STANTON - The concept of "momentum" in sports remains a fickle beast, prone to fable and fancy, but just because the explanation is hard to pin down, doesn't mean momentum does not exist.
Anyone at Stanton Field Tuesday night for the opening round of Twilight League baseball playoffs between Stanton and Mosquito Inn (Toivola) can attest to that.
After a sluggish opening pair of innings saw the Wildcats trailing Toivola 8-0, Stanton staged a furious comeback, rallying for 11 runs over the next four frames to walk away with an 11-8 victory to open the best-of-three playoff series.
Stanton catcher Brooks Olson throws down to first after creating a force out at home Tuesday against Mosquito Inn (Toivola) in the first round of the Twilight League baseball playoffs. (DMG Photo by Michael Bleach)
"You have to go back a couple years for a comeback of that prowess - and in fact, I think it was against Toivola in the playoffs for us," Stanton manager and winning pitcher in relief Daron Durocher said. "I can't remember what year it was, but it was kind of the same thing that was going on here. the key was to try and scratch one out every inning, and then the confidence builds and we just rolled."
It started in the bottom of the second inning with a Josh Koskela walk.
After a long two frames that saw Toivola bat around and plate four runs in each, the Wildcats were searching for any kind of spark, and Brady Olson provided it with a booming double to center field that scored a hustling Koskela. Second baseman Chris Saari followed with a double of his own, and a classic sacrifice fly from Brooks Olson brought his brother Brady home.
Reading 8-2 on the scoreboard rather than 8-0 can make a world of difference.
With some life back on the bench, and a one-two-three inning defensively at the top of the third, the stage was set for a dramatic performance.
Koskela produced it.
The lefty-first baseman jumped on a fastball from Toivola starter Robert Brooks and sent a towering shot over the tree line in right field to drive in Paul Kuoppala and cut the lead in half. Along with the two runs scored, the energy and yes, momentum, had palpably shifted as the Wildcats gathered to pound Koskela at home plate.
"That really got it going," Durocher said. "The first two runs in the second inning - with Brady doubling - gave us some confidence, and that when Koskela cut the lead in half, the whole bench came to life. That was huge."
It was personally redemptive for Koskela as well, as the Stanton veteran had missed a good chunk of the season with an injury and had not yet found his groove at the plate.
"That is the best it has felt by far. I am finally dialed in here," Koskela said. "It took me a couple games to get it going again, but I feel good now."
With the dam busted, the runs poured in from there as Stanton scored seven across the fourth and fifth innings with the help from some seeing-eye singles and Toivola defensive miscues. All nine batters for Stanton hit safely and eight of the nine in the lineup scored.
Durocher did his part on the mound, allowing just four hits over the final five innings to subdue what had been a scorching hot Toivola team.
Durocher earned the win in relief after coming on for starter Trent Keteri in the second frame.
"It wasn't Trent's fault," Durocher said. "I explained that to him that he did nothing wrong. We played terrible defense for two innings and we got ourselves in a huge hole. I just thought it was time for a change, that's all."
The victory looks all the more impressive in the light of Toivola's most recent accomplishments.
The guys in grey had won four straight - including a spoiler sweep at Pat's to prevent a three way tie atop the regular season standings - and five of their last six to enter the postseason hot.
Twilight fans can look forward to the second game of the series Thursday at 6:15 in Toivola.
"Toivola gives a battle," Durocher said. "That is the league this year. They may have been the hottest team coming in to the playoffs."