Clutch hitting, pitching lift Knights to title

Joey Payeur

It was a double play followed by a double-double that even Tim Hortons couldn’t top.
Pearse Jackson’s second two-run double of the night in the bottom of the sixth inning splintered a 6-6 tie and was the decisive shot in an 8-6 win for the Barwick Blue Knights over the Rainy Lake Pirates in Game 2 of the best-of-three Rainy River District Fastball League championship series at Oltsher Field in Barwick last Tuesday (Aug. 25).
Barwick completed a 2-0 sweep of the series after winning Game 1 by an 8-4 count on Aug. 21 to give itself its first league crown since 2008.
“I’ve been to six finals with these guys, but the ones we won (2006-08), I was always in Dryden finishing the league playoffs there and missed out,” smiled Jackson, who went 3-for-4 against Pirates starter Travis Tom at the plate and made a nice running catch on a Linden Indian line drive in the second that hit his glove and squirted out before Jackson latched onto the ball again.
“We’ve battled all year,” he added.
“After the (first West Division final) game against Stratton, we were getting down on each other.
“But we got together before the games after that to talk and no one was tense going into the games.”
The Knights turned a bizarre twin killing to end the Pirates’ half of the sixth and keep the score tied.
Jesse Tom led off with a double to centre that just went off the glove of a leaping Ryder Woolsey and took third on Dakota Andy’s groundout to second.
Travis Tom was then intentionally walked to put runners at first and third for Don “Kimbi” Copenace, who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts to that point.
Copenace smacked a line drive that Barwick second baseman Mike Anderson nabbed at second and then threw quickly to D.J. Mosbeck at first to try and double off Tom.
But Mosbeck dropped the ball and it rolled down the foul line towards home plate.
Tom, though, thought the ball had been caught and started walking back to his dugout despite it still being a live ball.
Time stopped for a brief moment as nobody seemed certain what was happening before Knights shortstop Vaughan Wilson raced over and picked the ball up and tagged Tom to finish the double play.
Gemmell and Mosbeck earned back-to-back walks with one out before Johnson donned his trademark white batting helmet and rode in to save the day.
The burly basher proceeded to rip the first offering from Travis Tom over Andy’s head and off the left-field fence to bring home Kevin Gemmell and pinch-runner Nathan Darrah.
“I like to hit the first pitch and I didn’t want to give anything up to (Tom),” said Jackson, whose extra-base bomb in the third gave Barwick a 2-0 lead.
“I thought it went over the fence and almost started trotting, although my trotting is pretty much the same as my running,” joked the current Kenora resident, who didn’t hesitate to make the four-hour round-trip journey throughout the season to help his team.
JJ Landry, who scattered 11 hits and walked two (one intentional) while striking out six, set the Pirates down in order in the seventh.
He got Cole Tymkin to pop out to Anderson at second to conclude the complete-game victory and end Barwick’s seven years of frustration, the last two having seen them lose to the now-defunct Big Grassy Braves in the final — with many of the Braves now playing for Rainy Lake.
“I don’t know how many years in the final we’ve come up short, so this is like redemption for us,” admitted Landry, who had a huge strikeout of Jaden Gustafson to end the Pirates’ fifth with Rainy Lake having two runners in scoring position.
“Everyone clicked and came through when they had to.”
Landry, who only gave up an average of five runs per game in the final against the second-best offence in the league this year (just over 13 runs per game), credited his battery mate behind the plate in making life easier against the potent Rainy Lake lineup.
“(Gemmell) calls a good game and I was able to hit my spots,” praised Landry.
“They’re all good hitters over there, but they’re pretty aggressive and they want to get their hits, so it seemed like I was able to make them chase (the ball) a little bit.”
Landry also tipped his cap to Will Derksen, the longest-serving Knight currently on the roster now that Barwick pitching legend George Oltsher is officially retired as of mid-season this year.
“Will’s been here for I don’t know how long, but he shows up for every game and helps with everything,” added the right-hander about the nearly 60-year-old Derksen, who pinch hit in both games, getting an RBI single in Game 1 and scoring a run in Game 2.
“He’s the backbone of the team.”
The Pirates, who beat Barwick 12-4 in their only regular-season meeting, showed the mettle that made their Big Grassy nucleus winners of the past three league titles.
After Mosbeck gave Barwick the lead, Rainy Lake fired right back to tie it in the top of the fourth on Mike Parisien’s two-run double to score pinch-runner Brandon McGinnis and Cole Tymkin.
The Knights then racked up four runs in their half of the fourth.
Woolsey’s two-out, RBI single brought in Derksen and Gemmell walked to load the bases.
Mosbeck then slashed a grounder at Jesse Tom at short, who first fumbled the ball and then hurried his throw to first and wound up hitting Mosbeck in the wrist and bouncing into foul territory in right field.
That allowed all three runners on base to score to make it 6-2, with Mosbeck claiming he couldn’t feel his wrist and getting pinch-run for, but eventually retaking his spot at first on the next defensive series for Barwick.
Again, the Knights responded in equalizing fashion.
Jesse Tom walloped a solo homer to centre to lead off the inning and Indian pounded an RBI single to bring in Andy to cut the gap to 6-4.
After Tymkin walked to load the bases, Parisien picked up the other two of his four RBIs in the contest with a two-run single to bring in Andy and pinch-runner Alain Tanguay.
Jesse Tom graciously conceded defeat after the final out was in the books.
“They executed throughout the series and it didn’t matter how many outs they had,” analyzed Tom, who was the only player to homer in both games of the final.
“(Landry) mixed his pitches up and kept us off balance. They deserved it. There’s no real excuse. We just didn’t get very many bounces.”
Tom was insistent Rainy Lake would be a serious contender again next season and for quite a while to come.
“You look at your young guys,” he pointed out.
“(Gustafson) is just 18 and (Tymkin) is only 16 and they’re only going to get better,” promised Tom.
“There’s a lot of room for them to grow and you only hope guys like that don’t move away.”
With Andy and Copenace back after having missed Game 1, Jackson took extra satisfaction in reaching the mountain top against the most dangerous possible lineup the Pirates could field.
“Tonight, we beat the best team they had, so there’s no excuses.”