Rolling out black cats and broken mirrors probably would not have had any effect on the Sight & Sound Wolves, either.
For those who are superstitious, the omen for the Wolves might have been set heading into the Rainy River District Fastball League final last Thursday night against the Barwick Knights.
Nonetheless, the Fort Frances-based squad battled to their 13th-straight win—a 4-3 victory over Barwick—to defend their league crown.
Both RRDFL titles came over the Knights, who were making their fifth-consecutive appearance in the league final, having won it all in both 2007 and 2008.
Wolves’ manager and first baseman Derek McKinnon thought his team stepped up their play after the death of catcher Clayton “Beef”’ Windigo, who passed away in a swimming accident in late June.
“Guys were really motivated and it seemed like everybody just stepped up their game,” McKinnon stressed.
“It meant that much more. It’s a way to remember the guy,” he noted.
Both squads have been kings of the RRDFL in recent years. And while both showed the reason for that reputation on several plays last Thursday, there were an equal number that countered such evidence.
On the one hand, Barwick shortstop Vaughan Wilson made two fine stops on hard grounders—first to get a force-out at second before gobbling up a ball up, tagging second, and then whipping the ball to first for a double play, ensuring he had a hand in each out of the inning.
Wilson was on the other side of a robbery while batting, however, as McKinnon made a diving stab to his right on a sharp ground ball before leaping back to his left to tag first a split-second before a shocked Wilson reached the bag.
On the flip side of the spectrum, each team made some glaring errors on routine balls. Barwick catcher Kevin Gemmell agreed the Knights tossed the game away on a couple of errant throws early in the game.
“There wasn’t really much of a turning point, both teams dropped the ball,” Gemmell noted.
“We had overthrows at first,” he said. “Giving up extra bases like that, that really hurt us because they get the free bag.
“That really hurt us. That was why we lost.”
“Both teams bobbled the ball,” echoed McKinnon. “For every one they bobbled, we bobbled the same amount, so it was very even.”
McKinnon said the important thing was being able to catch up with Barwick’s pitchers—manager George Oltsher and J.J. Landry.
“Early on, we were hitting them around a little bit,” McKinnon recalled. “Everybody was on the bat, and I just think it gave everyone some confidence.
“If you put the ball in play lots, things are going to go your way,” he reasoned.
Oltsher noted that after some early miscues, the Knights settled in and tightened up out in the field, but were unable to garner the tying run after Sight & Sound tallied their fourth run, which turned out to be the game-winner.
“Maybe we were too tight. Maybe we were too anxious,” he theorized.
“[There were] a few errors here and there, but it was still a well-played game,” Oltsher stressed.
Gemmell said the Wolves were able to throw out a pair of elite hurlers in starter Bob Andy and closer John Desaulniers, who were able to hold down the Knights.
“You can’t be too disappointed because you had a 4-3 game against two elite pitchers like Bob Andy and Johnny [Desaulniers],” he reasoned.
“You score three runs, you’ve got to be happy with that.
“I was just disappointed in the way we fielded the ball,” he reiterated.
Gemmell was the league’s regular-season home run champ with eight dingers, but was held without a homer in the final.
Even though the Wolves were carrying a freight train worth of momentum into the championship game, Gemmell laughed off any suggestion that the Knights, no slouches themselves with an 18-5 overall record, may have been intimidated by a Sight & Sound squad playing some of its best ball of the season.
“The way we fielded the ball, maybe it was daunting,” he joked.
“But it doesn’t really affect my mindset,” Gemmell added. “You expect the best out of every team you play.
“We just didn’t have it tonight.
“It just seemed that every time we got something, we gave it back, and that was more demoralizing than anything,” he noted.
McKinnon said he was excited to see Barwick as a title challenger for the second-straight year as players on both teams are close off the field.
“It is a pretty friendly rivalry,” he enthused. “If they met a different team here in the finals, I’m sure we’d be here rooting for them, or they’d be here rooting for us.
“Even through the league, there’s a lot of that, McKinnon added. “It doesn’t seem like there’s any animosity between teams and it’s really good that way.
“Guys still really get up for the game, but there’s never any hard feelings,” he stressed. “Everybody gets together after the game and hangs out.”
“They’ve got lots of good players, and they’re fun to play,” echoed Oltsher.
McKinnon also was excited about the promise that several of the league’s teams showed all season.
Seven of the 10 entries ended the season with a .500 record or better, including the expansion Big Grassy Braves, who gave the Knights all they could handle before falling 9-8 in the semi-final last Tuesday night.
“Teams are so evenly matched this year,” he remarked. “That’s a good sign for the league.”
In related news, Oltsher noted the RRDFL will hold a memorial game for Alphonse and Rene Langlais in Pinewood this Friday (Sept. 3) at 6 p.m.
The father and son both were involved in the league, but died a month apart in late 2009.
“It’s going to be a tribute to those two guys,” said Oltsher.