The magical playoff run of 2016 continues… As a player on the top-seeded team that got upset this weekend I can tell you it sucks and it feels like you’ve been punched in the gut. But as a fan of the WSL and a fan of sports in general, these playoffs have been nothing short of amazing. The old cliché of “That’s why you play the game” has never been more true than the 2016 WSL playoffs.
We enter Championship weekend with three of the four teams never having made the finals (RSC made it in 2007 and 2010 but they were Reel2Reel back then). We enter Championship weekend with a guarantee that one team in the finals will have finished the season with a record of 500 or under. We enter Championship weekend with no teams having more than 10 regular season wins in an 18 game season and with only one team in the final four that was in it last year. We enter Championship weekend with 6 of our top 7 ranked teams out of the playoffs! Think about that. The top 5 ranked teams didn’t even make it to the final four!
If you look at the playoffs from a records perspective, teams with a better record have lost 6 of the 12 playoff games. We had the top three ranked offenses in the league play this weekend and all of them averaged 14 runs or more a game in the regular season…. but in these crazy playoffs, all three were held to 8 runs (Betty), 6 runs (Kilo) and 6 runs (RBar).
No matter which way you look at this, it’s been a really unique playoff run and we still have 3 more games to go…. You can’t deny that the 2016 WSL playoffs will stand alone in WSL history.
Field #1: Gutter 86ers @ Black Betty (Lou)
The streak is over…. After 10 straight years of Black Betty making it to the Finals, they were eliminated in the second round by the 86ers. It was a surprising exit for the Betties after they had their greatest regular season in Betty history and had one of the most balanced roster of the remaining teams. It was also surprising because the 86ers have not beaten Black Betty in the last 10+ years. There were close games for the 86ers but Betty always found a way to get the victory. After Spike Hill, St. Anselm and Clems where eliminated in the first round, most people penciled in Black Betty for their 11th straight Finals appearance but the 86ers came to the field ready to play and ready to make WSL history.
For the second straight year, the 86ers picked the right time to put forth their best effort against Black Betty. Last year Betty easily beat the 86ers in both regular season match-ups but then the 86ers had a great battle with Betty in the playoffs losing 2-1 in extra innings. This year, it looked like the same storyline was playing out. Betty easily beat the 86ers in April (13-5) and then again in August (17-9) but this was the playoffs so the 86ers turned on their stifling defense once again and held down the Betty offense for the second straight playoffs….. except this time the ending was a little different.
The game started off strong for the 86ers as they sent 7 batters to the plate and scored 3 runs off a 2 RBI double from Chris Giorgio and an RBI triple from Dylan. In the top of the first, the 86rs tripled their run production from last year’s playoff game vs the Betty. Betty answered back an inning or two later with a Jake Levine solo home run. The 86ers tacked on another run off another RBI hit from Chris and returned the lead to three runs. Betty closed the gap in the bottom of the 4th when Pat, Aidan and Holland strung together a few hits but 86ers answered with back to back solo home runs from Jimmy Quigs and Chris to bring the lead back to three (6-3).
In the bottom of the 6th, the Black Betty offense appeared to wake up. Kristen lead off the inning by walking and Mike Camarra hit a 2 run home run to make it 6-5. Belz got a single and Jake was walked to get first and second with no outs for Rookie of the Year candidate Julio. who hit a long fly ball allowing both runs to advance. 2nd and 3rd one out…. Dave Pretto comes to the plate and hits another long fly ball to tie the game. AK stepped to the plate with a runner on 3rd and two outs with a chance to put Betty ahead…. AK hit a 2 run HR and Betty ended the 6th up 8-6.
The 7th inning was a quick one for both teams and they entered the top of the 8th with the Betty up 8-6 and the bottom of the 86er line-up due up. This is where most people assumed the story would end. The 86ers put up a good fight but the Betty found a way to come back and win it – right? Well – not in the 2016 WSL playoffs. All bets are off and all deals with the softball gods have been voided. The first 86er batter got out and defensive hero Ben (we will get to that later) steps up and gets a single… Ok – not a big deal. Lead-off man Matt flies out so there was 2 outs and the Betty are one out away from going to the bottom of the 8th with a 2 run lead. Andre got a huge single to allow the hot bat of Quigs to come to the plate with the tying run on 1st. Jimmy was 2-2 on the day with a 2B, HR and intentional walk. This brings us to the play of the game…
Quigs hit a long fly ball that split the Betty RCF and RF… They both started running as fast as they could to catch up to the ball… and amazingly they got to it…. but unfortunately they got to it at the same time. Both Betty outfielders collided with each other and the ball popped out of the RFer’s glove. Quigs came through with a 3 run HR to put the 86ers ahead in the top of the 8th (9-8). But the story doesn’t end here. Betty started off in the bottom of the 8th with two quick outs. Mike C and Belz both get singles to allow their hot hitter (Jake Levine – 4 HRs in the last 8 at bats while only making one out) a chance to tie or take the lead. This brings us to the controversial play of the game.
