HANCOCK - It was a fitting coronation to the most dominant Twilight League season in recent memory.
Stanton started the championship game against Pat's Foods (Hancock) Friday with three runs in the first inning on five workman-like singles. Starting pitcher Eli Luoma held Pat's scoreless.
Then three-hole hitter Mike Richards worked Pat's starter Preston Hutchens to a full-count, nine-pitch at-bat in the second frame, before depositing the 10th pitch over the left-center wall. And Luoma again held Pat's scoreless.
Stanton shortstop Josh Hibbard ranges in the hole and makes a leaping throw to erase Pat’s Foods’ Dan Pertile at first base. Stanton won 10-0 in five innings and Hibbard was involved in five putouts in five innings. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Finally, in the fourth, Stanton massaged three walks from a tiring Hutchens, took advantage of an infield error and watch Brady Olson drive home the ninth and 10th runs of the game with a screaming double to left. Luoma worked two more scoreless frames and the mercy-ruled championship was complete - a 10-0 final.
All tallied Stanton won the regular season Twilight League title with a 14-1 record, took home the Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament plaque and capped it off with a playoff stretch that saw the Wildcats score 44 runs in four games. Both games of the championship series ended under the 10-run mercy rule.
"We had a great year, it was just a great year," manager and catch Daron Durocher said. "We lost just one game in the regular season, one game in each of the tournaments - but we won the Durocher - and then we swept the playoffs. And man, after the Durocher Tournament, we were just on fire. It has been pretty impressive what these guys have done."
Stanton 32050 - 10 10 1
Pat's 00000 - 0 3 3
WP: Eli Luoma, 5 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 4 K, 1 BB
LP: Preston Hutchens, 5 IP, 10 R, 10 H, 5 K, 3 BB
Pat's: Lee Naugle, 2-for-2, 2B.
Stanton: Josh Hibbard, 2-for-4, 2 run; Mike Richards, 2-for-2, hr, 3 RBI 3 run, BB; Josh Koskela, 2-for-2, 2 run, BB; Brady Olson, 2-for-3, 2R, 2 RBI.
The final season statistics are so unreal they might appear obscene to a baseball purist.
The Wildcats scored 9.5 runs per game combined in the regular and post seasons. They had seven starters bat over .310 - with Josh Koskela, Luoma, Richards and Erik Nettell above .400 - and their top six hitters all put together an OPS above 1.000. For comparison's sake, the Detroit Tigers Miguel Cabrera has a career .952 OPS.
And they topped it all off with a set of pitchers no one could catch up to in Richards and Luoma. Richards - who is in his final summer with the team as he will be graduating from Michigan Tech - was voted Twilight League MVP and postseason MVP (where he went 7-for-7 with two home runs and two pitching wins).
"He has the total package," Durocher said. "He has the best arm in the league, from the mound or the outfield, and then he is just unreal hitting. I think only (Josh) Koskela beat him (in batting average) during the regular season, and then the playoffs start and no one can get him out."
"It feels great - I think I'll put these (plaques) in my den with an encyclopedia or something," Richards said with a laugh. "But the whole team was awesome all playoffs. The bottom of the order was getting on and we kept driving them in, in the middle. I think it was really Brady (Olson) who won it today with that two-RBI double to cap the game off.
"This year was awesome."
Where Stanton at least appeared mortal in the first half of the season - dropping a game to Mosquito Inn/Computer Mechanix (Toivola) and losing the Pastore Tournament to BlueSky Health - they reached an entirely different level of play after winning the Durocher Tournament.
The Wildcats averaged 10.3 runs per game over the final six weeks of the year and the closest victory came by a margin of four runs.
Durocher credited the wood-bat Leo Durocher Memorial tourney for focusing his team's approach at the plate.
"With a wood bat, you have to square up on it or it doens't go anywhere, so it get's your hand-eye aligned to squaring the ball up," Durocher said. "And then you switch back to metal bats, and everybody has been hitting the ball."
While Stanton controlled the Twilight League from start to finish, Durocher declined to name them the best lineup he had ever been a part of.
"I hate to start comparing teams, but it might be. It's pretty close," Durocher said. "Two years ago, we had one that was just as good, if not better. But the top six this year were just on fire."