It was a classic battle of titans in the world of men’s fastball. The reigning world champions, unbeaten Hill United Chiefs, with the best pitcher in the world, healthy and in top form. The host team, longtime perennial power, the Kitchener Hallman Twins, had stumbled earlier in the week, losing to the Bloomington Stix and falling into the loser’s bracket early, but showed the depth of their talented roster, reeling off six consecutive wins to get to the championship game. The Twins win streak included a 13-10 slugfest win over rival Toronto Gators in a game that resembled a 15 round Ali-Frazier fight.
On the final day of the tournament, Saturday, August 16, 2014, the Twins had to find a way past the #2 ranked New York Gremlins, and the # 6 ranked PA Power team.
Kitchner’s march to the championship game started Saturday at high noon on a cloudy, rainy day on their home field, Peter Hallman Ballyard. The Gremlins had been upset themselves, by an upstart California A’s team, with Derek Mayson holding the Gremlins to four hits. But of greater concern to Gremlins skipper Gregg Leather was the health of his pitching staff. Two were injured (Holoien and Whitten), while Andrew Kirkpatrick was battling pneumonia. In the Cal A’s game, the Gremlins had to seek a hardship replacement to put Whitten onto the roster as an out of region pitcher, in place of Holoien. New York fell to Kitchner, 10-2 in a run rule game. Kirkpatrick started, but clearly was not himself, surrendering 6 earned runs. The Gremlins started out the game with a bang, with Matthieu Roy and Jeff Goolagong homering. It would be the last hits of the game for New York, as the Twins’s Jeremy Manley shut down the offense from that point on.
At 2pm, next up was PA Power, with Venezuela silver-medalist Ramon Jones, fresh off his 17 strikeout, 2-1 win over the Cal A’s. But Jones was lifted after only one inning, experiencing control problems. Argentine Sebastian Gervasutti went the rest of the way, with PA Power erasing a 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the 4th. But as the rain began to fall, so too did the Power’s hopes of getting a second chance at the Hill United Chiefs that had sent them to the loser’s bracket. BC catcher Brian Banner (of last year’s Sooke Logger team) hit a two run homer to break the tie, and the Twins pulled away with 3 more in the 6th for the win.
It was settled then, Kitchener Hallman Twins had come back through the loser’s bracket and would play the reigning world champions from 2013, the Hill United Chiefs, who had not lost an ISC World Tournament in two years, on the strenght of the world’s best pitcher, coupled with a devastating offense that seemed to produce runs at will.
The game was played before a packed house at the Peter Hallman Ballyard, a favorite of fastball players across North America, which hadn’t hosted the tournament since 2007.
To Kitchener fans who hadn’t seen the Twins play this year, they no doubt noticed a couple of longtime Twins on the other side of the field with Hill United, ISC Hall of Fame manager Larry Lynch and veteran Craig Crawford. But regardless, the hometown crowd was happy that their Twins had survived a lengthy run through the loser’s bracket and were back in the title tilt. In the circle for the Twins in the final was one of the world’s best, someone the Twins were accustomed to facing in years past. But the Twins went out and got New Zealander gold-medalist Jeremy Manley just for a big game like this.
Hill United pitcher Adam Folkard was healthy again, and had surrendered only 3 runs all week, taking his team into the championship game, as he had last year, with an unbeaten record. Folkard had lived up to his billing as the best pitcher in the game. The Twins would have to scratch for runs against him if they hoped to extend their six game win streak and come away with the ISC World Tournament trophy.
In the winner’s bracket final, the Chiefs looked human, if only for five innings. The Scarborough Force held a 3-1 lead against them, until a 9 run outburst by the Chiefs’ offense showed that there were eight other reasons Hill United as the team to beat, finishing off the Force 10-3, to await the loser’s bracket survivor.
The Kitchener fans had gotten the match-up they wanted, and refused to let the continuing rain deter them. A sea of umbrella’s provided cover for the hearty fans of both clubs.
The first two innings were quiet, like heavyweights circling the ring to size up the other. In the bottom of the second, Manley hit Jason Hill with a pitch, but did not score.
The third started louder, with the thud of an Adam Folkard pitch striking Tyrone Bartorillo in the ribs. To viewers, it appeared it could have been a tit-for-tat, though certainly not the situation when retribution would be expected. Whether it was or not became a bigger question one batter later, when the Twins Marshal Kronk drilled the next pitch out of the park for a two-run homer. The momentum had swing in favor of the hottest team in the tournament, the Twins.
The Twin’s euphoria lasted only until the bottom of the inning, when the Chiefs Jeff Ellsworth hit a two-run shot of his own to tie the score at 2.
In the 4th, 5th and 6th innings, the teams went back to circling the ring, with each team only able to notch one hit each, the Twins, a single by Brandon Horn, and the Chiefs, a single by Steve Mullaley.
Both starters, Folkard and Manely were still in the game, with each entrusted to finish what they started. The Twins put a runner aboard in the top of the 7th, when Folkard hit another Twins batter, Ian Fehrman. But a pair of strikeouts erased any notion of a rally, and sent the game to the bottom of the 7th, which felt a bit like the last inning of the 2013 championship game, when Jamie Shields came home on a sacrifice fly, scoring the game winner on a bang-bang play at the plate that was talked about all winter.
With one out, Chief’s catcher Jason Sanford doubled, putting the winning run in scoring position.
To the plate came a face familiar to Kitchener Twins fans, 42 year old veteran Craig Crawford — though this time in the uniform of the Hill United Chiefs. His former Twins’s skipper, Larry Lynch was in the Chiefs’ first base coaches box. Crawford, a veteran of 14 ISC World Tournaments, with two rings to his credit, (one in 1995 with the Toronto Gators, the other with the Twins in 2009), was 0 for 2 against Manley in the championship game.
In his first trip to the plate, he was retired on a hard one hopper to Manley and the second, on a deep fly out to left.
In the 7th, with one out and Crawford at the plate, a passed ball sent the runner over to third, just 60 feet away from another world title for the Chiefs. It also gave Crawford a pretty good idea that Manley would have to keep the ball down, as most anything to the outfield would score the runner.
With the poise of a veteran, Craig Crawford stroked a walk-off single, bringing home Sanford, and with it, the Chief’s second world title in two years.
After the game, Craig Crawford talked about the final pitch and his game winning hit: “Jeremy pitched a great game and gave us the battle we expected. [The last pitch] was high for a drop. I just wanted to make contact and actually thought about dragging a bunt down but Sandy and I didn’t have a signal to let him know so I just trusted my hands and knowledge that he would likely not come with any rise balls given the situation.”
Of his world championship experience with the Chief in this year’s world tournament, Crawford said: “This one is a big family. From top to bottom this organization does everything it can to make us succeed.”
Now the proud owner of three ISC World Tournament rings, Crawford was asked if the walk-off game winner was the biggest hit of his ISC career. Crawford’s reply, “No Doubt”.
Adam Folkard picked up the victory for the Chief, Jeremy Manley the hard luck loser for the Twins. Folkard was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher on his unbeaten record, while teammate Jeff Ellsworth, whose clutch homer tied the game in the third, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
In the end, the 2014 ISC World Tournament is likely to be remembered for the walk-off game winning hit in the bottom of the 7th inning of the title game by veteran Craig Crawford.