They started white hot -- then played themselves into an underdog role.
They improbably reached the title series -- then dropped the first game.
Then when everything was on the line, the FOP White Sox got hot again.
The never-say-die FOP White Sox capped an up, down, and finally up again season as champions for the first time in the team’s eight-year history.
The White Sox defeated the frontrunner Emmaus Athletics in a Lehigh Valley Men’s Baseball League 25 National Division Championship Series that went the distance.
“It was the best team I have ever been a part of as a manager and player and finally we did it!” Sox Manager Nick Lerch said after the teams played a tripleheader on Sunday, Sept. 23, at Silver Creek Baseball Field to decide it all.
Bringing Their A Game
For the Athletics, it was another outstanding campaign for coach Mike Wenner’s bunch, the steadiest group of winners in recent MSBL history.
The 2016 champions and owners of a win streak that reached two dozen games last season were on the brink of a second title in three years as they cruised past the Sox by a score of 11-3 in the series opener.
But that’s when the White Sox got white hot once again.
Game 2: A Tale of Two Heros
A couple of standouts started the Sox comeback, leading the Game 2 victory.
One was expected as one of the top pitchers in the league. The other pretty literally came out of nowhere.
Jeff Rodriguez, a free agent who was in need of a team at midseason, delivered a two-out third-inning grand slam to give the Sox a five-run cushion in Game 2.
Ace Adam Maini took it from there, striking out eight in seven innings for the complete game victory. Travis Lerch, Greg Christman, and Maini each delivered multiple hits in the White Sox 6-4 victory.
Game 3: Ace Trumped By Own Teammate
The equalizer set Maini’s season totals at a 6-0 pitching record, half of the wins complete games, with 49 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched, all leading the team to go along with rate stats that place Maini among the LV MSBL’s most dominant hurlers.
Yet he wasn’t even his team’s top pitcher on this day. That distinction belongs to Chris Foundas, who tossed a complete game four-hit shutout in the clincher.
Brian Moore drove in Steve Wannamaker with a bases-loaded RBI single in the third inning to open the scoring, and Greg Christman and Tom Vazquez immediately followed with run-scoring sacrifice flies -- more than Foundas needed.
The defense contributed with its best team effort of the season, committing only four errors in the day’s 21 innings. “Timely hitting along with great pitching and defense won the first MSBL title for the Sox,” Manager Lerch said.
But the star was Foundas. “Mixing an 88 mile per hour fastball with a nasty slide piece,” Lerch said, “Foundas kept the heavy hitting A’s off balance all game. … Foundas pitched the game of his life as he completed the magical season for the Sox.”
Low Sox, High Sox
It’s hard to overstate the roller coaster ride that was the Sox season.
The team started the season with five straight wins. Then they played sub-.500 ball for the rest of the regular season.
In upsetting the No. 2 seed Indians in the first round and then the No. 1 seed A’s, the Sox knocked out two teams that combined to beat them five times out of six in the regular season, including once by mercy rule.
The Sox had as many regular season losses themselves (7) as the Indians and A’s combined. The seven regular season losses were more than twice as many as any other 2018 champion.
The Sox are the lowest seed to win a LV MSBL title in 2018. They suffered more than twice as many losses as any other championship team. They sported the slightest run differential of any 2018 champion.
And yet it only serves to make the championship season sweeter. Two pristine games render all of it moot.
The Sox wear their blemishes like badges of honor as they clutch the crystal trophy.
FOP WHITE SOX SEASON RECAP
15-8 record (including playoffs)
- The team batted .335 and scored 162 runs
- Nick Lerch led the team in games played (23), batting average (.427), hits (32) and doubles (6).
- Anthony Bowland led the team in runs batted in (20).
- Tom Vazquez led the team in runs (25) and homeruns (2).
- Adam Maini led the team in wins (6), innings pitched (38), strikeouts (49), and earned run average (1.89).
- Chris Foundas was a close second with a 2.70 ERA and 16 K’s in 16 IP. He was 2-0 on the season.
- Josh Gunkle made 5 pitching starts, going 2-3 with a 4.76 ERA
- Jeff Tanner made 7 pitching starts, going 3-2 with a 5.61 ERA