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The Thunder had three of the last four championships. But the Indians had three all-time greats.
Led by three freshly-minted LV MSBL Hall of Famers, the Widow’s Tavern Indians defeated the two-time defending champion Thunder to capture the Lehigh Valley Men’s Baseball League 25 National Division Championship.
The cardiac Indians took both of their playoff series to the three-game limit and then turned the ball over to Hall of Fame pitcher Mike “Mad Dog” Mattes in the do-or-die championship Game 3. Backed by a loud late-inning home run, the gutsy veteran Mattes earned the victory as he finished the Thunder with a two-run complete game.
Before that it was another Hall of Fame pitcher who helped keep the Indians season alive. After a blowout loss in Game 1, Ed Boyce and the bullpen held the Thunder to three runs in Game 2 to set the stage for Mattes in the rubber match.
And the rubber match was a classic. The Indians’ Ricky Rivera accompanied a tie-breaking solo homerun in the second-to-last inning with a bat flip and a scream, and then Manager-Player Rick Buss turned to Mattes for a short conversation that each one knew they didn’t really need to have.
“After the homer, I turn to Mattes and said ‘It’s all you,’” Buss said as Mattes prepared to take the mound for what proved to be the final three outs. “He assures me: no need for relief.”
'The Deadliest 2 through 5'
The Thunder didn’t wilt after the homerun. They just kept building. As an organization, they’ve done quite a bit of that.
It didn’t work out this time. In the top of the seventh and final inning of Game 3, the Thunder put the tying and go-ahead runners on base with one out but followed it with a pop out and a groundout to end the season.
“The Indians have the deadliest 2 through 5 spots in any lineup I've seen in the 10 years I've been in this league,” Thunder Manager-Player Matt Twietmeyer said. “The Thunder pitching did a great job dealing with them as the scores show. It was really tremendous baseball on both sides and hats off to the Indians for coming out ahead. I very much look forward to the re-match.”
It was one of the rare times that the Thunder built something that left them disappointed. After finishing in last place in their inaugural season in 2008, the Thunder have steadily fortified themselves into a four-time champion and perennial title contender.
The building began in 2009 with the addition of several players from the now-defunct Riddlers organization. That included Twietmeyer, who convinced more of his former teammates to join the Thunder in 2010 and 2011. The team further bolstered itself in 2014 when it welcomed players from the disbanded Longhorns who remain key contributors to the Thunder today.
Now as the Thunder complete their 10th season, they can count championships in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2016. They can also count two title-series defeats, one in 2014 and now one to this Hall of Fame-peppered Indians squad.
They Almost Built Another
In Game 1 on Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Thunder’s home at Cedar Brook Park in Cetronia, Pa., the Thunder appeared well on their way to a fifth title.
The Thunder backed a three-run complete game from pitcher Anthony Babiasz with a 10-run outburst. Kyle Duelley, the Nicholas twins Brian and Brad, and Babiasz paced the Thunder offense in this game and the series.
The Indians murderer’s row scorched the ball. But the Thunder fielders kept gobbling it up. Leftfielder Duelley and centerfielder Brad Nicholas tracked down the flies while second baseman Alex David and shortstop Tyler Kuhns reached the grounders.
“They were like a wall eating up everything that came their way,” Twietmeyer said.
The Thunder won Game 1 by a score of 10-3. But up next were two Hall of Fame pitchers.
Boy, Oh, Boyce
In Game 2 on Sunday, August 27, at the Indians home at Hacketts Park in Easton, the Indians handed the ball to a pitcher who can count membership in two Halls of Fame.
After a 16-year career in the Blue Mountain League that earned him induction to that league’s Hall of Fame, Boyce was inducted into the LV MSBL Hall of Fame during this his 18th MSBL season.
“Ed’s competitiveness and perfection of his craft has led to his success,” Buss said. “As far as I am aware, Ed is the only player to be inducted into the Blue Mountain League Hall of Fame and now the Lehigh Valley MSBL Hall of Fame.”
The Thunder repeatedly threatened to erase a three-run lead that the Indians took with a three-run third inning. But Boyce repeatedly kept the Thunder just at arm’s length. Twietmeyer and Buss both acknowledged the Thunder were swinging well, but the Indians defense wouldn’t crack.
With a two-run lead with one out and two runners on in the top of the sixth inning, Buss took the ball from the 34-year veteran and handed it to the reliever Fassl, who earned the save with his arm and his bat.
After surrendering a run-scoring single that cut the lead to one, Fassl escaped when he induced a 3-6-1 inning-ending double play. For good measure he hit a solo homerun in the bottom half for the final scoring in a 5-3 Indians win, then shut the door in the seventh and final inning.
Leaving No Doubt
That brought the winner-take-all in Game 3 under the lights at Hacketts Park.
And Buss could reach in his pitching bag for yet another Hall of Famer. “Mattes was fired up and ready for this one,” Buss said.
Eric Howell’s two-out RBI staked the Indians to a 1-0 lead that Mattes made sure the Thunder would never overcome. The Thunder tied the game twice, at 1-1 in the third inning and 2-2 in the fifth inning, but never got over the hump to take a lead.
The bottom of the sixth inning is when Rivera crushed what proved to be the championship-winning homer. He turned a 3-1 pitch into a no-doubter to leftcenter field.
And so Mattes returned the mound with a lead and three outs away from the title. And to the Indians who for 18 years have watched him build his Hall of Fame case, that must have felt like a no-doubter as well.
HALL OF A RIDE
Three Widow's Tavern Indians were inducted earlier this season into the Lehigh Valley Men's Baseball League Hall of Fame. Here are the remarks delivered by their manager, Rick Buss, during the induction ceremony held on Thursday, August 17, 2017, during the LV MSBL All-Star Games at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown.
Ed has played in the Lehigh Valley MSBL for 18 years. Over these 18 years, Ed has been one of the top pitchers in the league. He has dominated at the 25, 35 and 45 age levels. His competitiveness and perfection of his craft has led to his success. As far as I am aware, Ed is the only player to be inducted into the Blue Mountain League Hall of Fame and now the Lehigh Valley MSBL Hall of Fame. Between his time in the Blue Mountain League and MSBL, Ed has a combined 34 years of pitching dominance with too many wins to count. Ed would like to thank his wife and 2 daughters for supporting his time on the mound.
"Mike has spent a quarter of a century competing in the Lehigh Valley MSBL for both the Diamonds and the Indians. Mike’s level of commitment to the league is evident in the mileage he has put on his car as he travels 3 hours round trip every weekend to play baseball. Mike is an all-around athlete who puts in 100% for the success of the team. Additionally, he is a two-time league MVP and owner of an MSBL World Series championship ring. Mike would like to thank , his family, his past and present teammates and all those he has played against over the years as he values the quality competition you have provided."
"Mike, known by his teammates as 'Maddog' has been a fierce competitor in the Lehigh Valley MSBL for the past 18 years. Mike is one of the few players that serves both sides of the mound. In a three game championship series, Mike would pitch game one, catch game two, start as catcher in game three before coming to the mound to close out the game. This level of commitment is what helped lead his team to many league championships over the years. Additionally, Mike has earned two MSBL World Series rings. When not playing, Mike looks forward to coaching his 4 children and watching them compete in sports. He would like to thank all those who helped him be successful in the game, especially his family who spent many a nights at Hackett’s park."