HYDE CREEK—Keith Balcke began the 2012 North Vancouver Island Baseball League season by hand-crafting a set of wood bats for the Hyde Creek Hillbillys club.
On Sunday, he helped the ‘Billys craft a third straight league championship.
In the fifth inning of Sunday’s title game against the Port Hardy Cubs, the Hillbillys were clinging to a one-run lead with the bases full of Cubs and nobody out.
Balcke, Hyde Creek’s first baseman, was cheating up well in front of his base when the Cubs’ Chris Heslop laced a sharp line drive toward right field that would easily have scored a pair of runs. But Balcke leaped high to snare the ball, then ran back to first to double up Luke Jones, who had broken for second base at the crack of the bat.
The Cubs did not score the rest of the game as the Hillbillys (9-2) went on to claim a 6-3 victory and the championship trophy.
“It was just reaction,” said Balcke, who also scored what proved to be the winning run in the fourth inning and then drove in a pair of insurance runs in the sixth. “I was playing in for the bunt; I saw them over there talking just before that at-bat and thought they were going for the squeeze play.”
The Cubs (9-4) were playing their fourth game in two days, thanks to the double-elimination format for the three-team league.
After falling to the Hillbillys by an identical 6-3 score on Saturday, the Cubs played their way into the final with a 9-5 decision over the Port McNeill Rangers in Sunday’s early game. But that momentum was blunted in the final by a three-run home run by the Hillbillys’ Ivan Hall and Balcke’s late-game heroics.
“That was the turning point,” the Cubs’ Chris Lamothe said of the catch. “We’re sitting with the bases loaded and nobody out, then we’ve got nothing. We went from high to low in a split second.”
Dave Stewart’s RBI double and Jones’ run-scoring single in the third off Hillbilly starter Jason West drew the Cubs to 3-2.
Balcke started the Hyde Creek fourth with a single, and went to third on a one-out single by Mike Scott. He then scored on the back end of a double steal to push the Hillbillys’ lead to 4-3.
The Cubs came right back against Hyde Creek reliever Rob Cessford in the fifth. Cessford, who entered the game to pitch a 1-2-3 fourth inning, started the fifth by hitting Curtis Martyn with a pitch. A walk, an RBI single by Stewart and another hit batter cut the lead to 4-3 and loaded the bases for Ryan Rushton, the third Hyde Creek pitcher of the game.
Heslop greeted Rushton with the hard drive to the opposite field, but Balcke stopped the ball and the rally.
“It was a good hit,” Balcke said. “It scores two if it gets by.”
Rushton then got a strikeout to end the inning, and Hall came on to nail down the save with two scoreless innings of relief.
Martyn was solid on the mound for the Cubs, striking out 10 while scattering six hits in a complete game effort. But a single fat pitch to Hall and some tough luck in the sixth inning did him in.
The Hillbillys’ Taylor Galeazzi drew a leadoff walk in the sixth and, one out later, was running hard for second base when Hall lofted a fly ball into shallow right field. As Galeazzi turned to race back to first, the ball fell between onrushing right fielder Patrick Knighton and second baseman Jordan Campell.
Galeazzi reversed course again and sprinted for second, and the throw from right field went wild, allowing Galeazzi to move up to third and Hall to second. After Martyn got a strikeout for the second out, Balcke chopped a high-bouncing ball to shortstop. Lamothe was able to field the ball, but had to wait for it to come as Galeazzi crossed the plate and Balcke beat Lamothe’s throw to first. Hall never slowed down on the throw, and came around third base to slide home with the final run when Cubs catcher Rod Romas couldn’t hold onto the throw from Heslop at first.
Cubs 9, Rangers 5
Jordan Campbell and Romas started the sixth inning with back-to-back doubles and Stewart later added an RBI single as the Cubs turned a 6-5 nail-biter into a comfortable win in Sunday’s loser-out game.
Lamothe added a two-run single and Jones had a double and two RBI in the win. Steward claimed the win on the mound with relief help from Martyn and Lamothe.
Jason Evans scored two runs and Rob Kenny had an RBI single for the Rangers (0-12). Tyler Berry struck out seven but took the loss in a complete-game performance.
Hillbillys 6, Cubs 3
In Saturday’s second game Curtis Carmen put on a pitching clinic for six innings to give the Hillbillys a 6-0 lead into the seventh inning. The Cubs finally touched Carmen for a pair of baserunners in the seventh and continued the rally against reliever West before the top-seeded Hillbillys closed the door.
Cubs 18, Rangers 4
Lamothe blasted a two-run homer to key a five-run first inning and the Cubs were never threatened in the opening game between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. Romas threw a complete game for the pitching win, and Lamothe went 3-for-3 with two walks, scoring all five times he reached base.