Chris Bernacki prepares to throw a pitch during the first inning.
WP: Chris Bernacki
LP: Tom Conway
The Goats knew they would have to play their best game to beat the undefeated Grays and advance to the finals. They did not.
The Grays scratched out a run in the first when Ken Hartwright reached on an error. The next batter, Tim Sigda, promptly capitalized, knocking in the game's first run and giving the Grays the early lead.
Ultimately, the game was decided in the third, when a pair of Goats' errors led to a three run inning for the Grays, staking them to a 4-0 lead. Meanwhile, Grays' starter, Chris Bernacki was dealing, striking out 7, holding the Goats scoreless through 7 dominant innings.
Storms rolled in late and the game was called after 8 innings. The Grays take the 11-0 victory and advance to the TNB+50 finals next week.
Game photos courtesy of Stu Clark
Plug Uglies 4
WP: Greg Elbaum
LP: Colin Hosley
After weeks of weather delays it looked like Wednesday's round 2 playoff match between the 2nd seed Plug Uglies and 3rd seed Phillies might not happen: morning rains drenched the field at Whalley Park, and though the afternoon skies were clear, the field was a mess. But thanks to the Commissioner, members of the Southwick Parks & Rec team, and many Phils and Uglies, the field was cleaned up and the game was only delayed by 30 minutes.
The Phillies had momentum on their side, having easily defeated the Wonders in round 1. The Plug Uglies hadn't won a game against their ancient rivals dating back to June 2, 2022 (including 3 tough regular season losses this year, and a defeat in the 2022 championship game), and were hungry for a win. "I'll admit it," said Plug manager Chris "Chaka" Scanlon before the game. "The Phils are our daddy."
The Uglies sent their ace Jeff Whitehead to the mound against the always tough and crafty Kenny Sloat. In the 2nd inning the Phillies ran into trouble when the Uglies loaded the bases. Eric Bennett was thrown out at home for the first out. The Uglies loaded the bases again on a Steve Wall single, but the next batter hit a grounder to Sloat, who threw to Ron Totten at the plate, who then threw to Colin Hosley at first. A 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
In the fourth the Uglies starting the scoring when Dave Poppie, who reached on an error and took second base on an overthrow, scored on a Jeff Whitehead single. Plug Uglies 1, Phillies 0
Though each team were able to get runners on base in the next few innings, every potential scoring threat was extinguished by either Whitehead or Sloat without fanfare. The real action started in the top of the 8th when Whitehead, who had given up just 3 hits prior, finally ran into trouble. Andy Klepacki singled, went to 2nd on a Jon Ross walk, followed by a Ron Totten single to load the bases. Paul "Kap" Kaplan hit a grounder to first baseman Steve Wall, who threw home to get the force. With 2 outs and the bases still juiced, Jack Eisenstadt blooped a single to bring Ross home. John Willis added another single to drive Totten home, and the Phils took the lead 2-1. Whitehead secured the last out and finished his night, not only pitching a gem but recording six infield assists and one putout.
With the recurring nightmare of losing a lead to the Phils late in a game happening yet again, the Uglies got to work. Sloat gave up consecutive walks to Whitehead and Matt Boulanger, so the Phils manager gave himself the hook after pitching brilliantly. The call to the bullpen was made and Colin "Hos" Hosley came in to relieve. Up came crafty Eric "Noodles" Bennett, who executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners...but somehow managed to get a single and move Whitehead around 3rd to score. Morriss "Mo" Partee ripped a single to score Boulanger and the Uglies had the lead back 3-2.
In the top of the 9th inning Greg "G-Bomb" Elbaum replaced Whitehead on the mound, hoping to shut the door and end the game. Phils leadoff speedster Micah Winston had other plans, starting the inning with a single and steal of 2nd. With 2 outs Hosley singled and Winston advanced to 3rd. Up came Andy Klepacki, runners at the corners, who hit a grounder to 3rd for what looked like an easy 3rd out. But third baseman Jeff Cabana couldn't get a hold of the ball and made a late throw that Klepacki beat out, scoring Winston and tying the game.
In the bottom of the 9th "Hos" set the Uglies down quietly 1-2-3, and the playoff drama under the lights continued into extra innings, the score tied 3-3.
In the top of the 10th G-Bomb quickly took care of the Phils 1-2-3. In the bottom of the 10th with one out, Elbaum lined a single and quickly stole 2nd base to get into scoring position. Jeff Cabana walked, runners on 1st and 2nd. Whitehead hit into a fielders choice (Cabana out at 2nd), G-bomb to third. With two outs and the tension building, up came Matt Boulanger. The Uglies catcher deposited a shot into left field that scored Elbaum and the Uglies bench erupted: the ballgame was over. After 10 innings it was Plug Uglies 4, Phillies 3. It took the Uglies almost 15 months to finally win a game against the Phighting Phils, but it was worth the wait. A great and well played ballgame all around, easily a TNB+50 post-season classic.
The Uglies will face off against the undefeated and heavily favored Grays on Thursday, September 7 at Mackenzie Stadium in Holyoke for the 2023 TNB+50 crown.
Players of the game: Jeff Whitehead (8 IP, 3 K, 2 ER) & (1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI), Matt Boulanger (2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI), Kenny Sloat (7 IP, 1 K, 2 ER) and Jon Ross (2-3, 1 R, 1 BB)
Game photos courtesy of Plug Uglies