The Saint Nicholas softball team had a tough act to follow when the 2016 post-season tournament started. The past two years, Saint Nicholas finished in the middle-to-lower part of the regular season standings. But, the team got hot in the tournament both years - hot enough to finish tied for 5th place in both the 2014 and 2015 tournaments. This year, the team came into the tournament as the #5 seed. Finishing tied for 5th in the tournament was at least as good as the team expected to do.
The tournament started Friday night July 29 with Saint Nicholas taking on #12 seed Jesus the Divine Word #1. JDW1 forfeited both games to Saint Nicholas during the season. If you are familiar with the #5 vs #12 match-ups in the men's NCAA basketball tournament, you know this match-up is prone to upsets. In fact, Saint Nicholas has won this match-up as the #12 seed on more than one occasion, the most recent being 2015. So, the team expected nothing less than JDW1's best effort. And they got it. JDW1 started quickly, getting 2 runs in the top of the first to take a 2-0 lead. With two outs, Josh Smith singled and advanced to second on a poor throw. Greg Bandelow promptly singled home Josh. Keith Williams moved Greg into scoring position with a single. Then, Jerry Wood singled home Greg to tie the game at 2-2. JDW1 bounced right back with 1 run in the top of the second to go back in front, 3-2. Saint Nicholas didn't score in the bottom of the second nor did JDW1 score in the top of the third. Austin Owens led off the bottom of the third with a double and scored one out later on Greg Bandelow's single to tie the game at 3-3. Neither team scored in the fourth inning. JDW1 went back in front in the top of the fifth inning with 1 run to take a 4-3 lead. Dave Hickin walked to start the bottom of the fifth. After one out, Josh Smith singled. Greg Bandelow followed with a double to clear the bases and give Saint Nicholas its first lead of the game. Keith Williams followed with a double to score Greg and give Saint Nicholas a 6-4 lead. JDW1 scored 1 run in the top of the sixth to cut their deficit to 6-5. Saint Nicholas did not score in the bottom of the sixth. JDW1 got a two-out homerun in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 6-6. David Buffin led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk. Andrew Wood pinch ran for David. Dave Hickin and Austin Owens walked to load the bases with nobody out. Josh Smith smashed a groundball that the first baseman snagged, tagged Austin out for the first out, stepped on first base to get Josh for the second out, and threw home. The throw was a little wide and Andrew Wood slid home with the winning run, giving Saint Nicholas a 7-6 win.
Saint Nicholas went back to work late Saturday morning to play #4 seed Grace Chapel Ministries. Grace Chapel won both games when the two teams met during the season. However, this was another day. Dave Hickin walked to start the top of the first. One out later, Josh Smith also walked. Greg Bandelow singled to load the bases. Andrew Wood's sacrifice fly was dropped, scoring Dave and leaving the bases loaded. Matt Taby's fielder's choice scored Josh. Then, Keith Williams singled home Andrew and Saint Nicholas held a 3-0 lead. Grace Chapel went scoreless in the bottom of the first. Austin Wood and David Buffin walked to start the top of the second. Travis Kendall singled to load the bases. Tom Blatt's sacrifice fly scored Austin. Dave Hickin singled to score David. After the second out, Josh Smith walked to load the bases again. Greg Bandelow walked to force home Travis. Andrew Wood singled to score both Dave and Josh and Saint Nicholas suddenly had an 8-0 lead. Grace Chapel scored 1 run in the bottom of the second to cut the lead to 8-1. Neither team scored in the third inning. With one out, Tom Blatt and Dave Hickin singled in the top of the fourth. After the second out, Josh Smith drove in both Tom and Dave to give Saint Nicholas a 10-1 lead. Grace Chapel did not score in the bottom of the fourth. Andrew Wood reached base to start the top of the fifth and eventually scored to push the Saint Nicholas lead to 11-1. Grace Chapel scored 1 run in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 11-2. Neither team scored in the sixth inning. Austin Owens and Greg Bandelow singled with one out in the top of the seventh. Austin scored on Andrew Wood's single and Greg scored on Keith Williams's single and Saint Nicholas held a 13-2 lead. Grace Chapel failed to score in the bottom of the seventh. Final score: Saint Nicholas 13 Grace Chapel 2
Saint Nicholas's "reward" for defeating Grace Chapel was to immediately play #1 seed Dunkirk Baptist. Dunkirk won two hard fought games over Saint Nicholas during the season. Saint Nicholas did not score in the top of the first. Dunkirk took the lead 2-0 with 2 runs in the bottom of the first. Andrew Wood scored on Matt Taby's sacrifice fly in the top of the second to cut Dunkirk's lead to 2-1. Dunkirk got that run back in the bottom of the second to push their lead to 3-1. Neither team scored in the third inning. Dunkirk added single runs in both the fourth and fifth innings while Saint Nicholas went scoreless resulting in a 5-1 Dunkirk lead after five innings. Saint Nicholas again failed to score in the top of the sixth. Dunkirk, aided by a couple Saint Nicholas errors, scored 5 runs in the bottom of the sixth to open up a 10-1 lead. Nick Demme walked to start the top of the seventh and scored on an Austin Owens single. But, that was the only run Saint Nicholas could manage. Dunkirk prevailed 10-2.
