Greensboro, NC (10/10/02) - It was a pitchers' duel for the ages (for 6 innings). It was a great game (for 6 innings). It was the epitome of a fall classic (for 6 innings).
For six innings, moundsmen Mike Balash (Team Cardinal) and Brad Franklin (Team Black), matched each other nearly pitch for pitch. But in the seventh Balash tired and two "relievers" couldn't help as Team Black posted a 12-spot in the top of the frame and coasted to a 14-0 win and a three games to one victory in the Guilford College World Series.
In a game that seems like it took place two weeks ago, Team Black stretched its staff and went to Franklin, their 4th different starter in as many games and 7th different pitcher, each of which made one appearance in the series. Team Cardinal countered with Balash, its opening-game starter. For the first six innings both decisions were unquestionable.
Team Cardinal co-skipper Matt Webb noted, "We gave Baalaash the ball in game one and he gave us 4 2/3 innings of outstanding pitching. It was a no-brainer. Certainly not a crap shoot."
Team Black's choice of Franklin was just the opposite. Said co-coach RJ Marks, "If the series had gone 14 games, our plan was to start each guy, including the guy and the guy that looks like the guy, once each. If it had gone 15 games, we would have brought back the guy, even if it was the guy or the guy that looks like the guy, who had been most effective."
Of course it was a best-three-out-of-five series, so the Team Black plan may have been slightly off base. In any case, with series victory in hand, Marks leaves in December for a two-week appointment as a Rhodes Scholar at Cambridge University.
So what happened in the seventh? As they say every time Dick Trickle races at Rockingham, the wheels fell off. After allowing only two scratch runs on five hits and facing only four batters over the minimum through six, Balash yielded a seemingly harmless leadoff single to Marks. Dave Shaffer, the winning pitcher in game two, replaced the fleet-footed Marks on the base paths. He would have been forced out at second on a misplaced sacrifice bunt attempt by Team Black's Matt Spoerlein, if not for an errant throw to second by Balash. While outwardly holding his emotions in check, Balash must have felt like he swallowed a tornado, because he never settled down enough to approach retiring another hitter. He next walked personal nemesis Gabe Staub, who had tallied a single, double and home run in four series plate appearances against him. Balash then allowed a two-run single to Rick Parks.
"Had I batted 5 times, I would have hit 5 home runs," said Overman. "Can you believe these idiots didn't get me into the game until the 7th inning?"
By then it was all over but the crying time, so when Zach Morgan made his mound appearance (and retired none of the seven batters he faced) and Josh Miller allowed two hits to the two guys (not those guys) he faced, it was just salt in the wound. Morgan, who has reached mandatory retirement age, leaves the GCWS with a career 0 and 4 record and a trail of disappointing fall classics.
"I really thought this would be the year. John Elway finally won the big one, Barry Bonds finally won a pennant. What do those guys (not those guys) have that I haven't got? Maybe I should have pitched more."
When the dust cleared, Team Black's first 12 batters in the seventh all scored, and they might still be batting had Rick Parks not walked into a tag at the plate following a Miller (not that Miller) wild pitch. Leadoff man AJ McCauley, who was 2 for 2 in the inning, made this observation. "The guys really pulled together for Luke (Kempton). We knew he was 0 for the fall and we wanted to give him the opportunity to make all three outs in the inning, or finally get a hit."
While Kempton did draw a walk off Morgan (he had homered off Morgan in the 2001 classic), Parks' base-running blunder gave him only one more at bat, with which he ended the inning with a fly ball to left to complete a perfect 0 for 25 fall. "I didn't want to waste any hits going into my senior spring." And, he didn't. It should be noted that Kempton did walk 15 times this fall, and teams for which he toiled won six and tied another of this fall's 10 games.
So carrying a 14-run lead to the mound in the bottom of the seventh, Franklin retired the Team Cardinal side on three ground balls and a Josh Miller single. He completed his first shutout in college baseball with a five-strikeout, one-walk, six-hitter.
"I had touble with Schlesinger and Slate, but who hasn't this fall?" Franklin said. "I'm just glad to be here, and I hope I can help the ball club. Good Lord willing we'll be in position to compete for a championship. Maybe I need a nickname."
Other than Morgan, only Kempton and Staub have reached mandatory retirement. Staub collects his gold watch (just kidding) with a 3-1 series record, wondering what may have been had he not taken a leave of absence at Maryland. "What was I thinking?" he said.
Kempton retires with more series wins (2) than fall hits (0) but has set his sights on the team golf championship. He has failed to recognize that as his golf game has improved, his batting average has dropped. "I have yet to receive a lead-off walk on the first tee," Kempton said.
Of players expecting to return for the 2003 classic, 10 are undefeated, but all are 1-0. Only AJ McCauley has earned multiple victories with a 2-1 record. On the other hand, only six players will return winless, with only Jeff Ebert, whose base running has played a key role in his winlessness, owning multiple losses at 0-2.
All in all, the fall has been very productive, and many of the new players have made a statement to the upperclassmen, "We are here to win, don't take a step backwards!" Transfer Brian Slate led the team in hitting this fall with a .514 average, while Matt Spoerlein and Andrew Jackson were two of only three pitchers whose teams won more than half of the intrasquads in which they appeared. To no one's surprise, McCauley and Josh Miller both hit over .400 and Mike Goettler, Mike Idol, and Ciahnan Miller led the pitching staff in lowest batting average against.
The Cardinal and Black squads have reunited and look forward to their season opener at Savannah College of Art and Design February 8 and their home opener versus Chowan on February 15.