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 Saturday, August 16, 2008




Gabelsville wins 13th championship

Veteran Shawn Betz scatters 7 hits for his 2nd Finals victory as Owls clinch title 4-1.


 By Steve Smull              



    GABELSVILLE -- The Owls put up a four-spot in the third and Shawn Betz made those runs stand up to clinch their 13th Trico championship with a 4-1 win in Game 4 of the best-of-five Finals.


    Good pitching beats good hitting.


    How many times have you heard that? The Owls certainly proved that old baseball adage to be true once again in the 2008 postseason.


    Since the Tri-County League went to wood bats in 2006, the 2008 Limeport Bulls have the highest team batting average (.331). All Gabelsville did to them in the semifinals was shut them out for the entire series, on just six total hits, including a no-hitter by Jared Trout in Game 2.


    Next on the Owls' schedule came the Northern Yankees, who compiled a .316 team batting average in 2008, the fourth best team batting average since 2006. The Yankees never scored more than three runs in any one of the five games (there was a 3-3 tie in Game 3, Part 1), scoring 3-3-3-0-1 in the five contests for a total of 10 runs in five games.


    Ten runs allowed in eight playoff games. Not bad.


    So even though the Owls offense struggled, they did not have to do too much the last eight games to garner the six wins necessary to win the league title.


    "Our pitching kept us in all of these games," said Owls' second baseman Ryan Mark, who knocked in two big insurance runs with a two-out, two-run single in the third to give Gabelsville a 4-1 lead. "We didn't hit like the way we are capable of. We weren't hitting too well coming into the playoffs, either, but we figured it out when we needed to."


    Betz also talked about the Owls' postseason hitting woes.


    "We struggled with execution," Betz said. "We didn't hit well with two outs and runners in scoring position or with a runner on third and less than two outs."


    Not to mention some sloppy base-running by the Owls the final three playoff games.


    But none of that matters when you allow just 10 total runs in eight semifinals/finals games. However, what it does show is just how good the pitching is among the top four teams in the league, because even though the Owls allowed just 10 runs their final eight playoff games, they only scored 20 runs themselves, leaving little margin for error.


    "The top four teams in the league are pretty much even," said Gabelsville player/manager Matt Danner. "What it came down to in both series was a few key plays. One play here, one play there was the difference in every game."


    There were a couple of key plays in Game 4, but none bigger than the one Trout turned in during the top of the sixth.


    After pinch-hitter Marshall Garger doubled to put runners on second and third with one out, Yankees center-fielder Mike Fignar scalded a one-hopper just a few feet from the third-base bag, which Trout gobbled up and tagged the runner on third, who was stuck in no-man's land for an out. But that out was not enough for the former A's farmhand, as Trout then unleashed a laser-beam across the diamond to first base to get the speedy Fignar for a 5-5-3 double-play which all but sucked the life out of the Yankees as they had the tying run at the plate with one out and the top of the order about to come up.


    The Yankees had chances for multiple runs early in the game, but managed just one and they caught a break to even get the one.


    After an uneventful first inning, Jeremy Faust lined a 3-1 pitch off the top of the mound and into center-field for a single. J.R. Graver lifted the next pitch into left-field for another single and the Yankees were in business. Ryan Birkenstock laid down a nice sacrifice bunt to move both runners up 90 feet. But Betz bore down and got a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch to get himself within one pitch of getting out of the inning. And three pitches later, Fignar popped a ball up to shortstop and it appeared Betz was out of the inning.


    But there was one problem.


    The sun at Lee Mecherly Field was right in the shortstop's and left-fielder's eyes early in the game. Gabelsville players may never have seen the sun in this position at this field with the rare 12 noon start time for Game 4. Jon Kalejta lost the ball in the bright sun and it dropped for a gift RBI single for Fignar about 20 feet behind the mound and it was 1-0 Yankees. After Landon Parker walked on four pitches to load the bases, Betz buckled down to get a bouncer back to the mound to end the inning.


    The Yankees were right back in business in the third inning. Adam Sandt singled to left and Darrin Lenhart (who obviously took a break from his sister's wedding to make the game) walked on five pitches to put runners on first and second with no outs. Faust failed to get a bunt down on the first two pitches, but did get it down on the 0-2 pitch for a big sacrifice bunt to move Sandt and Lenhart up 90 feet with one out. Gabelsville drew their infield in and it paid off as a grounder to short did not advance anybody and then Betz got a strikeout to end the threat.


    But Betz was laboring through the first three innings, not looking like himself. He had allowed four hits and had already walked three batters, after he had walked just six through 43 total innings during the regular season and playoffs.


    "I didn't feel good early," admitted Betz. "I couldn't find any kind of groove and couldn't locate. I felt better in the fourth inning and started finding the strike zone."


    It showed as Betz allowed just three hits and no walks over the final four frames.


    And the Owls would get Betz all the runs he would need in the home half of the third.


    Danner walked to start the inning and A.J. Bohn was hit on the foot to put runners on first and second with no outs and everybody in the ballpark knew what was coming next: a sacrifice bunt attempt. Tom DeAngelis got it down and beat it out for a single on a bang-bang play at first and now the sacks were loaded with no outs. Trout lifted a sac fly to center and the game was tied at 1-1. Kalejta walked to reload the bases and Brian Ernst ripped his second single of the game to center-field to score Bohn and it was 2-1 Owls. After a 5-2 put-out had Argue within an out of ending the inning, Ryan Mark blooped a two-run single to left on a 2-2 pitch to make it 4-1 Owls, as they as they finally got to the Yankees' designated Gabelsville killer, pitcher Jake Argue.


    Argue, a southpaw, made three appearances against the Owls this season (two starts in the regular season and one relief stint in the postseason) and gave up just 3 hits in 13 2/3 innings of work. Argue pitched the first six innings of the only no-hitter in league history vs. the Owls' franchise on July 26.


    So after an unthinkable stretch of 15 2/3 scoreless innings against Gabelsville, Argue finally sputtered in the third inning of Game 4. And the Owls did not exactly rip the ball all over the field in the inning, as they only had three hits in the frame and only one of those were hit hard. Most of the wounds Argue would suffer were self-inflicted as he walked two and hit a batter during the inning and all three of those runners scored.


    But why have the Owls struggled so mightily against Argue this season?


    Danner had the answer after the game.


    "We, not only our Gabelsville team, but Boyertown as a baseball community, struggles with off-speed, left-handed pitching, said Danner. "It's just something we have trouble adapting to."


     Something the Owls have less trouble adapting to is winning Trico championships. This is their 13th title and first since the league went to wood bats in 2006.


    "Winning this championship doesn't feel much different than winning the last one," said Danner, referring to their 2005 title. "It feels good because we did it this season with a different group of guys and because the last championship we won was the final season the league used metal bats."


    It is the fifth title for Betz and Danner (second for Danner as manager). In fact, Betz is probably the only player in league history to win four consecutive titles.


    How did he do that, you may ask, considering no team has ever won four straight championships in Trico history?


    Well, Betz won three in a row from 1999 to 2001 before moving out of state for three years (and all 3 seasons, Gabelsville failed to win a title without him). His first year back in 2005, the Owls swept the Fleetwings in the Finals for the title. Technically, that is four in a row for Betz.


    So for a guy who has never won a league Most Valuable Player award, there certainly has been no player more valuable to Gabelsville since 1997 than Betz.


    Adam Sandt was 2-for-3 for the Yankees (30-11-3), while DeAngelis was 2-for-2 and Ernst was 2-for-3 for Gabelsville (32-9-2).