STANTON - In the final game of the Jack Pastore Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, BlueSky Health twice employed the intentional walk against Stanton and twice saw the move backfire before eventually losing in extra innings.
Sunday, in the final of the seven-team Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament at Stanton ball field, BSH went to the free-pass well one more time - only to see it backfire again in the most spectacular fashion.
With men on the corners in the bottom of the eighth inning and one out, Wildcat shortstop Josh Hibbard stepped to the plate to presumably take four straight balls to load 'em for three-hole hitter Mike Richards.
Stanton manager Daron Durocher notches a line drive with a wood bat in the Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament in Stanton Sunday as the Wildcats defeated BlueSky Health 7-6 in the final. Daron is Leo’s son. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Only, Hibbard didn't see it that way.
As the second pitch came in, BlueSky pitcher Ray Wojtola got a little too close to the plate, and Hibbard defied the intentional walk by reaching out and slapping a grounder to the left side of the infield. The surprise move appeared to fail as BlueSky shortstop Jason Koski positioned himself in front of the ball, but a low hop sent the ball five-hole for a game-losing error.
Poetically, it was Dax Durocher, grandson of Leo, who raced home from third to secure the walk-off run for Stanton's 7-6 victory.
"That actually came to my head because (third baseman) 'Burr' (Erik Nettell) plays around and does that stuff," Hibbard said. "And after the one pitch - I didn't know they were intentionally walking me because the catcher was down when I looked - the catcher said 'sorry Hibbard.' I said 'just give me something close to hit.' Somehow, it ended up working out."
"He just told me if it was close enough he was going to try it. I've seen one or two of those before but it is a rare, rare thing," Stanton manager Daron Durocher added. "I think it caught (Koski) by surprise. The hop just stayed low but I think it was more of the not expecting part. I wasn't expecting it."
The move capped a mad-cap day for the Wildcats that included four innings of no-hit ball in relief from normal-Toivola pitcher Robert Brooks to pick up the win and utilizing Dax Durocher as a pinch-runner in extra innings despite Dax arriving to the game hours late after playing out of town for the Hancock Post 186 Legion in Channing.
Clearly, Leo was smiling down on Stanton with sons Daron and Tom and grandson Dax suited up in the Wildcat red.
"This one is big for me, you can put it up at the top of the list," Daron said. "Just because it is so much effort to organize the tournament, and it is a rough weekend for me. I wind up shedding tears and what not with former guys, it's just an emotional weekend for me. The tournament has turned into a pretty good thing here. I hope it is this fun all the time. I know we aren't going to win it all the time, but I hope it is always this fun."
"It is always good winning this one for Stanton," Hibbard added somberly.
As they did in the Pastore final, BlueSky took a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning and held the lead for the majority of the game before Hibbard drove in the game-tying run in the bottom of the sixth frame with a screaming line drive.
BlueSky managed all their damage against starting pitcher Trent Keteri - six runs in four innings pitched - but were shut down by Brooks in relief.
The Toivola regular missed the Mosquito Inn game in the morning so was available to play for Stanton in an emergency. With Keteri surrendering 12 base runners in four innings - and BlueSky starter Scott Storm going strong on the mound - Durocher determined it was indeed an emergency.
"He is a good friend of mine - I guess I'm friends with (darn) near everybody in the league - but he is a good friend of mine and he played for me down in Felch and has worked for me in the past on our logging jobs," Durocher said. "And since he didn't play this morning (for Mosquito Inn-Toivola), it just happened that it worked out. The stars aligned. It was the shot in the arm that we needed."
In alignment with the honoring of Leo Durocher and other former Twilight League greats, the entire tournament is played with wood bats to get back to the games roots.
As the opposing teams mingled post game over a cold brew, Durocher considered that missive a success.
"I love it, everybody loves it," Durocher said of the wood bats. "I wish we could play with these all the time. It is just so true, there are no accidents with a wood bat. If you hit it right, it will still go for you. But if you miss, it's not going anywhere."