Late-game heroics were the order of the day for the Sight & Sound Wolves at the North American Fastpitch Association’s World Series in Des Moines, Iowa last week.
While the comebacks went in Sight & Sound’s favour as they earned a pair of wins to open action last Thursday, the story flipped itself on Friday and Saturday as the team coughed up late leads to be bumped from further contention in the A-Major division.
The Fort Frances-based squad, featuring a few other players from the Rainy River District Fastball League, opened the tournament admirably, edging the Westerville (Ohio) Capitals 5-4 and the top-ranked Boise River Dogs 3-1.
Against the Capitals, the Wolves turned a 4-1 seventh-inning deficit into a dramatic win with four runs in the top of the frame before shutting down Westerville’s bats in the bottom half.
However, things took a turn later on in the week as the Wolves were sunk 6-4 by the K.C. Angels on Friday, then bounced with a 2-1 loss to Scarlett’s (South Dakota) on Saturday.
The loss to the Angels, last year’s A division champs who were bumped up for 2010, was particularly tough to stomach since Sight & Sound coughed up an early lead.
“We ended up with a four-run lead in that game,” recalled Wolves’ manager Derek McKinnon.
“They bobbled the ball a little bit in the beginning, and we made the most of it.
“We were up 4-1 until about the fourth inning,” he added. “Then we just had a couple bad breaks and had guys go down with injuries.”
Dropping Saturday’s game to Scarlett’s wasn’t much easier given Sight & Sound was looking to avenge a 6-3 loss to the Sioux Falls-based team in last year’s opening round.
And they just about did it, too, when one big swing changed the locals’ fortunes.
“We were ahead in that game 1-0 for about six innings, and they got a two-run home run shot in the sixth,” bemoaned McKinnon.
“In the sixth, we had two men on, on second and third with nobody out,” he added.
“We just had infield hits.”
One of the toughest parts about the dinger was that the hit was a catchable one had the Wolves’ outfielders been playing deep in anticipation of a longball.
McKinnon didn’t regret the positioning, though, noting he was setting up for the likely play and instead got burned by a surprise hero.
“The home run they got, you’re playing the odds and the fielder’s in a little bit, and if he’d been playing back to protect against a home run, he would’ve caught it.
“It just cleared the fence,” he noted.
“That’s not an excuse, it’s just the way it goes,” McKinnon stressed.
“If we knew it was going to happen, we would have had him there.”
McKinnon particularly lauded the play of his pitching staff, comprised of Bob Andy, John Desaulniers, and Murray Armstrong, saying that with a couple extra runs of support, the hurlers could have taken the team deep into the tournament.
“We had the pitching to win it all weekend,” he remarked.
However, the sick bay ended up being a major factor as the tournament went on, said McKinnon, as injuries like pulled muscles, particularly hamstrings, began to pop up.
McKinnon estimated a half-dozen Wolves, including himself, weren’t 100 percent over the weekend.
“It was more that we had a lot of injuries and just ran ourselves out of guys,” he explained. “I’ve never seen anything like it—blown hamstrings.
“It was kind of crazy.”
The leg injuries made themselves most apparent on the basepaths as a pack of Wolves were gunned down by the one or two steps they lost as a result of the nagging condition.
“There were about four or five close plays at the plate where if guys weren’t hurt, they probably would have beaten the throws out,” said McKinnon.
“We just needed more speed on the bases, and if everybody’s hurt, it’s kind of hard to do that.
“Guys pulling up lame with bad legs or torn muscles, that’s just such a huge difference because all the teams are so close down there and that’s what separates it,” he reasoned.
McKinnon figured that dehydration brought on by stifling Prairie heat was a cause of all of the injuries as the players baked in the sun, especially on Thursday.
“Heat might have had a bit to do it with,” he remarked. “It was 37 C or 38 C on Thursday, and then with the humidex, it felt like 48 C.
“I’d never played [in] anything that hot, not even close.”
The eye-opening injuries this year have prompted McKinnon to make a few planning changes for next year. He plans to expand the roster with a couple of extra bodies.
“We’re definitely going to make sure we have enough guys,” he stressed.
“We thought we had enough, but we’re going to have to get commitments from guys earlier in the year, make sure guys have planned for it a little bit.”
McKinnon concluded by predicting that if the team is able to stay healthy at next year’s event, they could make some noise.
“We can take the same guys down next year and it will be a totally different thing,” he noted.
“It just blows my mind. It wasn’t twisted ankles or anything like that. It was everybody pulling up with pulled muscles.
“[There were] lots of guys taping up and icing everything.
“We might have to have a yoga class next year to get everybody stretching out before we go down,” McKinnon joked.