself given that they vacated all of their previously earned points just two tournaments ago. The tournament titles gives Robles a stunning six tournaments along with one shared title so far in 2019.
Here and There
Lutick locked in – For three or four innings on Saturday, POC’s Ray Lutick was at the top of his game. Through the first three frames against the Shortballs, Lutick did not allow a single batter to reach base and struck out all nine. Using a hard riser to compliment his power drop, Ray had no trouble early on with one of the best teams in Mid Atlantic. In the 4th, Lutick lost the strike zone somewhat but by that time he had the Shortballs firmly in swing mode and was able to pick up three more K’s without his best command. Unfortunately, POC had managed only once base runner to that point which put pressure on Ray to remain perfect. The bout of wildness in the 4th carried over to the 5th and a leadoff walk put POC and the Shortballs into a 1-1 total bases tie. One more base runner would have ended the game via the total base rule, but Nate Smith made that moot by delivering a walk-off triple. Despite the tough loss, Ray was extremely impressive to the point that even his teammate remarked it was as good as he has seen Ray pitch. If POC sticks together, a duo of Ray and Dan Whitener late in tournaments is a scary prospect.
Attempted robbery – On a day with several robbed home runs, the one near-miss might be the most memorable. The Yaks’ JR swatted back a homerun against the Blueballs (and paid the price the next day in the form of a deep bruise), Devin Torres tracked down a would-be Austin Bleacher blast, and Tim McElrath hauled back in a sure homerun from Kenny Rodgers Jr. The Longballs’ Dylan Harshaw tried to make it four against the New School Risers but came up a bit short despite a tremendous effort. In a full sprint, Dylan did a superman dive over the fence on Buffalo and actually got a hand on the ball several feet behind the fence before he crashed to the ground. Not surprisingly Dylan was a little shaken up after the hard landing but thankfully was no worse for wear. Even though he came up short on the catch, it was the most impressive athletic play of the tournament by a wide margin.
Mr. Walk Off – As unassuming as he is, Nate Smith can sometimes get lost in the Shortball shuffle. He does however, have two of the more dramatic hits a Shortball – or really, any player – has picked up this season. The first, of course, was his walk off home run against Dan Whitener and ERL back in May. The second came on Saturday. Tied 1-1 on total bases in the bottom of the fifth versus Lutick and POC, Nate went the other way with a pitch and put the ball off the tall right field wall for a game winning triple. Even though this walk off did not pack quite the same punch as the one in Jackson, it did net the Shortballs at least one more point in the playoff standings. More importantly, it served as another reminder to other teams that the Shortballs can never be counted out.
Pool Play parity – Out of the ten teams that competed on Saturday, six finished pool play with a 2-1 record. Of the four teams that missed the cut, two – the Longballs and Shortballs – are currently in the top three in the standings. That speaks to the highly competitive nature of the tournament and Mid Atlantic in general. All of those 2-1 records resulted in a pair of play-in games, which were won by the Stompers and Blueballs.
Iron men – The temperature never got much below 90-degrees the entire tournament and the humidity had players drenched while standing still, but those conditions did not stop some pitchers from going all tournament long for their teams. The Blueballs’ Cam Farro tossed every inning on Saturday, which included a 2-inning play-in game and a 5-inning semi-final. In total, the 17-year old tossed twenty innings, picked up three wins, and was only done in by two close losses to ERL. The Stompers’ Gino Joseph took a similar path at Wiffle Bash, throwing more than twenty innings which included a play-in game (a five inning one at that) and the semi’s. As usual, Dave Capobianco worked every inning for the New School Risers.
Game saving defense – In addition to the robbed home runs we saw on Saturday, there were several other fine defensive plays. None were more important that Gino Joseph’s sliding, over the shoulder catch against the Longballs in pool play. Up by only a single total base in the 5th, Colin Pollag made a bid to continue the game when Joseph sprinted off the mound and dove to catch the rapidly descending fly ball. The catch sealed the game for the Stompers and as it would turn out, was the big difference between them reaching the final four and being left on the outside looking in.
Soup misses a milestone – It seemed all but certain that Connor Young would notch the three K’s needed to reach 500 for his MAW career on Saturday, but nobody saw the offensive onslaught from Ben Stant, Ryan McElrath, and the Juggernauts coming. For the first time in his MAW career, Connor failed to make it out of the second inning in a game in which he started and his two K’s left him one short of the milestone.
Bingnear’s best outing? – It has been a down season for the Longball’s Sean Bingnear. One year after finishing second in the rookie of the year voting, Sean has struggled to consistently pitch at that same high level. However, his outing against the Stompers this past Saturday was definitely a positive step in the right direction. Bingnear did not allow a run in five innings while taking the hard luck total bases loss (which coincidentally enough, was also a theme of his 2018 Mid Atlantic season). Sean’s velocity and mix of pitches impressed Stomper captain Tim Cooke, who felt that his team was fortunate to sneak away with the win given how well Sean threw.
Championship Tournament Race
Here is how the points were awarded for Wiffle Bash. As always, the tiebreakers used for teams with the same record (who did not make the finals) are: head to head, total bases, and extra innings.
Given that, here are the updated point standings as we head into the FINAL tournament of the season on August 10th.
Outside looking in: Barrel Bruisers (12), ATF (10), POC (2)
As the updated point standings show, the Championship Tournament race is going to come down to the wire. After Backyard Brawl on August 10th, the Championship Tournament will be set. This tournament is the last chance to teams to attempt to work themselves into a better position for September. The Championship Tournament picture could dramatically depending on what goes down on the 10th in the York!
And before we get there, a team of Mid Atlantic all-stars are competing the weekend of July 13th and 14th at the NWLA Tournament in Morenci, Michigan! Stay tuned to all MAW social media throughout the weekend and follow along as the Mafia attempts to bring the trophy home to York!