STANTON - The Stanton Wildcats aren't going to let the Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament slip through their fingers very often.
Just when it looked like BlueSky Health might have surprised the Wildcats for the second time in as many tournaments this season Sunday, the home team seized control back.
Stanton replied to three BlueSky runs in the top of the sixth inning with four of its own in the bottom and came away with the 7-6 victory.
Stanton catcher Daron Durocher shakes hands with relief pitcher Eli Luoma after striking out the last two BlueSky Health batters of the seventh inning in the championship game of the Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament Sunday. Stanton came from behind to win 7-6, taking the title for the third straight year. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Stanton second baseman Dax Durocher knocks down a grounder deep in the hole during Sunday’s Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament championship game against BlueSky Health. BlueSky’s Keith Halonen got the infield hit on the play. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"It's crunch time and the guys pulled it together after falling apart," Stanton catcher/manager Daron Durocher said.
The victory is Stanton's third in a row in the wooden-bat tournament, which featured five teams this year. Stanton needed a complete-game shutout from Mike Richards in a 4-0 win over the Felch Rangers to advance to the final on run total after Felch won 2-1 in the teams' first meeting Saturday.
On the other hand, BSH mowed down the Barnstormers and Mosquito Inn/Computer Mechanix for a spot in the final for the second year in a row.
BSH21000306 11 2
Stanton 012004X7 7 2
WP - Eli Luoma, 1.2 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 3 K
LP - Ray Wojtala, 0.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 H
BSH - Johnny Raisanen, 2-3, 2B, RBI; Brian Juopperi, 2-4, RBI, Paul Moyryla, 2-4, RBI; Jason Koski 2-4.
Stanton - Josh Koskela, 2-4, 2 RBI, Josh Hibbard, 2-4, RBI, Mike Richards, 1-3, HR, 2 RBI.
The event is a major fundraiser for the Wildcats, who surely appreciated a sizable crowd on a steamy Sunday afternoon.
With the tournament's namesake commemorated with a memorial behind the dugout and both his son (Daron) and grandson (Dax) in the Wildcat line-up, the importance of the weekend is not lost on the Stanton squad.
"It's a meaningful event for us and I'm impressed with how we responded today. It was awesome," Daron Durocher said.
The Wildcats fell behind 3-0 after 1 1/2 innings, tying it up on Richards' two-run home run in the third. It stayed deadlocked until the sixth, where BlueSky appeared to have the breakthrough.
Jason Koski and Paul Moyryla clubbed back-to-back doubles to give BSH a 4-3 lead. RBI singles from Mark Nordstrom and Brian Juopperi chased Stanton starter Matt Farrell with three runs in, two runners on and just one out.
Eli Luoma came in from centerfield and put out the fire in short order to give Stanton a chance it made the most of.
Stanton put its first two runners on, then drove the first one in as Josh Hibbard burned the right-field line with a double that led Koski to remove himself from the pitcher's mound in favor of Ray Wojtala.
"They're a good hitting team and my control was starting to fail a little bit," Koski said.
Ray Wotjala came dangerously close to no-hitting MI/CM earlier in the tournament, but after an RBI groundout by Richards and an intentional walk to load the bases, lost the battle to Josh Koskela to keep BSH in the lead. The Stanton first-baseman roped a single to center to score two and give Stanton the lead.
Luoma ensured there would be no response, fanning two of the last three batters of the game to secure the title. He gained the win in relief, striking out three in 1 2/3 perfect innings.
Richards was named tournament MVP. In addition to his clutch pitching performance earlier in the day, he was a force offensively (with his no-doubt homer to left in the third) and defensively (making a diving catch in left field in the fifth).
"I thought I got under it too much," Richards said of his homer, " but the balls were carrying even when I was out in left field."
Twilight League play resumes Tuesday with a make-up game between MI/CM and Pat's Foods in Toivola. Stanton can clinch sole possession of the league title by beating MI/CM at Stanton Ballfield Thursday night.
BSH, in second in the league standings, is at Pat's Thursday.
"If we play good defense and get a few hits, we can play right with 'em," Koski said of Stanton, "but they're still a few notches ahead of us."