American Legion Twins shortstop Josh Gilbert fields a ground ball in the third inning Wednesday against Excelsior, Minn. Gilbert tossed the ball to first base to record the out. Photo by M. Scott Moon
Photo by M. Scott Moon
With a pair of victories on Monday and Tuesday, the American Legion Twins single-handedly eliminated Belmar, N.J. from title contention in the Bill Miller Big Fish Tournament.
In an ironic twist roughly 24 hours later, the Twins are now the Mets' biggest fans.
After splitting a doubleheader on Wednesday with Excelsior, Minn., the Twins find themselves rooting for Belmar when it takes on Excelsior in the final game of the tournament at noon today.
The Twins will claim the championship if Belmar can score five or more runs.
A win would be better, though.
"It would be really nice to see New Jersey just win," said Twins coach John Butler. "And that way you wouldn't have to worry about it.
"They said they're going to be here rooting for New Jersey ... ,'" he added. "Hopefully it will turn out to be 14-10."
The Twins had the championship within their grasp after Kris Netschert pitched a complete-game, six-hitter (all singles) in leading American Legion past Excelsior, 3-1, in the first game Wednesday.
A victory in Game 2 would have clinched the title.
Instead, Excelsior roughed up Twins' starter Steven Mabeus for seven runs on seven hits in beating the Twins, 7-4.
If Excelsior wins and hold the Mets to four or fewer runs, they'll finish the tournament tied with the Twins, but will have allowed less total runs, which happens to be the tiebreaker.
"We played well that first game but we just felt like we were pressing, we weren't as awake as we could have been. They took it to us," said Excelsior coach Rob Hager. "So, it was nice for us to come back, get that win ... now (today) matters."
But it almost didn't.
Netschert sparkled in the opener, walking only one and striking out four on a dazzling array of fastballs and changeups, but relied heavily on a sordid curveball, which he, or rather, catcher Ethan Waters who calls the game turned to in tight situations.
"In the beginning it wasn't working because I wasn't getting my elbow up," said Netschert, who's only run was unearned, "but then I settled down and dropped it in."
Never letting a runner advance past second base until the sixth when he nearly escaped the inning on back-to-back botched double plays and allowed his only run, Netschert stranded a total of seven Excelsior runners and needed only eight pitches to retire the side in the seventh on two grounders and a pop out.
"Kris was just outstanding (Wednesday)," Butler said. "I started to get a little worried in the fifth, 'cause he struggled a little bit, but he threw a few pitches there.
"He buckled down, he came back and he got them to hit ground balls," he added. "That's what Kris does, he gets ground balls and that's what we like."
His strong outing was backed early by a two-run first inning in which Jake Lamphier executed an RBI sacrifice bunt and Mabeus added a run-scoring single.
Recording a hit in every inning except the seventh, the Twins struck again in the sixth when Daniel Hepner reached on a fielder's choice and advanced to second when Excelsior starter Matt Bozoian (5 1/3 innings pitched, three runs two earned eight hits) walked Vance Wolford, a move that ended the pitcher's afternoon.
Reliever Paul Giel subsequently struck out Josh Lee and then surrendered what appeared to be an inning-ending grounder, but shortstop Tim Mettert's throw to first was in the dirt, allowing Hepner to cross with the Twins' third and final run.
Hoping to lead his team to the title, Mabeus struggled early and often in the second game before leaving with one out in the sixth after apparently injuring his hamstring.
"He tightened up a little bit," Butler said. "He told me that he could keep on going but you don't take a chance on that."
Only one out into the contest, Excelsior exploded for four runs on three hits and an error, deflating a team that had just won three straight.
"We came out with a little bit of tension in us. We were trying too hard. We were just a little bit tense," Butler said. "If you do away with the first inning, it's a different ballgame. Unfortunately, they're making us play all of them."
Matt Narring bunted for a one-out single and scored the game's first run when center fielder Tanner Pollack dropped A.J. Pettersen's routine fly ball.
Following a walk to Mike Burke, Kyle Prachno sent a 1-1 offering from Mabeus over left fielder Justice Elson's head for a double, bringing in Pettersen for a 2-0 lead.
Burke and Prachno then came home when Eric Carlson singled to left.
"That error in the first inning, we could have got out of it without being in too big of a hole," Butler said, "and it took (Mabeus) a little while to get warmed up."
He cruised through the second and third innings before allowing two more runs in the fourth on only two hits and another error.
The Twins first run came in the third inning when Josh Gilbert slapped a two-out single to center.
Lamphier then sent the very next pitch off the right field wall and a quick relay appeared to gun down Gilbert at home. However, an acrobatic leap over catcher Nate Adams left Gilbert in perfect position to drop one foot directly onto home plate.
Trailing 7-1 entering the bottom of the sixth, the Twins finally rallied off wearing starter Alex Satterfield (5 2/3 innings pitched, four runs, seven hits), with Waters tripling to center and Hepner walking on four pitches.
Waters then scored on a fielder's choice by Netschert and following another walk to Jake Bowler, Vance Wolford loaded the bases with a chopper over Satterfield's outstretched arms.
With Anthony Gross on in relief, Pollack sent a two-run single to left, trimming the deficit to 7-4, but the Twins then stranded two runners in the seventh, leaving the title hanging in the balance today.
"I'm not disappointed. We were down 4-0, the guys hung in there. They came back and made a game of it, had runners on," Butler said. "I'm pleased with the way that we played. Playing four games in three days, that showed these guys that they can do it."
Owning a 3-1 tournament record, including 6-2 and 6-3 victories over Belmar, N.J., Butler is impressed with his team's play.
A little help from the Mets, though, would make life that much sweeter.
"I'm still hoping for a little bit more. Because it's always nice to win your own tournament," he said. "However it turns out, it turns out. I'm pleased with our guys."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TWINS 3, EXCELSIOR 1, Game 1
Post 20 200 001 0 3 8 1
Excelsior 000 001 0 1 6 1
Netschert and Waters; Bozoian, Giel (6) and Krieger. W Netschert. L Bozoian. 2B Post 20: Mabeus. LOB Post 20 8, Excelsior 7.
EXCELSIOR 7, TWINS 4, Game 2
Excelsior 400 201 0 7 8 1
Post 20 001 002 0 4 8 3
Mabeus, Elson (6) and Waters; Satterfield, Gross (6) and Adams. W Satterfield. L Mabeus. 2B Post 20: Lamphier; Excelsior: Prochno. 3B Post 20: Waters. LOB Excelsior 6, Post 20 8.
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