Public League Baseball is a lot like NCAA College Football. Drop a game early on in the year and the ghost of that loss haunts and taunts you while all you can do is hope your closest competitor drops their guard and a game somewhere along the way. Your dreams of a Division Title remain close, yet just out of reach, especially if your loss was to your rival. An utterly dominant season, and the chance of moving up in Division, could be overshadowed by a solitary miscue way back in April, leading to that shadowy loss. Unlike real Baseball, you only get one crack at each of your opponents, so the tension in these games are high, every mistake magnified and every hit paramount.
Three years ago University City took it down to a play at the plate in their final game to preserve a perfect season, their final as a school and program. As a result SLA (11-1), who dominated with the best offense and pitching rotation of the season, finished 2nd and missed the playoffs. SLA would move up to C-Division due to a realignment after multiple schools were shuttered, but it was an early season loss to UC that sealed their fate. The following season would see SLA destroy King in their lone head-to-head meeting. But King, who inherited a very good B-Division team when Germantown closed, ran the rest of the table finishing 11-1 to take the Division. SLA would make the playoffs, but they were stuck in C.
Last year it was The Rocket who completely ran the table undefeated, won the Division and made a magical run to the Public League Final Four, finally moving up to B. That team was defensively sound, had great pitching and just smashed the ball game in, game out. Yet, everyone on the squad recognized they were misplaced in C and weren’t getting to play real baseball every day. They desperately wanted to play against better competition, and their run in the playoffs proved they belonged by knocking off three A-Division powerhouses- Esperanza, #1 Frankford and Lincoln- to reach that Final Four where they fell just shy of the City Title.
Five games into Season 7 for SLA Baseball, and the expectations have changed. No longer are The Rockets overlooked, underestimated or considered irrelevant. Every team feels compelled to throw their ace to have a fighting chance, and Edison was no different. Having been in A-Division for most of a storied history, Edison found itself relegated to B after a dismal 2015 season where half their starting nine was ineligible. Not the case in 2016, and they most assuredly expected their stay in B to be short-lived. SLA had other ideas, and after the weirdest and arguably worst officiating ever experienced, The Rocket finds itself in the Divisional driver's seat after a 6-4 come-from-behind win.
Granted it is only early April, but both sides recognized this game as the equivalent of a Division Title game. Both threw top pitchers who dueled in the worst of conditions. Gale force winds upwards of 35mph made it nearly impossible to hit a ball in the air outside of the infield, yet neither pitcher sacrificed much in the first three bone-cold innings.
Leon Finney, in his 2nd start for SLA, struck out the side his first time through the Edison lineup. Yet, Edison's Maddox held SLA's potent offense at bay for the first half as well. Eventually Edison would break the tie with two runs in the 4th. They manufactured a run off of an error, walk and single to center, the only ball to leave the infield against Finney all day, and would get another off another error that prolonged the inning. The Rocket looked poised to respond, but a 4-6-3 Double Play squashed the power of a lead-off walk in the 5th. Finney would come back to strike out the side in his half of the frame, setting the stage for an emotional roller coaster.
After 83 pitches, 11K, 2BB, 3H and only 1 earned run, Finney's day on the mound was done. But Leon led off the 6th by beating out an infield hit to 3rd. He'd steal and advance to third on Courtney's tapper back to the mound. Ijustice Avery drew a walk, then immediately stole 2nd. A first pitch swing and Lukas Supovitz-Aznar erased Edison's 2-0 lead with a double to Center. Then with two outs Benny "Buckets" Simon scorched his own RBI Double out to Center to give SLA the lead 3-2.
Lukas would come in relief and struck out the first two batters on nine pitches, and it seemed that all the momentum had officially shifted. Then disaster struck as SLA's normally rock-solid defense imploded a bit, committing 3 errors that lead to two more runs, putting Edison back on top 4-3 heading into the 7th.
Moments before the 6th, Lukas rallied the troops and said, "all we need is three runs. Just three runs and this game is ours!". They got just that to take the lead but now found themselves down to their last at-bats down now trailing by 1. But The Rocket wasn't done. With one out Tony Brown slapped an opposite field single and quickly stole 2nd. After Leon Finney drew a critical walk, Brown nearly got caught in a rundown, yet ended up safe after Edison dropped the ball on an aggressive slide into third. Finney would make it to 2nd in the confusion. Down to their last out, IJustice Avery lashed out and served a hard hit ball to the left side. A solid throw came across the diamond with drama in tow as the bases umpire called Avery out, ending the game.
As Edison jumped for joy and celebrated what they truly believed was a ticket back to A-Division, SLA's coaches lost their minds over how badly that call could have been blown as Avery was safe by an entire body length. This wasn't the first time this particular umpire blew a call in a game with SLA, and their coaching staff wasn't having any of it.
After the third instance in the game where officials needed to conference, the Plate umpire reversed the call. Justice was safe, Tony Brown had scored to tie the game 4-4, and Leon Finney was now 90ft away from giving SLA the lead. Justice took second with the catcher conceded the base since he was more worried about the go-ahead run just down the baseline. With two in scoring position for The Rocket, Lukas Supovitz-Aznar confidently stepped to the plate and drove a first pitch fast ball into the gap to plate Finney and Avery, making it 6-4. Edison's coach was overheard saying, "it was inevitable...just a matter of time" as he lamented a game-ending call being reversed.
The 7th started off like another potential nightmare inning for SLA defense when Edison got the first runner on after an error. Yet Lukas kept his composure and attacked batters. After a battle of an at-bat, Edison's Moronta hit a hot grounder to Avery at SS, flipped to Jason Greene who then turned a beautiful 6-4-3 Double Play to a fully extended Kevin Courtney to wipe the bases clean. No one else from Edison would reach base and SLA held onto the weirdest 6-4 win in their history.
These two late-inning gritty comebacks to steal this one was very reminiscent of The Rocket's slow and steady comeback over #1 seed Frankford in the 2015 Playoffs. They just keep battling, and much like in the Frankford game it was Lukas Supovitz-Aznar who rose to challenge and got it done when needed most. Against Edison, he'd finish the day 3-4 with 2 Doubles, 4 RBIs and a run scored. He would shut it down on the mound too, not allowing a single ball to leave the infield in two innings of relief.
And so now it is Edison who will be chased by the ghost of the 6th and 7th on Friday the 8th of April 2016. They'll keep battling for positioning and will make the playoffs for sure. However, Edison's expectation of a short-lived stint in B-Division now requires a whole lot of help from a Rocket team happy to leave them wallowing in the swirling winds of lost opportunity.
Next Up for The Rocket- Ben Franklin on Tues, 4/12, Kensington on Mon, 4/18, Roxborough on Wed, 4/20 and E&S on Fri, 4/22.