This afternoon I watched one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen at the NBC tournament. The Liberal BeeJays played the Crestwood Panthers in an elimination game. Crestwood scored 3 in the top of the first, but Liberal hung tough after that and took a 4-3 lead after 6. Crestwood got a 2-out rally going in the top of the 7th, and their manager showed a bit of nervousness as he pinch-hit for one of his regulars. It paid off with the tieing run scoring, but then when the next batter also singled the runner fell down rounding third base, and got caught in a rundown for the third out.
It stayed tied through the bottom of the 7th, and then a really strange play happened in the top of the 8th. A Panther runner was on 1st, and the next batter mistakenly thought he had walked and went to 1st, with the runner on 1st going to 2nd. The Liberal catcher went out onto the field and told his infielders to tag the lead runner, but by this time he had reached 2nd so it went as a stolen base! In reality there were only 3 balls on the batter, and he eventually made the 3rd to to keep the score tied.
But then the roof fell in for Crestwood in the bottom of the 8th. Liberal scored 4 runs, breaking the game open to 8-4. I have to wonder if it was wise for Crestwood to remove its regular catcher and put in a substitute at that point. To the extent the maneuvers constituted a "chess game", Liberal manager Mike Hargrove clearly won the battle. Hargrove is an interesting story in and of himself. He was a successful Major Leaguer for many years, and became known as "the human rain delay" for his delaying tactics at bat. He later became a successful Major League manager, then quit suddenly in the middle of last season, saying the passion was no longer there. He is thought to be the first manager ever to quit with his team sporting a 7-game winning streak. So it wasn't that his team was doing poorly, it's just he didn't have the passion. But then he agreed to manage the Liberal BeeJays this year, a team he had played for in 1972.
It looked to be an easy road to victory for the BeeJays as the 9th started. However, Crestwood managed an incredibly gutsy 2-out rally, and got to 8-6 with the bases loaded. A single to short center scored the guy on 3rd, but the slow-footed runner on 2nd got thrown out at home, the ball and the runner arriving pretty much simultaneously, which usually results in an out being called if the catcher holds onto the ball. So, the BeeJays remain in the tourney with the 8-7 win, and Crestwood goes home. Crestwood used 7 pitchers in a desperate attempt to avoid elimination, while Liberal ended up using 4.
At this point teams still alive include Havasu, last year's champion, the '06 champ Santa Barbara Foresters, the Anchorage Glacial Pilots, 5-time champ but none since '01, the Kenai Peninsula Oilers, 3-time champs but none since '94, and of course the BeeJays, 4-time champs but none since '00.
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