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 Sunday, August  14, 2005




Gabelsville edges Tri-City, 6-5

Todd Stapleton and Shawn Betz pitch the Owls to a 2-0 series lead in the Finals.


 By Steve Smull              



    SCHERERSVILLE -- The Gabelsville Owls are celebrating their Silver Anniversary this season.


    Well, at least, they hope to be celebrating their 25th season in the Tri-County League some time this week. The pitching of Todd Stapleton (with a little bit of help from Shawn Betz) led the Owls to a hard-fought 6-5 win in Game Two of the best-of-five Finals. The victory gives the Owls a 2-0 stranglehold in the series and puts Gabelsville on the cusp of winning their 12th championship in those 25 years (a previous Gabelsville franchise won their only championship in 1968).


    However, this Gabelsville franchise has been nothing short of dominant since entering the league in 1981 as the Gilbertsville Rangers.


    The Owls have been in the Trico playoffs in all of their 25 seasons and have never gone four years without winning a championship. And interestingly enough, Gabelsville won their last championship in 2001, against these same Fleetwings, 3-games-to-2 in what was actually a six-game series. So you can do the math. The Owls have currently gone three straight seasons without a championship.


    They will try and remedy this "situation" during Game 3 of the series, which goes Tuesday at 5:45 at Gabelsville.


    Tri-City has clearly been playing their best defense of the entire year during the postseason. However, the Fleetwings committed two critical errors on Sunday, and Gabelsville made them pay. Big time.


    A.J. Bohn made his Finals debut and was promptly plunked by a pitch from Fleetwings' starter Matt Hlay to lead off the game. Jon Kalejta then walked, and despite the fact that Rich Kropp set a new league record this season with a .605 batting average (beating the old mark by 42 points), he was asked to adhere to the Boyertown Bible for Baseball, which states that "Thou shall sacrifice bunt with runners on first and second and none out". Kropp did so. Not only did the runners advance 90 feet, they (and Kropp) got to go an additional 90 feet when Hlay's throw to first was a little wide and went out of play. Bohn scored and it was quickly 1-0 Owls.


    After a strikeout, Kyle Hoffman lofted a bloop single to left-center to score Kalejta and it was 2-0 Gabelsville. After another strikeout, Hlay's second offering to Matt Danner was in the dirt and skipped to the backstop, and the heads-up Kropp hustled home to make it 3-0 Gabelsville. Hlay ended up striking out the side in the first, but a hit batsman, a walk, an error, a bloop single and a wild pitch led to three big runs for the Owls.


    But Tri-City would have an answer in the second inning.


    Matt Godusky launched a homerun well over the fence near center-field to cut the lead to 3-1. The next batter, Scott Matejicka must have liked what he saw, because he went yard to left as the Fleetwings had back-to-back jacks to start the second and the Gabelsville lead was trimmed to 3-2. Stapleton settled down and worked around a two-out double by Dave Toth to end the inning.


    And then both pitchers seemed to really settle in.


    Hlay allowed just two hits over the next three innings before departing due to some heat exhaustion after the fifth. And reliever Dan Hemberger had a 1-2-3 sixth inning. Meanwhile, after Stapleton gave up a single to Matt Marcks to start the third inning, he hit another gear and put things in cruise control, retiring the next 12 Fleetwings' batters in order.


    Which takes us all the way to the seventh inning.


    Betz hit a slow roller to short that went for an infield single to start the inning. Hemberger picked him off first, but Betz never stopped motoring to second and made it there safely when Tri-City did not cover the bag in time. After a sacrifice attempt failed, a sharp grounder back to Hemberger did not advance the runner, and there was now one out. Bill Kropp then drew a walk to put runners on first and second. Mitch Schueck then grounded to short for what would have been a tough turn for two, but the double-play possibility and even the force evaporated instantly when the ball skipped off the shortstop's glove for an error.


    The Owls were in business again.


    With the bases loaded and one out, Bohn laid down a perfectly-placed bunt single down the third-base side for a big insurance run and a 4-2 lead. Kalejta then battled back from an 0-2 count to draw an RBI walk and it was 5-2 Owls.


    Exit Hemberger. Enter Scott Bolasky on the hill for the Fleetwings.


    Batting champ Rich Kropp hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Schueck to give Gabelsville a seemingly insurmountable 6-2 lead, considering the fact that Stapleton had just retired 12 straight batters.


    But no lead is insurmountable with this Tri-City offense.


    Matejicka was hit by a pitch (and lifted for pinch-runner Nick D'Amico) and Jeremy Arner worked a seven-pitch walk to start the home half of the seventh. Owls' skipper "Doc" Moyer had seen enough and opted for Shawn Betz to close out the game. But Betz was greeted rather rudely by Tom Williams, who launched Betz's first pitch well over the fence in left-center for a three-run homer to quickly cut the Gabelsville lead to 6-5.


    Still nobody out.


    But Betz would settle down and get a ground-out and a strikeout before Marcks lofted a single to left-center. Could the Fleetwings get Big Ben Swatsky to the plate (who was waiting on deck)?


    The answer would be "no" as a sharp grounder to third was fielded cleanly by Rich Kropp who got the force-out at second to end the game and give Gabelsville (31-8) the 2-0 series lead.


    Marcks was the only multiple-hit batter of the game, going 2-for-4 for Tri-City (30-13).