Members of North Shore include, from left, (front) Nathan White, Bradley Lovell, Chris Tobin, Ryan Park, coach Darrren Park and Darren O’Connell; (back) Kevin Blanchard, Roy Quigley, Adrian George, Bruce Wells, coach Greg Park, Keith Andrews and Roger Murrin. Missing were Cory Drake, B.J. Wells and Shane Wheeler. — Star photo by Geraldine Brophy
CORNER BROOK Any given game in any sport at all has the potential to feature the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
In Game 6 of the Corner Brook Molson 67 Men’s Fastpitch Softball League final at Fred Basha Memorial Park A Diamond on Monday night, all of that was packed into the first inning alone.
North Shore emerged as league champions — again — after securing a 15-7 five-inning mercy-rule decision over the Cardinals to take the best-of-seven series in six games. It is their fourth title of the current league’s five-year existence, with 2011 being their only hiccup.
The top of the first inning went almost inconceivably well for the defending champions, as they rode a lead-off home run from series most valuable player Nathan White to eight runs in total before the third out was recorded.
That could have — and maybe should have — been the ball game, but amazingly the Cardinals battled back with six runs of their own in the bottom of the inning to suddenly make a game of it again.
“Oh my God, I almost dropped,” said North Shore starting pitcher Bruce Wells, who gave up five of those runs before taking himself out of the game early. Roger Murrin came in, gave up another run, but recorded the last two outs of the inning to keep the score at 8-6 going into the second.
“I thought it was a nice cushion to have,” Wells said. “I remember back years ago, playing on the North Shore, if you got four runs you’d win.”
Wells was shocked he couldn’t get his groove going on the mound, but the 55-year-old veteran was forced to fight through it when Murrin hurt his shoulder with one out in the bottom of the second and the score at 9-7.
“I had to come back in,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, come on Bruce ... you got no other choice now but to win this game for the boys.’”
He allowed just two hits — and no runs — the rest of the way, finishing with a total of five runs against on seven hits, with five strikeouts over his four innings. Murrin gave up two runs on three hits during his inning of duty, with two strikeouts and a hit batter.
After two scoreless innings, the North Shore blew the game wide open with six runs in the top of the fifth. The Cardinals were unable to respond on the other side, triggering the mercy rule.
“I knew the boys could come back again and get a few,” Wells said of his teammates. “They backed me up awesome.”
Wells spoke specifically of the batting efforts of Adrian George (3-for-4, with two home runs, a single, five RBIs and two runs scored) and White (3-for-4, with a home run, a double, a single, two RBIs and two runs scored).
The latter, in particular, earned his share of praise for coming in this season to replace longtime Shore catcher Michael Brake.
“I thought he did an awesome job,” Wells said of White. “He won (the series MVP) and it couldn’t go to a better player.”
Wells, who dedicated the victory to the memory of former team members Wade Parsons, Glen Park and Stan Park, said softball still plays a big part in his life and the lives of his entire family. He has absolutely no inclination to give up the game just yet.
“Hopefully I’ll get another 10 years,” he said.
For the Cardinals, Chanel Allain suffered the pitching loss, as he was rocked for 15 runs on 16 hits, with two walks and five strikeouts over five innings.
Greg Gallant was the top batter, with two hits on three tries, including a home run and a single. He had two RBIs and scored twice. Des Ball was 1-for-3 with a home run that led to two RBIs and a run scored.
Cardinals’ Cory Hurley described the top of the first inning as a “nightmare.”
“Every ball they hit, whether it was hard or not, found a hole,” he said. “We were like, ‘Oh my God, just get out of it and see what happens.’”
Of course, what happened was a string of offence of their own that fell just short of the Shore’s.
“It was a big momentum shift,” Hurley said of the six-run rally in the bottom of the first. “When it’s 8-0, you’re not going to give up, but it’s a big hole.”
The lost opportunity for the Cardinals, Hurley figures, was not getting to Wells again quickly when he re-entered the game.
“While his confidence was down,” he said.
It also didn’t help that the Cardinals were down to just one pitcher after Dave Kearsey was injured in Game 2 of the series, leaving Allain to carry the pitching load by himself. It clearly caught up to him.
“Everyone has those games,” Hurley said. “The best pitchers in the world have those games. It was a lot on Chanel’s shoulders ... one pitcher throwing is tough.”
Hurley admitted losing by mercy rule stung, but pointed out they also won a game the same way. The other games were all fairly tight for the most part, he said.
“They squeaked out the close wins and that was the difference,” he said.
Undaunted in defeat, Hurley still believes the Cardinals were the better team, but understands the inevitability of he and his teammates likely being the only ones who will think that way.
“At the end of the day, they deserved to win,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”