It’s just a scheduling quirk, but either the second or third-place team from the Rainy River District Fastball League will suffer defeat in only the second playoff game for both teams.
The Fort Frances-based Sight & Sound Wolves, who finished the regular season in third place, will visit the Big Grassy Lightning tomorrow night in a battle of the league’s titans.
“You can only put if off so long,” Wolves manager Derek McKinnon said of the marquee matchup.
The playoffs, held in a double-knockout format, can be finished rapidly, though, as weaker teams are done quickly, leaving only the cream of the league’s crop.
“You can win it in four games, so you can get into it pretty quick if you’re on the winning side,” explained McKinnon.
Both teams finished with identical 13-5 records, but the Lightning received the higher ranking because they outscored the Wolves 192-155 in the 18-game regular season.
The Wolves opened the playoffs last Tuesday night with a 6-0 blanking of Sabaskong. Pitcher John Desaulniers was the straw that stirred the drink for Sight & Sound, tossing an efficient game on the mound and pacing the offence with the only home run of the night.
“You don’t gotta do a whole lot when your pitcher ends up with a one-hitter,” enthused Wolves manager Derek McKinnon. “He threw a lot of strikeouts, and the balls they got a hold of were just grounders and flyballs.”
Desaulniers, a veteran who has been in the league for over 20 years and is in his fourth with the Wolves, has maintained his involvement in the league despite living in Dryden.
“He comes down here whenever work lets him,” explained McKinnon. “He comes and makes the tournaments.”
Desaulniers hasn’t been able to attend every game, having attended about a half-dozen this year, and he noted that it’s difficult to be game-ready when only seeing action infrequently.
“It’s hard to get into any kind of decent shape to be at your best, because you’ve only got a game every couple weeks,” explained Desaulniers.
“You always try to keep up with what’s going on and follow the team as best as you can and make it whenever you can.
“It’s not always easy coming from that far,” he concluded.
In Tuesday’s playoff opener, Desaulniers deflected the credit for the win, chalking it up to a strong effort throughout the field to help defeat a quality Cub lineup.
“Sabs is a pretty good team, and they have their decent thrower [Sheldon Kelly] out, so we had to be on our game,” said Desaulniers.
“Guys made a lot of plays behind me, so that always helps.”
He specifically praised catcher Grant Swire with helping him to hit the ground running when he’s able to make it down for a game.
“It’s nice having a catcher back there that’s on his game and knows a lot of the hitters and makes it a lot easier,” lauded Desaulniers.
“He’s smart, and he knows how to get the best out of every guy that throws to him. That makes it a lot easier.”
“He knows how to call the game, place the pitches in the right spots,” added Wolves infielder Kurtis Wepruk.
McKinnon is expecting a devil of a game tomorrow night, crediting the Lightning for being a well-rounded team, boasting a deadly attack that they can counterbalance with ace pitcher Jeff Morrison on the hill.
McKinnon is counting on Bob Andy to win the pitching duel, but he knows his team will need to get on the sticks, as he doesn’t expect the No. 2 Lightning will be quelled quite as easily as the Cubs.
“They’re going to get some runs. They’re a great hitting team, so they’re going to get some runs no matter what,” lauded McKinnon.
“They’ve got strong pitching and a lot of good hitters, so it’s going to be a tight game, I think.
“We’re going to have to put a few runs on the board, too.
“Bob [Andy] is going to pitch a strong game, so we just have to make sure we don’t blow our chances and shoot ourselves in the foot defensively,” he concluded.
McKinnon wasn’t the only one anticipating a showdown with Morrison, as both Desaulniers and Wepruk were expecting to see him as well.
“They’ve got Jeff Morrison, their pitcher, and if he’s on his game, they’re a tough team to beat,” lauded Desaulniers.
“We’ve just got to put the ball in play and hope for the best.
“We’re just going to have to hit the ball and play sound defensive ball,” added Wepruk.
“They’ve got a really good pitcher, and they’ve got some guys who can hit the ball, too.”
In other action, No. 5 Rainy River will face No. 1 Barwick on the A side, while on the one-loss side, the Big Grassy Braves will attempt to stave off elimination against the Big Island Huskies, and No. 6 Sabaskong and No. 7 Stratton will square off.
Even though the league is in its playoffs right now, it still faces some interruptions.
For example, the league’s all-star game was played last night in Stratton (the result was not available at press time).
The managers of last year’s finalists, McKinnon and Barwick’s George Oltsher led the teams into action.
McKinnon’s squad consisted of: pitchers Bob Andy and Murray Armstrong; infielders Tony Armstrong, Marcel Pagee, Beeker Watson and Paul Visser; catcher Grant Swire, and; outfielders Dale Jerry, Dakota Andy and Charles Debungee.
Meanwhile, the team managed by Oltsher featured: pitchers J.J. Landry and Don Copenace; catcher Kevin Gemmell; infielders Garrett Gamsby, Chris Jack, Sean Councilor and Brad Wakefield, and outfielders Ted Heyens, Josh Mann and Jayson Indian.
The league will also take a break beginning next Thursday as several of the league’s standouts will group together to play in the North American Fastball Association World Series in Des Moines, Ia.
The team will play in the “A major” division, which featured a total of 44 teams at press time.