Dropping into the loser's bracket, Saint Nicholas's next opponent was First Lutheran, the #7 seed. The team got a break (thanks to the schedule and to a 45-minute rain delay) after playing two straight games. The team responded well to the break. First Lutheran got on the board first with 1 run in the top of the first to take a 1-0 lead. With one out in the bottom of the first, Austin Owens singled and advanced to second on an outfield error. Keith Williams singled home Austin to tie the game at 1-1. First Lutheran did not score in the top of the second. Jerry Wood singled with one out in the bottom of the second. Andrew Dangin then tripled to score Jerry. Travis Kendall singled home Andrew to give Saint Nicholas a 3-1 lead. First Lutheran answered with 5 runs in the top of the third and took the lead, 6-3. Dave Hickin, Austin Owens, and Keith Williams walked to load the bases in the bottom of the third. Greg Bandelow and Andrew Wood also walked to score Dave and Austin. Matt Taby's single scored Keith to tie the game. Jerry Wood followed with a sacrifice fly to score Greg and give Saint Nicholas the lead back, 7-6. First Lutheran tied up the game at 7-7 with a run in the top of the fourth. Nobody scored until the bottom of the fifth. Dave Hickin walked and Austin Owens followed with a single. After Keith Williams forced Austin at second, Greg Bandelow singled home Dave to give Saint Nicholas the lead. Later, Matt Taby's sacrifice fly scored Keith extending Saint Nicholas's lead to 9-7. First Lutheran did not score in the top of the sixth. Andrew Dangin walked to start the bottom of the sixth and came home on Austin Wood's single to push the lead to 10-7. That was the final score as First Lutheran did not score in the top of the seventh.
Next up in the loser's bracket was #3 seed Grace Brethren. the two teams split their doubleheader just one week earlier. Saint Nicholas got off to a fast start. Dave Hickin, Austin Owens, and Keith Williams all singled to load the bases to start the game. Greg Bandelow walked to force home Dave with the game's first run. Two consecutive fielder's choices cut down Saint Nicholas runners at the plate and left the bases loaded with two outs. They didn't stay loaded long. Jerry Wood's single scored Greg and Andrew Wood and Andrew Dangin's single scored Matt Taby and Saint Nicholas suddenly had a 4-0 lead. Both team's offenses then completely disappeared. Grace Brethren finally broke the scoring drought with 1 run in the bottom of the fourth to make the score 4-1. Neither team scored in the fifth inning. With two outs in the top of the sixth, Greg Bandelow, Andrew Wood, and Matt Taby walked to load the bases. Jerry Wood singled in Greg to boost Saint Nicholas's lead to 5-1. Grace Brethren did not score in the bottom of the sixth nor did Saint Nicholas in the top of the seventh. Grace Brethren's first batter in the bottom of the seventh homered. But, the next three batters made out and Saint Nicholas emerged with a 5-2 win.
Saint Nicholas advanced to the loser's bracket final with that win. The opponent between Saint Nicholas and the championship game was #2 seed Jesus the Divine Word #2 who had swept a doubleheader from Saint Nicholas the Sunday before the tournament. Given that this was to be Saint Nicholas's third game in a row and fifth of the day and that JDW2 (and Dunkirk Baptist) were considered by most people in the league to be a cut above the rest of the teams, most observers felt JDW2 would win this game and most likely win easily. It was anything but easy. Dave Hickin and Austin Owens singled to start the game. After a double-play left Dave at third with two outs, Greg Bandelow's clutch single scored Dave to give Saint Nicholas a 1-0 lead. Nobody scored until the bottom of the second when JDW2 scored twice to jump in front 2-1. Neither team scored in the third inning. JDW2 got a solo homerun in the bottom of the fourth to up their lead to 3-1. Jerry Wood singled to start the top of the fifth. Keith Williams reached base on an error moving Jerry to second. Andrew Dangin singled to load the bases. David Buffin singled home Jerry and Keith to tie the game. Travis Kendall singled home Andrew to give Saint Nicholas the lead. Tom Blatt singled home David and Saint Nicholas held a 5-3 lead. JDW2 went scoreless in the bottom of the fifth. Neither team scored in the sixth inning. Saint Nicholas failed to score in the top of the seventh. JDW2 scored 1 run and had a runner on second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. JDW2 came through with a double and a single to win the game in heart-breaking style, 6-5.
Being one out away from pulling off a huge upset and getting to the championship game and then seeing the lead and the game slip away was devastating. But, after allowing some time to pass, the reality of what the team had accomplished settled in. We beat the two teams in the tournament the seedings said we were supposed to beat. We knocked off the #3 and #4 seeds. And we gave the #1 and #2 seeds, the teams everybody said were a cut above the rest, all they could handle and then some. Finishing the tournament with a 4-2 record and in 3rd place is a tremendous feat. I am very proud of what the team accomplished this year, both in the regular season and in the tournament. It truly was a total team effort as everybody who played made a significant contribution at some point during the year. THANKS GUYS for a GREAT 2016!! Hope to see you back on the field in 2017!!