The Vandalia Guaranteed Air Freight softball team has had its fair share of good fortune over the years at the ASA Class A State Tournament.
Three state titles in the past five seasons attest to that fact.
But the tables were turned on the Freight on Sunday at Altamonts Gilbert Park, as Petes Blues of Swansea used a improbable play to deny the defending champs a fourth title in six years.
With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Mark Burnam appeared to have sent the Freight into a title-game tilt with Cerro Gordo, as his towering shot seemed destined to bounce off the flag pole just beyond the 250-foot sign in center.
But then Mack Schmitts glove appeared out of nowhere, as he went over the fence to rob Burnam of a game-winning home run.
Petes Blues wasted little time capitalizing on its second chance, as it put together a decisive two-run rally in the top of the eighth in a 3-1 win.
The stunning turn of events knocked the Freight out of the tournament after a 4-2 loss to Cerro Gordo earlier in the day, as the defending champs were forced to settle for a third-place finish.
Sometimes, those things are kind of indicative of how your tournaments going, said Freight manager Rich Well of Schmitts miraculous catch. Weve been blessed a lot to have a lot of things go our way in a lot of tournaments. Sometimes when those things happen against you, youve just got to take it and move down the road.
Fortunately, the road will continue for the Freight, who will travel to Stevens Point, Wis., this week to compete in the ASA Mens Major Fastpitch National Championship, which runs from Friday through Sunday at Zenoff Park.
The Freight automatically qualified for the tournament by claiming its second ASA national title last year.
Well expects extremely tough competition in this major version of ASA nationals, which will include a larger field of top teams than last years national tournament, including elite players from around the world.
We probably will be the only team there with just players from the United States, said Well, whose team has competed in four major national tournaments, pushing the top-ranked team in the world to the brink in a 1-0 loss in the last such event it competed in.
The nice thing about it is that we can go up there with nothing to lose and everything to gain, Well said. Weve had pretty good luck in those situations.
The Freight were in a polar-opposite position over the weekend, as everyone was gunning for the defending champs.
And in the end, Vandalia can blame offensive struggles for its early tournament exit.
We didnt hit the ball today, said Well, whose squad combined for just eight hits in a pair of losses Sunday after exploding for 16 runs on 17 hits in a tournament-opening win over Lees Sports of Pinckneyville. Our pitching was solid, as always, but we just didnt hit the ball up and down the lineup the way we needed to.
And the Freights offensive struggles were surprising in Sundays final game, considering they had banged out 20 hits against Petes Blues starter Ron Ames earlier in the season at the Kelso, Mo., Klassic.
But Ames took a one-hit shutout into the sixth this time around, as a two-out, two-strike RBI double by Bob Nagel was the only thing that kept the Freight from getting blanked.
It was the same pitcher we saw against them at Kelso and at our tournament, so it was just one of those things, Well said.
Freight starter Brad Sturdy was up to the task, however, as he held Petes to just one run on three hits in regulation doing so despite suffering a twisted ankle while warming up in the third and being struck in the dugout by an errant throw in the fourth.
Petes finally got to Sturdy in the eighth, however, but not without the help of a pair of Freight miscues on a fateful play.
A walk and a double put runners on first and third with one out, putting the Freights infielders in an unenviable position, as they were forced to play in.
Sure enough, the next Petes batter hit a bullet that shortstop JD Arnold was unable to handle. Arnold deflected the hard grounder to Burnam at second, and Burnam threw wildly to first in an attempt to salvage an out.
Thats one of the bad things about bringing the infield in anything hit hard, its a do-or-die play, Well said.
Petes wound up scoring two runs on the play, proving to be more than enough, as Vandalia went quietly in the bottom of the eighth.
Brad threw good enough to win, Well said. Two runs in one game and three in another weve got to score more than that. When weve had good success, weve scored more runs than that.
Sundays First Game
Cerro Gordo 4,
Cerro Gordo booked its ticket to the championship game with a two-run rally in the top of the sixth that broke up a 2-2 tie.
Vandalia drew first blood with a run in the first, as Arnold led off with a single and eventually scored on a botched rundown.
The Broncos countered with single runs in the third and fourth innings, however, before Vandalia evened things at 2-2 on an Arnold RBI single in the fifth.
Arnold finished 2-for-3 with an RBI. Ray Reynolds took the loss after relieving Alan Meinhart in the sixth, as he gave up two earned runs on two hits and two walks.
Lees Sports 0
Nobody could have forseen the Freight struggling offensively after a 17-hit explosion in a tournament-opening shelacking.
Casey led the way, blasting two homers and driving in five runs in three at-bats.
Burnam and Randy Clampitt each finished 3-for-3, with two of Burnams hits being doubles. Burnam drove in three runs, while Clampitt had one RBI.
Well added a 3-for-4 day, including two doubles and two RBIs, and Simmons and Nagel chipped in two hits and an RBI apiece.
Sturdy picked up the win, striking out six, walking none and allowing just two hits in five innings.