On the first pitch, Jake launches a moon shot foul down he first base line. Most people gave up on the ball and assumed the play was over. Ben (who was playing RCF) ran over to foul territory and caught the ball as it went through the trees. According to the rules, if a ball passes straight through the trees and is caught, the batter is out. If the ball changes direction when it hits the trees, it’s not catchable for an out. Surprisingly, all the Betty players thought the ball easily changed directions (“Like a pinball machine” said one) and all the 86er players thought the ball went right through (“Hardly touched anything” said another). The truth is most people were not even watching it so it’s hard to say one way or another. What is undeniable is the hustle play by Ben. He forced the Umps to make a decision and it went their way (and likely saved the 86er season based on how Jake was been hitting the ball). Tip your hat to Ben for the amazing effort… and if he is lying about the ball hitting the tree, may the softball gods straighten it out during championship weekend… (Seriously… not like an injury but maybe like an 0-4 game with 3 strike outs and his pants falling down as he is running to first on a pop-up…. I swear – I’m not bitter)
The 86ers tacked on another run in the top of the 9th with an RBI single from the Pinball Wizard himself – RCF Ben…. (Man – I started this recap unbiased and it’s unraveling… I better end this now). The Betty went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 9th with three fly outs…. The Black Betty run is over…. and the entire league can now rejoice. This was a long fucking recap but this hasn’t happened in 10+ years so it deserved a little more love than other recaps.
The 86er players of the game were Chris Giorgio (4-4 with two 2Bs, 1 HR, 3 RBIs and 2 Runs), Jimmy Quigs (3-3 with 2 HRs, 1 2B, 1 BB, 4 RBIs and 3 Runs) and Ben Weisman (2-4 and the defensive play or con of the game). Congrats to the 86ers on their second straight trip to Championship weekend.
(Gutter 86ers 10 / Black Betty 8)
Field #2: Turkey’s Nest @ R Bar (Lou)
Confession - We wrote off Turkey’s Nest. Seriously… None of us thought there was chance that Turkey’s Nest would get to Championship weekend. We didn’t doubt they had a talented roster but there was a long stretch of unimpressive games over the summer and we just thought it wasn’t their year. We were proven wrong. I guess we underestimated what this team could do when all their players actually showed up to the same game. Maybe we wrote off the poor attendance version of Turkey’s Nest so this week we will make sure we give Turkey’s Nest the proper respect with a legit recap and maybe some overdue props.
This was a battle of the last two champions. Last year the R Bar took the WSL by storm and rolled through the playoffs for their first WSL title. The year before, Turkey’s Nest took home their first WSL title in impressive fashion. Both teams lost key players since their champions but the core of the teams remained. Both teams recorded 10+ wins this season but RBar finished the year stronger winning 6 of their last 7 to round out a 12 win season. Momentum appeared to be on R Bar’s side especially since Turkey’s Nest wasn’t really tested in their last two games – both against AT and both blow out wins (with one win only needing 9 players and getting an out every 10 at-bats due t missing a girl). But right in the middle of the Turkeys-RBar game, the Nest swung the momentum their way and never looked back.
In the bottom of the 5th, the Nest exploded for a 10 run inning which started with an innocent Mitch Jones single followed by a Fagan double. After a ground out, Sean drove in a run followed by Trish driving in a run. MK got his second hit of the game to plate another run. After a fly ball out, it looked like R Bar was going to get out of the inning only letting up a few runs. That’s when the flood gates opened… JL gets a single followed by a monster HR from Shafer. Then Karl gets a single and that’s followed up with a HR from Andy. Mitch steps back up and gets his second hit of the inning when he laced a double (side note – Mitch hit two Home Runs in the same inning on Blacktop an hour before this game… It’s a good day to be Mitch). This was followed by Fagan getting a second hit of his own in that inning. When all was said and done, 15 batters stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 5th for the Nest as they scored 10 runs via 2 HRs, 2 2Bs and a bunch of hits. With the one run they scored in the third, this is all the offense that Turkey’s Nest was going to score in the game and all they were going to need. The impressive Turkey’s Nest defense and stellar pitching from Karl only yielded 6 runs to the 2nd highest ranked offense in the league.
