After falling behind 6-0 to Sunrise Service, the Marlins staged a furious late-game comeback that carried them all the way to an HLBA championship. Dave's Super Duper scored nine runs in the final three innings to post a thrilling 9-8 victory in the Junior Division title tilt.
This year’s HLBA Junior Division championship game proved to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.
For three innings, Sunrise Service dominated the action. The Rockies scored early & often, building a seemingly insurmountable 6-0 lead at the halfway point.
However, Dave’s Super Duper exploded in the top of the fourth. The Marlins erupted for seven runs to take a razor-thin lead. Coach Mike Birmelin’s squad tacked on two more in the sixth, but then had to weather one last Rockies’ rally.
Brian Reed played the hero’s role with the game on the line. The Marlins’ relief pitcher made a spectacular play on a sizzling comebacker to keep the potential tying run at third base. Reed then proceeded to record a season-ending strikeout and trigger a wild celebration.
Dave’s Super Duper held on for an electrifying 9-8 victory and an unlikely HLBA Junior Division title.
“What a great game!” Coach Birmelin exclaimed just moments after the final out was recorded. “This feels great. I’m so happy for the kids. Everything we did out there today and all season long was a total team effort. We have a great group of kids.”
Setting the Stage
Dave’s Super Duper and Sunrise Service met twice during the ‘08 campaign. The Rockies romped to a Week One victory, but the Marlins avenged that loss later in the season.
On the strength of a better overall record, Sunrise Service earned a #1 seed in the play-offs, while Super Duper checked in at #3. Both teams advanced to the championship game via solid wins in the semifinal round.
The Rockies defeated Yankees to earn their spot in the title tilt. The Marlins punched their ticket with a narrow victory over the Cubs.
Wednesday’s clash of the HLBA titans started well for Sunrise Service. The Rockies broke the scoring seal with three runs in the bottom half of the first.
Marlins’ starter Grady Birmelin retired the first two batters he faced, but then ran into serious trouble.
Tom Minella reached base on an infield single, then scampered home just moments later when brother Nick hammered a triple off the wall in right center. Sierra Rutledge joined Minella on the basepaths after being hit by a pitch.
Tim Minella got into the act by launching a double up the power alley in left center. Both Nick and Sierra scored and suddenly Sunrise Service had a 3-0 lead.
Tim Minella pitched his way out of trouble in both the first and second inning. The Rockies’ righthander stranded four Marlins on base by chalking up five strikeouts. Tim would hand the ball off to teammate Ryan Fritz in the third.
Sunrise Service added to its lead with a run in the second and two more in the third.
The Rockies made it 4-0 when Sean Reese was hit by a pitch, thus forcing home Luke Davis who had reached on a single.
Tom Minella circled the bases with one out in the third. The young Rockies’ slugger tripled to the fence in right center and trotted home on a throwing error.
Nick Minella upped the ante to 6-0 when he walked, took second on a fielder’s choice and tallied on another Marlins’ miscue.
Trailing by six runs with just three innings to play, Super Duper began its wild comeback bid in the top of the fourth.
With one out and the bases empty, Michael Rogers worked what seemed to be a harmless walk off Rockies’ reliever Ryan Fritz. Doug Botchman joined Rogers on the bases a couple of pitches later and suddenly Marlins’ fans began buzzing.
This brought Forrest Sheard to the plate for what proved to be the first of his two huge at-bats. Super Duper’s two-hole hitter took a ball from Fritz, then pounced on a low, outside offering.
Sheard ripped a liner to right that went all the way to the wall. Rogers and Botchman both scurried home on the triple. And, when the relay throw got loose in the infield, Forrest tallied as well.
Matt Stinnard and Brian Reed followed with back-to-back singles and the Marlins’ rally was alive and well. Fritz then walked Alex Kielar to pack the sacks, but fanned Gerald Pepper for the second out.
Garth LaBar narrowed the Rockies’ lead to 6-4 with a bases-loaded walk. Then, Hunter Sheard hit what appeared to be an inning-ending grounder. It wasn’t.
Sheard sprinted down the line and beat the throw to first for an infield single. When the ball squirted away into short rightfield, Coach Birmelin kept waving his runners home.
By the time the dust settled, Super Duper had tallied three more unearned runs and taken its first lead of the game, 7-6.
“We have a five run rule in this league,” explained Coach Birmelin. “So, sometimes you have to take a chance like that. If they get the ball back to the pitcher’s mound and the play ends, then the inning is over. You have to be a little bit aggressive.”
Stunned by this turn of events, the Rockies’ offense went into hibernation for the next two innings. Garth LaBar worked a scoreless fourth and Forrest Sheard struck out the side in the fifth.
The Last Straw
Just before Super Duper came to bat in the top of the sixth, Coach Birmelin called his players together in the visitors’ dugout.
He reminded his Marlins that they still had three outs to go and that one run was a mighty small lead. Coach Birmelin challenged the young team to go out and get him some insurance.
Forrest Sheard took that challenge to heart.
Already the owner of a huge RBI triple back in the fourth, Sheard was about to do even more damage in the sixth. Forrest came to the plate with one out and one on looking for a pitch to drive...and he got it.
Sheard turned on a low, inside heater and crushed it down the line in left. As the crowd rose in unison and watched, the only question was whether the ball would stay fair. It did, disappearing over the fence just inside the foul pole.
This clutch, two-run homer gave Super Duper some breathing room at 9-6. And, as it turned out, the Marlins definitely needed it.
TJ Jackson sparked one last rally for Sunrise Service. He ripped a one-out triple into the rightfield corner. Jackson trotted home two pitches later when Tom Minella beat out an infield single.
Nick Minella pulled the Rockies within one run with an RBI triple to the gap in left center.
With fans for both teams screaming themselves hoarse, Sierra Rutledge nearly tied the game with one swing of her bat. Rutledge smoked a one hopper back up them middle, but Brian Reed was ready for it.
Super Duper’s young reliever speared the ball and alertly looked toward third. Minella had to freeze and could only watch helplessly as Reed turned and threw Rutledge out at first.
Andrew Bachnovich put up a gallant struggle in his final at-bat, but Reed came through with the K and a wild Super Duper celebration was on. The Marlins had rallied from a six-run deficit to defeat the top-seeded Rockies, 9-8, in the championship game.
Score by Innings...
Marlins 0 0 0 7 0 2 - 9
Rockies 3 1 2 0 0 2 - 8