PORT McNEILL—Three innings after being benched for swinging at a pitch, Curtis Carmen became the hero by swinging the Port McNeill Woodchuckers to their first OrcaFest Slo-pitch Tournament title.
Carmen blasted a one-out, grand-slam home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Woodchuckers a walk-off, 17-14 win over three-time tourney champion Adrenaline Rush Sunday afternoon at Centennial Field.
The win capped a comeback from a 14-5 deficit in the fourth inning, when Carmen defied the instructions of coach John Klughart and made a desultory “courtesy” swing through what would have been ball four, turning down a walk so that he might get another swing.
At the time, the Woodchuckers had one runner on base and nobody out, and were hoping to spark a rally by amassing baserunners for the hitters to follow.
Carmen reached base on a single on the next pitch, but the Woodchuckers failed to score in the inning and, as a disciplinary action, he was pulled from his spot in left field in favour of a reserve on defence in the top of the fifth.
The move came as a surprise to Carmen, who said it was common practice for players to take courtesy swings at balls outside the strike zone in order to get another pitch to swing at.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Guys do it all the time.”
Had he been pulled from the game entirely, the Woodchuckers would have taken an automatic out each time Carmen’s turn came up to bat, a rule the Adrenaline Rush players checked with the umpires after watching him walk away from the field with his gear bag in hand.
Fortunately for the Woodchuckers, the absence was short-lived. Carmen came back in time to crack a three-run homer as part of an eight-run outburst in the sixth inning, then delivered the game-winner, his third home run of the game, in the seventh.
All the time, the Woodchuckers insisted, they were not concerned about falling behind early.
“We usually come alive in the third inning,” outfielder Mike Miller said. “Sometimes the fifth. We gotta work on our beginning.”
Tournament rules limit each team to five home runs, and the strategy employed in using them played a key role in the outcome.
Adrenaline Rush hit two home runs in the first inning and two more in the second, and two of the four were solo shots that drew good-natured jeers from the bench. The team got its fifth homer in the top of the fourth — the shot that gave the visitors from Campbell River their 14-5 lead — and never scored again.
“We knew as soon as they hit four home runs in the first two innings we had a chance to catch up,” the Woodchuckers’ Aaron Debiens said.
Carmen’s solo homer to lead off the third gave the Woodchuckers their first run — and hit — of the game. But the floodgates opened in the sixth, when Carmen hit a three-run shot, Klughart followed with a solo tater, and Desbiens cracked a two-run homer in the eight-run outburst that drew the team within 14-13 with one inning to play.
The big inning included a pair of walks and two errors by the usually sure-handed Rush squad.
“We had one bad inning where we couldn’t get our outs, and we never recovered,” said Steve Munro of Adrenaline Rush.
Shanna Laflamme started the decisive seventh with a double over the head of the right fielder. After an infield pop-up for the first out, Randy Hunt hit a single that pushed Laflamme to third with the tying run. Sherry Tomayer, who early had rapped two hits deep to left field, then coaxed a walk to bring up Carmen for his walk-off blast.
“We got off early, but they saved their dingers,” said Munro of Adrenline Rush, which won consecutive OrcaFest titles from 2008-10.
Load ’em Up of Port Hardy, which won last year’s title to end the three-year Adrenaline Rush run, finished as the tourney’s only other unbeaten team by claiming the B final over the Bushcats. Load ’em Up and the Bushcats were among six teams that went unbeaten in round-robin play but were bumped from the four-team ‘A’ bracket by the run-differential tiebreaker.
The Dustmen of Port McNeill won the C Final, The Mix Ups won the D, T&B won the E, and Team Awesome claimed the F final.