(R Bar 6 / Nest 11 )
Field #2: Three Kings @ Kilo Bravo (Lou)
Coming into this game, we predicted that it would be a high scoring slugfest but that’s not exactly how it played out. In fact, it’s safe to say that the WSL editorial team has not accurately predicted anything this entire playoffs besides Kilo blowing out their round 1 opponent. In this game, only one team came out swinging and it was not Kilo. Things looked pretty good for Kilo in the bottom of the 1st when 3 of their first 4 batters got a single and Sam scored on Peralta’s single. The first inning ended with Kilo up 1-0. After a scoreless 2nd inning, Three Kings got a single from Denis that was sandwiched between two fly-outs to LF. With two outs and Denis on 1st, Vinny, Bryan and Jose rolled off three straight his to plate 3 runs and put Three Kings on top 3-1.
In the bottom of the 4th, Kilo struck again when Peralta’s 2B scored Tommy to close the lead to one. In the top of the 5th, the wheels came off for Kilo and Three Kings owned the rest of the game. Once again, the inning started with Denis getting a single while the hitters before and after him got out. With two outs, Three Kings ran off an even bigger rally than in the 3rd. They got 7 straight 2-out hits which lead to 7 runs! The rally was highlighted by a Tommy HR and doubles by Joe and Chris V.
Then in the 6th, Three Kings put another 4 runs on the board thanks to a solo HR from Chris F and a three run HR by Vinny. In the 7th, Three Kings scored 2 more runs using the small ball game when 4 players had singles. At this point it was 16-2 and Three Kings were tasting Championship weekend. Johnny was so excited he almost fucked a guy with a dog mask on… (It was a cute dog mask so there’s nothing weird about it). Kilo showed some fight in the 8th scoring three runs on five hits but Three Kings immediately answered in the top of the 9th with another 6 run rally.
When all was said and done, Three Kings walked away with a really impressive 22-6 victory. Everyone knows that Three Kings can score runs but holding the top ranked offense to only 6 runs is amazing. Great pitching by Denis and a great all around effort. As we have said before, Three Kings looks like a different team this year. We aren’t saying that are a team of level headed, easy going people (and I did see a mother pull her child closer to her as they walked past the Three Kings bench the other day) but they aren’t letting themselves get distracted from the main goal like they would in the past….. and now they are only two wins away from holding up the WSL trophy after two heartbreaking exits from the playoffs the last two years.
(Three Kings 22 / Kilo 6 )
Field #1: Soft Spot Runaways @ RSC (Clinchy)
This past weekend was another chapter in Murder They Wrote. The Cinderella story continues, and RSC once again capitalized on their magical murderous second half of a season. In the 3pm game, Runaways and RSC faced off in a battle that could only be evenly matched and a damn good game. Tensions were already high as the day had seen three top ranked teams fall to their demise, and RSC was down a player at the start of the game. In the top of the first with nine players on the field, RSC held down the defense to keep Soft Spot scoreless. In the bottom of the first, RSC burst out to a 3-0 lead with Hogan and Babkow getting on base and a homer from Shawn “I ain’t Sean but call me Policy” Andrew.
But Runaways battled right back; scoring 3 in the top of the second to tie up the game. RSC’s defense wasn’t so tight, and SS hit the ball in the gaps. In the top of the 3rd, the orange pulled ahead, putting the game at 4-3 and putting a mighty big pressure on RSC to answer. The middle of the lineup scratched out two more runs (led by a Kevin double), but Runaways would not…run away. All parts of their line up hit line drives, and some errors from RSC defense allowed for 5 more Soft Spot runs to score. True to second half form though, RSC regrouped and went to business. Phil and Nina had huge hits in the bottom of the fifth to turn the line up over and score the first two of five runs. Hogan, Babkow, and Kevin all went to work; roping a few singles and then a massive homer. RSC was back in business and up by one.
As any team knows, you can never, ever start to relax when you’re up. RSC had to play D to win this game. Runaways again scored a tremendous run in the top of the seventh to tie it back up. The bottom of the eighth, tied, it was win or go home for the underdogs of the season…the Remy’s cried Murder (literally), and went to bat. Shawn started the rally followed by a hot hitting Pat, who earned an RBI and a double. Ope and Halling (who had another phenomenal game on the mound) both tacked on more hits and earned a few more RBI’s. Clinchy found the sweet spot between short and third to load the bases, and Sean and Nina had super clutch hits to put the RSC squad up by 6. It was sensational softball to watch, and outstanding to be a part of. In the top of the ninth, RSC needed just three outs for the win. One base runner allowed, no runner scored. By far, a well fought game by Soft Spot, who had a great year. Congrats on a job well done, Runaways! To RSC, and all the fans out there; it’s the greatest story ever told in WSL lore. The season of the Cinderella team. The summer of perfect murder.
(Runaways 10 / RSC 16)
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