"What have we got here? Parity or something?" Umpire Jack Dailey quipped at the conclusion of the Ketchum coed softball championship on Sunday.
It looks that way, Jack.
The Casino (11-1 overall) breezed through the nine-team tilt to capture its first-ever tournament title, dispatching two-time champion View Point 9-4 in the finale.
"It was a fitting way to win our first championship," Casino pitcher and Most Valuable Player Craig Morse remarked.
"We had to beat the best to get to the top."
Which is just what the Casino did. Led by the hitting of Anthony Anderson (.923), Matt Stacey (.666), Dave Penn (.666) and Jerod Ball (.666) and Lisa Valdamo (.500), the league champs twice knocked off View Point which was the only squad to beat them during the regular season.
But that was nearly two months ago, back on June 8, and View Point narrowly pulled out a 17-15 victory. Since then, the Casino has toppled every team in its path, including last year's winner Color Haus in a confidence-building 22-7 triumph on July 20.
"Once we beat them we knew we had a chance. That gave us momentum going into the tournament," Morse said.
With the Casino, View Point and Color Haus knotted atop the standings at 7-1 at the end of the regular season, the Casino earned the #1 seed and league championship by virtue of a better run differential in head-to-head play.
That gave them the luxurious advantage of opening the tournament with a noon game against the winner of Group Six—Kennedy Mortgage, two teams with a combined 1-15 record. It was the equivalent of batting practice for the Casino, as the champs outhit Group Six 22-8 in a 16-1 victory.
"The crack of noon club worked real well on Saturday," Morse deadpanned.
Next up were the Firefighters, who played the Casino straight up one week before in a 12-10 loss, and were primed to go after a 14-5 victory over Zenergy earlier that morning.
After wiggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, Casino plated two runs to take a 2-1 lead and added three-run bursts in the fourth and sixth frames to prevail in a fly ball frenzy, 8-3.
With the victory the Casino advanced to the winner's bracket semifinal against View Point, who in similar slick fashion, collected wins over Sun Valley Associates (23-7) and Color Haus (18-8).
The Casino took the lead from the outset, scoring four runs in the first. Matt Stacey and Jerod Ball both ripped RBI doubles. The Point came right back with runs by Wendy Hossman and Matt Conover in the second, but Casino put two over the plate to lead 6-3.
In the third, View Point tallied two runs to Casino's one to pull within two, 7-5, and Conover scored again in the fourth to make it 7-6.
But just as the Point pulled tantalizingly close, hits by Joe Reali and Anthony Anderson scored Dave Penn and Jill Morse to push the Casino's advantage to 9-6 in the fourth. In the fifth, an RBI double and subsequent run by Jerod Ball pushed the Casino's lead to 11-6. After surrendering an unearned run in the sixth, the Casino did not even need its final at-bats, winning 11-7.
Literally and figuratively, the Casino had it made in the shade after that. Retiring to the friendly confines of the gazebo, the Casino got to watch View Point and Color Haus slug it out in the loser's bracket final.
It was a slugfest worthy of Hearns—Hagler with the teams combining for 51 belts, but the knockout blow was not delivered until the final bell.
Color Haus had the Point on the ropes early on, sporting leads of 2-0, 8-2, 12-1, 14-3, 14-5, and 14-9 through six innings.
Depending on which team you were on the visitor seventh was either a funfest or a bloodfest, but after an 11-run, 11-hit barrage by the Point, Color Haus was the one sporting red shirts.
View Point pushed nine runs over the plate before committing its first out and came within four hitters of batting around—twice.
"That was the game of the tournament," Point leftfielder Robin Sarchett said. "It was the best inning I have ever been a part of."
Color Haus wasn't ready to be counted out. Josh Jacobson led off the bottom of the seventh with a homerun—his fifth of the tournament. Lars Hovey tripled and scored on a two-bagger by Jeff Burrell. A double by Kathy Seal scored Burrell and Chris Benson knocked to put runners on first and second and the game-tying run at the plate, but the Point's pitcher Nelson Drewien enticed a fly ball to left to close out the contest, 20-17.
Riding the momentum into the championship, View Point sent Casino down 1-2-3 in the first and took its opening cuts.
Jeff Sarchett hit the gap between short and third, but was thrown out at second by charging right centerfielder Jarod Ball. Sue Mulcahy, Robin Sarchett and Sharon Stewart all reached on singles up the center, and Mulcahy and Sarchett both scored to give the Point a 2-0 lead.
The Casino's Matt Stacey led off the second with a screaming double off the fence and scored on Lisa Valdamo's double that rolled to the center field links.
Leading 2-1 in the third, View Point pushed the score to 4-1 on a 2 RBI homer by Robin Sarchett and held a three-run lead until the visitor's fifth.
After sending the Point down in order in the fourth, the Casino's Morse yelled, "let's get an inning," which is exactly what they did. And then some.
Momentum is a tricky thing, and despite trailing by three runs, Casino seemed to have the energy and excitement when they went to bat in the fifth.
The pro-Casino fans sensed it and a wave went through the spectators in the bleachers and lining the field.
Kathy Baker drew a leadoff walk and Craig Morse dropped in a ball to right center for runners at first and second. Sarah Torres wiped the bags clean with a double which rolled all the way to the fence.
Torres scored on husband Mike's double to left to tie the game and as another wave went through the crowd, and a surge of confidence shot through the Casino.
"There was no pressure. We felt comfortable in every inning. We knew we could hold them and our bats would come around," remarked left fielder Joe Reali.
Unlike most Casino stalwarts, the man wasn't blowing smoke. Reali poked a 2 RBI double into the right center gap and came home on yet another double by Anthony Anderson. With two outs and two strikes on her, Brenda Griffin gutted out a single up the center that nearly knocked pitcher Nelson Drewien's block off. Matt Stacey, Lisa Valdamo and Jerod Ball followed up with hits and Ball capped the rally with a 2 RBI single. When the dust cleared the Casino had the lead and the game firmly in check, 9-4.
From the fourth frame on, MVP pitcher Craig Morse scattered three hits and the infield defense did the rest, nabbing seven of the next 12 outs.
In four games, the Casino committed four errors, but none in the final game.
"We're for real," Morse said. "We play solid defense and we have great teamwork."
The defense was bolstered by first baseman Lisa Valdamo, a former fastpitch player at Chico State. Valdamo, who was named tournament MVP, along with Morse, made 24 putouts at first. Shortstop Anthony Anderson recorded 13 assists and eight putouts and left fielder Joe Reali snagged 11 fly balls and two assists.
Manager Gary Moser summed up, "We just put the ball in play and let 'em hit it. We take it in stride and have fun."
Or as Joe Reali put it, "We rode the wave."