Instead of musical chairs, the Barwick Blue Knights initiated their own game of musical pitchers–and kept the Fort Frances Braves out of rhythm all night.
A three-run second inning carried the Blue Knights to a 4-1 win over the Braves last Wednesday at Couchiching that tied the Rainy River District Fastball League’s best-of-three final at a game apiece.
The rematch of the 2015 final, won by Barwick, now comes down to a winner-take-all clash tonight at 7 p.m. at Couchiching (weather permitting).
After Knights’ ace JJ Landry was roughed up by the Braves in a 7-2 loss in the series opener the previous evening, Barwick decided to go with some unorthodox mound strategy.
Brandan Pratt, who actually led the team in pitching wins this season, got the start and blanked the Braves over the first two innings.
Landry, listed as the “extra player” for the Knights to give them a 10-batter lineup, then took over in the third with a 3-0 lead.
Brett Mann had crushed a triple off the fence to start the second for Barwick.
After Brad Wakefield walked, Pratt hit a grounder to Mike Parisien at second, who booted the chance and then couldn’t flip it to first baseman Tim Archie in time as Mann scored.
Braves’ starter Jaden Gustafson, phenomenal in Game 1 in tossing a four-hit complete game with 13 strikeouts, fanned Cole Allan to leave runners on the corners.
But with Landry up, Braves’ catcher Chris Bourgeois let Gustafson’s pitch ricochet off his shin guards and roll to the backstop for a passed ball that brought Wakefield home.
Landry then drove Pratt in from third on a grounder to Archie.
The Braves, who were the visiting team for Game 2 after being the home side in the opener, got their lone run in the third.
After Brandon McGinnis drew a lead-of walk, he came all the way around to score on Brian Hook’s single, which Pratt fumbled in right field and then fired to shortstop Vaughan Wilson, whose relay throw home was just late.
Gustafson then grounded out to Wilson before Pratt returned to the mound to get another grounder from league home run champ Travis Tom.
Landry returned to the hill in the fourth. Pratt then faced the first three batters of the fifth, giving up a single to Hook and hitting Dakota Andy to put two on with one out.
Back came Landry, who got Gustafson to fly out and Tom to pop out to Wilson to end the frame.
That was a big hold for the Knights, who stretched their lead in the sixth.
With one out, Landry singled and advanced to second when McGinnis’ throw from left went wide of the bag and bounced to Gustafson.
The pitcher then hurried a flip to second that ended up in centre for a second error on the play as Landry dashed to third.
Wilson then ripped a shot off Gustafson, which rebounded to Hook at third, who fired over to first for the out as Landry chugged home.
Landry faced one more threat in the sixth.
Bourgeois hit a bloop that landed just fair near the left-field line for his second double of the game.
He moved to third on a groundout before Landry walked pinch-hitter Jesse Tom to put runners on the corners with two out.
But McGinnis, representing the tying run, bounced one to Wilson, who sent it to Mike Anderson covering second for the fielder’s choice to snuff the rally.
A two-out single by Gustafson in the seventh was a last gasp by the Braves, but Tom again popped up to Wilson to end the game.
Game 1 last Tuesday featured a bizarre first inning that appeared to have some form of curse hanging over the shortstop position.
A throwing error by Archie let Wilson score. Anderson followed with a laser along the ground that went right under Archie’s glove and didn’t stop until it reached the fence in left-centre to bring home Pearse Jackson.
But Gustafson bore down on the mound from there. He also was right in the middle of the Braves’ three-run response in the bottom of the frame.
Andy walked and Gustafson sent a solid shot at Wilson, who had it clang off his glove and into left.
Then with one out, Bourgeois singled home Andy before Parisien kept up his hot hitting of late with a two-run double to cash in Jesse Tom and Bourgeois.
Parisien made it 4-2 in the third with an RBI single that plated Gustafson before the Braves busted things wide open in the fifth.
Andy tripled to start the inning and motored home on Landry’s wild pitch.
Landry hit Bourgeois and walked Parisien to load the bases for Jacob Jack, who lifted a Landry delivery to centre that fell in for a two-run double.