Wolves reclaim fastball crown

Mitch Calvert

Slide over Barwick, it’s Sight & Sound’s turn.
The Wolves ended the Blue Knights’ three-year reign as Rainy River District Fastball League champions last Thursday evening with a dominating 9-0 victory at George Oltsher Field in Barwick.
The Wolves turned a mediocre regular season into playoff brilliance, winning five of six playoff games, including four on the road, to reclaim the title they last won in 2005 (which completed three-straight title wins for them at the time).
“They’ve won the last three and we won the three before that, so it’s nice to get back [on top],” Wolves’ manager Derek McKinnon said.
The final was called after six innings when a storm hit. League rules normally require that the game be made up from scratch, but the wide margin with only an inning to play warranted an exception in this case.
“Our team talked it over before we went on the field [for the seventh] and decided that if we were rained out before the full seven innings, that [Sight & Sound] deserved the win and we would concede,” Blue Knights’ manager George Oltsher noted.
The visitors created a storm of their own on the field—clawing out a run with some old-fashioned fundamentals to open the game.
Clayton Windego led off with a walk, Marcel Pagee sacrificed him to second with a bunt, and then John Desaulniers hit a sacrifice fly to send Windego to third.
Duane Carlson then stepped up and promptly stroked a two-out single to account for the first—and only—run the Wolves needed.
Sight & Sound got their lead-off man aboard again to start the second on a Joel Ashworth single.
Cole Kaemingh then bunted him to second and actually reached first safely himself when the slow grounder was misplayed by Barwick third baseman Brad Wakefield.
Two batters later, Bob Andy brought in Ashworth on a first-pitch line drive single to centre.
Kaemingh later scored on a misplayed throw between Barwick catcher Kevin Gemmell and starting pitcher JJ Landry to give the Wolves a 3-0 cushion.
Sight & Sound came in with a game plan to score early after not doing so in their lone playoff loss to Barwick—a 3-2 setback—back on Aug. 18.
“We had that plan going in; we wanted to get two-three quick runs any way we could, and just get a little bit of a pad so we could loosen up and swing away,” McKinnon noted.
“Sometimes you can wait too late and it costs you.”
Desaulniers—new to the Wolves this season, but not to the RRDFL—pitched all six innings for the victors, keeping the Barwick hitters guessing all night long.
He had eight strikeouts through two innings, with two Blue Knights reaching base after the third strike of their at-bats snuck past Windego behind the plate.
Desaulniers strung together 13 strikeouts through four innings.
The Wolves then provided even more run support in the fifth off five-straight hits.
Pagee and Desaulniers hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, then Carlson drove both runners in with a solid single to put Sight & Sound up 5-0.
After Wolves’ first baseman Derek McKinnon stroked a double to right to move Carlson to third, Ashworth plated both McKinnon and Carlson on another line-drive single to build the lead to 7-0.
At that point, everything seemed to be going right for the Wolves as a line drive to start Barwick’s half of the fifth went through Carlson’s glove at third.
But Ashworth tracked it down in shallow left to record the out on what would have been a potential double.
Barwick right-fielder Wes Derksen hit a triple to give the Blue Knights some life later that inning, but Barwick couldn’t get the key hit to drive him in.
The Wolves added two more in the sixth and the rout was officially on.
After finishing fourth in the standings with an 8-8 record, the Wolves seemed to take their game to a new level in the playoffs, including road victories in the quarter-finals (a 4-3 win over Big Island), semi-final (a 7-0 whitewash of Big Grassy, the regular-season champs), and finally last Thursday’s shutout over Barwick.
“We had the full team out a little bit more [in the playoffs],” McKinnon reasoned.
“The game against Big Island when we barely squeaked by, I think guys just seemed to tighten down a little more, and not really try for home runs every time but more for hits and getting on base,” he added.
The late-season addition of long-time pitcher Bob Andy also boosted the team’s depth chart considerably, giving the Wolves an unmatched one-two punch from the rubber.
Andy was instrumental in pitching two playoff wins over his former team, the Big Grassy Lightning.
“Him and Johnny really carried us,” McKinnon lauded.
Barwick also deserves full credit for getting to the league final for yet another year.
The Blue Knights were a younger team overall, and also were hampered by the loss of centre-fielder Josh Mann for the final after he broke his throwing arm during a playoff loss to Big Grassy two nights earlier (Aug. 25).
“We had a lot of fun this year and are proud of our team,” Oltsher enthused. “We feel Sight & Sound has an excellent team and play with good sportsmanship.
“We had hoped we could put on a better show, [but] the crowd was great, the umpiring was great, [and] thanks to all who come out to support our league throughout the year and thanks to all the umpires for the season,” Oltsher added.
The RRDFL season will wrap up with a tournament in Rainy River over the Labour Day weekend.