A day after the UMB Pirates took a bruising loss in their first taste of the Trico B&B playoffs, Elliot Freeman came to the plate staring down not just the opposing pitcher but the Gabelsville Owls’ championship-filled history.
The 17-time champion Owls have been in situations like this before, at least as an organization. The current group of Owls, while young and still growing, are steeped in a baseball heritage that has produced a championship nearly every other year for the last 36 years.
The Owls are the defending champions. They eat these moments for lunch.
But the Pirates were faring much better on Sunday than they had on Saturday, when the perennial powerhouse buzzed them down 13-3 in a Game 1 that seemed to portend the expected result. Pirates Pitcher Raul Riera kept Game 2 close, however, and then he tied the game with a solo homerun in the fifth inning.
The Pirates were actually in this thing.
A Season-Saving Shot
With the score still tied in the bottom of the seventh and final inning, Freeman came up, staring down history with a runner on first. He took a hard cut on a fastball and landed it almost 400 feet away beyond the left-centerfield fence.
Freeman’s season-saving walkoff homer launched the Pirates past the Owls on Sunday at Cedar Brook/Cetronia in Allentown in Tri-County Black & Blue Division playoffs action in the Lehigh Valley Men’s Baseball League Game of the Week.
It was a game-ending two-run homerun that forced Game 3, which the Pirates won in another nail-biter in order to advance to the Trico B&B championship series.
“What a series,” Pirates Manager Jorge Rodriguez said, after his team advanced despite being outscored 18-11. “Great feeling after losing the night before and really not playing well to come back and play as well as they did. Not once did they hang their heads.”
“To be a champion you need to first beat the champion. And now we have to beat the other champion from 2 seasons ago to earn the crown,” Rodriguez said.
Rangers Swat Nats
Now that they’ve defeated the defending champions, up next for the Pirates are the previous champions.
The DM Palmisano Sanitation Rangers swept past the Washington Nationals to make their third consecutive championship appearance and will seek their second Trico B&B title in three seasons.
“We never take these games lightly. We handled our business early and often, and put the games out of reach,” Rangers Manager-Player Jason Gonzalez said.
The Rangers made it look easy against the Nationals, a veteran club with a slew of power hitters. Daron Whitmore earned the complete game three-hit shutout win in Game 1, striking out 8.
The Rangers bats gave Whitmore more wiggle room than he needed in the 12-0 win. Eric Howell had four hits and Henry Concepcion, Joe Wernimont and Dominic Toscano each had three. Cam Kichline and Bryan Bosenburg added two hits apiece. Daniel Gonzalez’s three-run homer was a pivotal play but was ultimately just gravy.
Having a Grand Time
Greg Taylor did half the offensive work in Game 2. His grand slam highlighted an 8-2 win. Wernimont had another multi-hit game, joined by Mark Fish, Daniel Gonzalez, and Taylor.
It was more than enough for the pitchers once again. Josh Brietholz took the win with four shutout innings, and Alex Lawson finished up.
“It's nice to have the entire team on the same page with our style of baseball -- aggressive. When you have 7-8 different players with homeruns, it's a good scenario for any manager and a problem for any other team,” Jason Gonzalez said.
The Rangers move on to try to clinch their seventh championship since their 1995 inception. The previous titles include five titles in the defunct Pocono Mountain Baseball League, and a 2015 MSBL championship.
“There is way too much experience on this team to not be successful,” Jason Gonzalez said.
After Walkoff, Another Nail-Biter
Meanwhile against the Owls, the Pirates advanced behind a collection of arms and gloves in Game 3.
Zach Karasek, Evan Byrne and Dylan Pasnak combined for a 3-2 series clincher, aided along the way by third baseman Riera’s diving snare of a two-out line drive with two runners on.
Pasnak handled the highest-leverage spots, entering in the sixth with two runners on and nobody out. He notched two strikeouts and a popout to preserve a 2-run lead. He gave up run in the seventh but finished the six-out save.
P.J. Van Orman, who doubled and tripled, and Evan Musto drove in runs for the Pirates.
The Only Place to Look is Forward
The Rangers aren’t the only ones with title experience.
It’s the third consecutive championship series appearance for the Pirates -- although it’s just their first in the elite Trico B&B. The Pirates reached the 18 Division championship series in each of the last two seasons, winning in 2015.
The Rangers took three of four in the regular season series, outscoring the Pirates 35-14 in the process.
It might come down to which pitchers can keep the ball in the park. The Pirates have 10 homeruns from five players and the Rangers have 16 from seven, making each lineup among the most powerful in the LV MSBL. When the teams met in the season opener, they blasted four homeruns apiece.
The Rangers storied 22-year, 7-title history also seems like an advantage over the Pirates, who were founded in 2015.
Then again, it took Freeman just one swing of the bat to show how much history means to the Pirates.