Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Firefighters climb the ladder for first softball title

6-4 squeaker decides Ketchum Coed tourney

Express Staff Writer

Lisa Vadalma of the Casino shows the spirit of last weekend’s Ketchum Coed Softball League tournament at West Ketchum Coliseum. Photo by Willy Cook

It takes grit to be a firefighter, and it took grit for The Firefighters slow-pitch softball team to win its first Ketchum Coed Softball League tournament championship Saturday.

Trailing 4-3 in a marvelous defensive battle at West Ketchum Coliseum, the Firefighters manufactured three runs in their final two at-bats to wrest away a 6-4 victory from defending tournament champion Lefty's Bar & Grill.

Veteran pitcher John Rathfon of the Firefighters hosed down the hot-hitting Lefty's attack that had scored 71 runs in four loser-out wins Saturday including a 15-8 romp over Firefighters in the first title game. Rathfon, spotting Lefty's a 4-3 lead in the first frame, held Lefty's scoreless over the final six, on just seven hits.

Rathfon's grit lifted the Firefighters, a little shaky afield.

It wasn't a pretty doubleheader of championship games for the Firefighters, who committed 11 errors over 14 innings in comparison to Lefty's one. But the new champions (.506 team batting) got the job done with some clutch glovework and mainly because its top five men batted a combined .727.

Firefighters, having played in the league since 1998, finished up a 10-5 season and captured their first-ever league tournament championship behind the uncanny hitting and fielding of Most Valuable Player Matt Christian. The left fielder batted .938 and was retired just once in four games.

The Firefighters won eight of their final nine contests.

Besides Christian (15-for-16), other top firemen were Keith Potter .706, Rathfon .818, Justin Herald .706 and Morgan Uhrig .500. Firefighters left center fielder Sue Mulcahy earned the female Most Valuable Player award. Top hitters, both from Lefty's, were Anthony Anderson .818 and Wendy Speth .500.

The No. 3-seeded Firefighters upset No. 2 Lefty's (11-5) by a 12-3 score Friday night and then seized the tournament initiative with an upset 22-11 win over top-seeded Casino (10-3) early Saturday morning. Christian and Potter each slashed out six hits in that 30-hit Firefighters artillery.

Lefty's pulled itself up by its bootstraps and reeled off big wins over Elevate and KECH before going down to the wire against the Casino. Jeff Burrell's two-run double capped a five-run, seventh-inning Lefty's uprising that turned into a 13-11 triumph over the Casino.

In Saturday's first championship game, Lefty's out-hit the Firefighters 23-16 and scored four unearned runs en route to a 15-8 victory that kept the season alive for the defending champions. Burrell's three-run homer in the seventh put a period on the stay-alive triumph. Anthony Anderson and Dave Hausmann each had four hits.

Burrell drove home six runs for Lefty's in the 15-8 win.

In the decisive game, Rathfon's two-out, two-run homer in the first put Firefighters ahead 3-0. Lefty's fired back with four runs, two unearned, for a 4-3 lead after one, then tried to put the Firefighters away by loading the bases in the home second, helped by an infield error.

Up stepped Lefty's best player, shortstop Anthony Anderson, last year's tournament MVP. His resume for the pivotal faceoff against pitcher Rathfon included 14 consecutive hits over five games. On this occasion, Anderson just missed pumping a grand slam out of the park—his towering fly dropping into the hands of Christian for the third out.

The two teams settled into a standoff for the next four scoreless frames—Anderson in the middle of three infield double plays that killed Firefighter threats. Meanwhile, left fielder Christian caught four fly balls, one for the third out with the sacks loaded, and Rathfon started a double play through shortstop Justin Herald.

In the sixth, Lefty's still leading 4-3, Herald led off with a single and ducked safely into second base with one out. Rathfon, a right-handed slugger, stepped to the plate and clouted a long fly to right center field. Lefty's flychaser Buffalo Rixon went back-back-back and somehow snagged it with his back slamming into the fence.

Alertly, Herald tagged at second base and ran all the way home on the sacrifice fly, 4-4.

One-out singles by Anderson and Speth put runners on base for Lefty's in the home sixth, but Rathfon enticed Burrell and Shannon Baker to hit line drives to Christian, always a losing proposition if a batter wants to reach base.

Still at 4-4, it all boiled down to the final frame, Christian leading off for the Firefighters from the No. 7 hole—as coach Steve McCoy had shaken up his batting order for the finale.

Christian drew a walk on a 3-1 pitch. With one out, Keith Potter punched a seeing-eye grounder with enough velocity to scoot past Anderson's grab. Christian scored and Potter finished up at second.

A great shoestring catch by Lefty's left fielder Burrell made it two outs, Firefighters still ahead 5-4 and Potter still at second. That's when center fielder and newly-installed leadoff hitter Morgan Uhrig provided insurance with a double to right for a 6-4 game.

Lefty's quickly put two runners aboard with one out in the home seventh, but shortstop Herald pulled down a line drive and trotted over to second for the game-ending double play.

Both teams finished with 11 hits, Uhrig leading the way with three hits and Rathfon finishing up with three RBI.

Find more photos in the Aug. 10 Local Life section of the newspaper.

KETCHUM COED NOTES—This year's Ketchum Coed Softball League scoring was up by a run per game over last summer, from 23.1 combined runs per game last year to 24.2 this year. So, the combined 10 runs scored in Saturday's decisive game was the exception rather than the rule in 2011. It tied for the lowest combined total all season, right on the heels of Firefighters 9-1 win over KECH this past Wednesday night....

League members held a raffle during last weekend's tournament to raise money for injured Casino bartenders Mark Belanger and Gary Moser....

This was the 22nd season for the Ketchum league, which Lefty's first entered in 1994 and the Firefighters in 1998....The first six teams in the league when it started in 1990 were Blaine County Title, Mountain Time/Sage Bluebirds, Coors, Carpet Sharks, Whiskey Jacques/Saltwater Grill and Budweiser/Mountain Express.

The experience of Lefty's and Firefighters last week suggests it's a good thing to play doubleheaders in the week before the city tourney. Lefty's tuned up with a 38-run, 45-hit twinbill Monday, July 25 in 21-6 and 17-0 romps over Idaho Bioscience and Elevate. Wednesday in the league's regular-season finale, Firefighters scored 22 runs with 31 hits in 13-12 and 9-1 doubleheader wins over Casino and KECH.....

Saturday's championship game gave the Firefighters a 3-2 edge over Lefty's in the five games between the two teams this season. Firefighters out-scored Lefty's 62-55 in those.....The two finalist teams played the first game of the season, which was a 23-20 Lefty's win over Firefighters on Opening Night in June with 47 hits and 43 runs, and they also played the season's final game, a great 6-4 battle with only 22 hits and 10 runs scored.

Prior to Casino's 13-11 elimination loss to Lefty's Saturday in the loser bracket final, the Casino had beaten Lefty's twice this season, by scores of 12-10 and 14-13 (8 innings). The teams met twice for the championship of last year's city tournament, Lefty's prevailing 11-10 and 7-6. It means the last five nailbiting games between the two veteran teams have been settled by just seven runs.

The Firefighters and Casino had split their two regular-season games—Casino winning 12-7 and Firefighters squeaking by 13-12—before Firefighters came out bats a'blazing for a 22-11 win in Saturday's winner bracket final......Although the Firefighters had a slow start in June with records of 1-3 and 2-4, they played a series of close games—losing their four early games by a total of 11 runs including an 18-17 loss in a season-high 11 innings to Elevate.

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