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 Wednesday, August  17, 2005




Owls sweep Fleetwings

Justin Konnick gets the win in relief as Gabelsville garners their 12th championship.


 By Steve Smull              



    GABELSVILLE -- The Owls have returned to a familiar perch.


    Atop the Tri-County League.


    Gabelsville played small-ball to perfection and got a nearly perfect performance from Justin Konnick in relief to edge Tri-City 6-4 in Game Three of the Finals to sweep the best-of-five series 3-0 and win their first championship since 2001 and 12th overall since their inception in 1981.


    When you reflect on the series, you really cannot recollect anything that the Owls did that was "spectacular". They did not dominate Tri-City like the final tally might lead one to believe. Not even close. In fact, the Fleetwings out-hit Gabelsville 25-to-20 and out-homered them 4-to-0 (and all four homeruns were rockets) in the Finals. But the Owls did all the little things right, over and over and over again and the aggregate result was a hard-fought, well-contested 3-0 series win.


    Game Three was a classic example of how Gabelsville beat Tri-City by doing the little things during the Finals.


    The Owls had three sacrifice bunts, two sacrifice flies and a ground ball to second with no outs to move a runner from second to third which led to a big insurance run in the fifth. The Fleetwings had zero sacrifices for the game.


    But things started out well for Tri-City in the first inning.


    Matt Marcks beat out an infield single with one out and stopped at third when Justin Godusky launched a double to the fence in left-center. After Ben Swatsky was walked on five pitches to load the bases, Matt Godusky stepped to the dish. Godusky grounded to third baseman Rich Kropp, who hesitated a split second before choosing to go the 5-4-3 path for a doubleplay. But that hesitation almost got second baseman Mitch Schueck killed because the speedy Swatsky came in hard at second and leveled Schueck, flipping him awkwardly to the ground. Marcks had already scored and Justin Godusky was hustling home on the play, too, but Schueck had the presence of mind to bounce to his feet quickly and throw a strike to the plate, where catcher Bill Kropp nicely blocked the dish, took the hit from Godusky and hung on to the ball for the final out of the inning. Fleetwings 1, Owls coming to bat.


    A.J. Bohn drew a four-pitch walk to start things for the Owls. Jon Kalejta then singled to left and by now, anyone who had been paying attention during the first two games of the series, knew what was coming next.


    Yes, the sacrifice bunt, executed perfectly by 2005 Trico batting champion Rich Kropp, advancing Bohn and Kalejta 90 feet. After 2005 Trico Homerun King Pete Colon drew a walk to load the bases, Kyle Hoffman then hit a potential double-play grounder, but the throw to second was mishandled for an E-6. Bohn and Kalejta both scored and the Owls quickly led 2-1 and still had two on with one out. Since the Major League Baseball rulebook states that you cannot assume a double-play on any given ground ball, Hoffman does get a RBI on the play. Tri-City pitcher (and George Washington University sophomore-to-be) Brian Frazier got a strikeout and a soft-liner to first to prevent any further damage, so the score remained 2-1 Owls after an inning.


    Although no runs were scored in the second, the inning was far from uneventful.


    In the top half of the second, player-manager Jeremy Arner singled to left with one gone, and Dave Toth smashed a liner down the right-field line that went for a long single, advancing Arner to third. Nick D'Amico then hit a hard grounder that Rich Kropp made a great snag on, nabbing the tough, in-between hop to his left, starting the 5-4-3 twin-killing to end the threat.


    In the bottom half of the second, Frazier's third pitch of the inning was an up-and-in fastball that Bill Kropp just did not seem to react to until the last split-second, but by then it was too late as he was hit flush in the face with the pitch. The initial thud had spectators thinking and hoping that he was hit in the helmet, but when Kropp remained down on the ground for several minutes, it was apparent, that the pitch missed the helmet completely and hit Kropp around the cheekbone. And word from the hospital a few innings later did confirm that Bill Kropp does have a broken cheekbone.


    So Ryan Bosch pinch-ran for the injured Kropp, promptly stole second, and naturally was sacrificed to third by Schueck. But Frazier buckled down nicely and got a shallow fly-out and strikeout to end the inning and keep the Fleetwings within a run at 2-1.


    The Tri-City bats went quiet until the fifth inning, but Gabelsville continued to get scoring chances.


    Colon singled to left and Hoffman walked with one out in the third inning, and after a fielder's choice at third base kept runners at first and second with two outs, Matt Danner got a clutch single to right. The well-placed grounder was just out of the reach of the diving Justin Godusky and the base-knock plated Hoffman to increase the Owls' lead to 3-1.


    Bosch led off the Gabelsville fourth with a double down the right-field line. Schueck then sacrificed him to third and after Bohn was hit by a pitch, Kalejta hit a sacrifice fly to left to make it 4-1 Owls.


    Then the Fleetwings came to life..


    Pinch-hitter Tom Williams singled to left and Scott Garger then ripped another single to left to put two on with none out. But a sacrifice attempt was bunted too hard back to the Gabelsville pitcher, Ryan Bown, who smartly threw to third for a force out. Justin Godusky fought off a tough 1-2 pitch and blooped a RBI single to right to score Williams and cut the Owls' lead to 4-2. Big Ben Swatsky then dropped the bat-head on an off-speed pitch and laced a grounder just inside the third-base bag and down the line for a RBI double and it was now 4-3 Owls with runners on second and third and one out.


    Exit Bown. Enter Konnick.


    The veteran right-hander and Game One winner came up big. Konnick stranded both runners that he inherited in scoring position as he got two consecutive strikeouts to end the inning. Still 4-3 Owls.


    And the momentum immediately shifted because Gabelsville would answer immediately.


    Colon led off with a single to right and Hoffman followed that up with a liner to right-center that took a crazy hop to get by Marcks for a RBI double, and just that quickly, it was 5-3 Owls. Betz attempted to sacrifice, but when that failed, he smartly took an inside-out cut at a 2-2 pitch and grounded to second, nicely advancing Hoffman to third. The beneficiary of Betz's textbook hitting was Danner, who immediately followed with a sac fly to center for another huge insurance run and a 6-3 Gabelsville lead.


    Williams got one of those runs back immediately for the Fleetwings in the top of the sixth with a two-out rocket that landed over the left-center field fence and it was now a 6-4 game. Garger walked on five pitches and the Tri-City faithful were whispering for a Marcks blast to tie the game. And had Marcks pulled the ball, he would have had a homer, but Konnick worked him away during the at-bat, and the 1-2 pitch on the outside corner was laced about 380 feet to center where Bohn tracked it down for the third out.


    Scott Bolasky pitched a goose-egg in the sixth for the Fleetwings, so it would be up to the meat of the Tri-City batting order to get it done in the seventh.


    But Konnick would induce three consecutive fly-outs for a 1-2-3 seventh and the Owls earned their 12th championship in their 25-year history.


    Williams was 2-for-2 with a homer, Justin Godusky was 2-for-4 with a double and Arner went 2-for-3 for the Fleetwings (30-14). Kalejta was 2-for-4 and Colon was 2-for-2 for Gabelsville (32-8).