Litchfield captures Tri-State League crown


Copyright Peter Wallace/Rick Wilson  Reg-Citizen/Rep-American 8/27/11
The Litchfield Cowboys ended a long, long Tri-State Baseball League championship dry spell with a 7-2 win over cross-town rival Tri-Town Friday evening at Fuessenich Park in front of over 300 spectators, prolonging a shorter but possibly even more painful empty streak for the Trojans. The Cowboys joined the league in 1973, winning their last championship in 1979.  “(Current Cowboy ace reliever) Chris Blazek’s father, Richard Blazek, won that game,” smiled player/coach and historian Chris Beach. An unsuspecting Beach got the pie in the face, and there was a jubilant traffic jam near the pitcher’s mound after the final out was recorded. A lot of hugging and back-slapping accompanied by a diamond’s worth of satisfied smiles followed. The Cowboys played in four other finals, but the last previous one was 1990 with no more wins until now. “It’s been a lot of baseball” said the teams’ senior member, Kyle Weaver, who first laced up his Litchfield spikes in 1995 while still in High School.
The Trojans joined the league in 2005, soaring to their first Tri-State championship last year. “It’s tough to lose two straight, but I’m glad we lost to them if we had to lose,” said player/coach Ryan McDonald. “We’ve been one-two all year.” The No. 2 seed Trojans (19-7, 1-2 championship series) boasted the league’s best pitching, behind ace Miles Scribner, who was 13-0 coming into Friday’s game. Scribner went four innings in Sunday’s rainout, then nine more innings for the win in Game One Monday. Now he was back for another nine-inning game Friday. Litchfield starter Kevin Murray was Litchfield’s workhorse ace all summer. Blazek closed in the first half of the season, then stopped pitching with a tweaked hamstring in the second half. Murray went 4 2/3 innings on Sunday, then sat out until Friday while veteran lefty Carl Rivers took care of business on Tuesday to even the series.
Scribner (6 innings, 6 earned runs, 8 hits, 8 strikeouts, 3 walks) and Murray (9 innings, 1 earned run, 4 hits, 13 strikeouts, 3 walks, 1 hit batter) both looked like aces Friday. The difference was the Cowboys (20-4, 2-1 championship series), who rode to their number one seed on the strength of their hitting, had more chances to study their opponent and Litchfield had some help from the Tri-Town defense as well. “(Scribner’s) a great pitcher. I was just sitting on his off-speed stuff, trying to go to the right side,” said Lichfield’s Kyle Weaver (2-for-3, RBI, run scored), who joined Tri-Town’s Kyle Osolin (2-for-4) as the only players on either side with more than one hit.
The difference showed up as seven different Cowboys accounted for Litchfield’s runs in a 9-4 hitting advantage. Murray credited much of his advantage to Litchfield catcher Karl Quist. “He called a great game,” said Murray, who saved his sharpest game of the season for the championship. “I was hitting the corners and getting the strike call, so it made me want to throw that much harder. Karl changed things up on batters so much, I don’t think we threw the same to any of them twice. I threw more curves tonight than I ever have before.” Murray scattered just four hits on the night while striking out 13. He finished the season with an 8-0 record, enough to etch his name by Scribner’s when talk of the season rolls around. “I know how good Scribner is, but hats off to Kevin Murray,” said Weaver. “To me Kevin is the best pitcher in the league.”
Ed Pequignot’s was the first bat to reach Scribner, in the bottom of the third inning. Weaver walked with two outs, reaching second on a wild pitch. Pequignot dropped a Texas Leaguer over second base for the first run, then stole second. Adam Claire grounded up the middle to drive Pequignot in, 2-0. The Trojans caught up in one of just two tough innings for Murray. With one out in the top of the fourth inning, an infield error put Dan McCarty on first. Steve Price singled. Two straight walks scored McCarty. An error at home on a bunt scored Price to tie the score, 2-2.
Good pitching held the standoff another inning. Then familiarity took over for the Cowboys in the bottom of the sixth. Quist and Beach led off with singles. Blazek went up to sacrifice but reached safely on a throwing error to third base. Quist scored on the play, breaking the tie. “I would do the same thing again,” said Scribner. “I heard someone yell third and went for it.” Scribner got a strikeout. Then Collin Dickinson put in the best at-bat of the night to break the game wide open. He worked Scribner to a 2-2 count, then barely hung on through five fouls around the strike zone. Finally, Dickinson caught the pitch he wanted and nailed it to right center field for a two-run double. Weaver hit him in for a 6-2 Cowboy lead.
Murray and his hitters were on a mission for history from there. “Once the team gave me a cushion, it gave me the confidence to go forward and finish the game,” said Murray. Claire led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk, ending Scribner’s season. A steal, long fly from beach and a single from Blazek added the game’s final score in the only hit off reliever Andrew Osolin. “I just didn’t feel right tonight,” Scribner said. “I think I was a little too hyped up. Give Litchfield credit. They hit.” Murray gave up just one more hit, to Kyle Osolin.
“We were always missing one piece of the puzzle,” said Beach in talking about his 13 year career with Litchfield. Until this year, with the solid pitching and defense and a team batting average over.300. Then he just smiled with his teammates. “This year, our hitters put up so many runs, it made our pitchers strong. Our defense also made the pitching stronger. (Catcher) Karl Quist has a cannon for an arm; he took away the running game from other teams.” Beach called the feeling of winning the championship “probably the best in the world.”
After two great years in a row, the Trojans can take comfort in the Cowboys’ persistence. “We wouldn’t have it any other way if we were going to lose,” said McDonald. For Litchfield, a championship night 32 years in the making.