Good luck beating the Tahoe Twins when the third-year ball club is firing on all cylinders.
Seven semipro baseball teams from across the country learned that the hard way this past week, as the Twins overcame one hiccup to finish 7-1 and win the 18 A Division of the National Adult Baseball Association World Championship Series in Phoenix on Sunday.
“We really played as a team. Everyone knows each other and they play well together, and that was the difference,” said Twins manager Bob Habeger, whose team also won the 18 Rookie Division of the NABA World Series last season. “There might have been better ballplayers out there, but there wasn't a better team in the tournament.”
Aside from one off game en route to the title — a 12-2 loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers — the Twins were in complete control, outscoring opponents by a collective margin of 67-30 in seven games (65-18 in their wins). They collected 96 hits to their opponents' 65, turned 15 double plays while hitting into only four, and recorded 46 strikeouts while fanning only 15 times themselves.
In three years of NABA World Series play, the Twins are a combined 19-3 overall.
“It was pretty impressive really,” said Twins first baseman Jesse Brown, who was named tournament MVP after hitting .543 with three home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.086 slugging percentage.
“We had one game where we played a little flat, and that was our only loss of the tournament. Once the playoff rounds started, we pretty much went out there and dominated. It was someone new every game. We simply played hard and found ways to win.”
Brown wasn't the only Twins hitter to punish the opposing pitching. Leadoff man Bobby Habeger hit .400 with 10 runs and eight RBIs in the tournament, cleanup hitter Steve Derby hit .313 with two home runs, 11 RBIs and a .625 slugging percentage, second baseman Cory Munoz hit .389 with eight runs scores, and Randy Jansen hit .364 with five RBIs.
And yet, the Twins' deep pitching rotation may have been even more impressive.
Regular-season wins leader Jesse Hildebrandt threw two complete games to earn a pair of wins, posting an ERA of 2.00 with 10 strikeouts in 18 innings of work. J.R. Murphy then pitched the Twins past the Ventura Yard Dogs with a complete-game effort in the championship Sunday, earning MVP honors for the game. In 14 2/3 innings total, Murphy struck out 10 and had a 0.61 ERA.
If not having to deal with Murphy or Hildebrandt, the opposition was tasked with facing Joe Thomas, Sean Bernardo or the Twins' only newcomer, Nate Pudwell — none of whom are a walk in the park. Thomas and Bernardo each earned a win while posting an ERA of 2.57 in seven innings, while Pudwell, a late pick-up from the Sacramento Redbirds, picked up two wins, including a complete game, and finished with a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings.
“The guys played great. They really stepped it up,” Habeger said.
The Twins opened the tournament Thursday with a complete-game win from Hildebrandt, 8-0, against the Arizona Thieves. They improved to 2-0 later that day with a 4-2 win against the San Diego Gamecasters.
Friday was a bit of an off day for the Twins, who started with a 7-6 win against the Salt Lake Elite and followed with the 12-2 loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The loss did not sit well. The Twins came back Saturday and thumped the Denver Bulls, 16-2, to earn the No. 3 seed entering the playoff round. They then whipped the Phoenix Cubs, 12-2, in their first playoff game that evening. The next morning, the Twins defeated the So Cal Gamecocks, 9-5, in the semifinal, setting up a championship game against the top-seeded Ventura Yard Dogs, who defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers, 7-3, in their semifinal.
With Murphy dealing, the Twins cruised to a 9-1 rout against the Yard Dogs to take the title.
“J.R. was just dominant,” Habeger said of Murphy's performance in the championship. “He was throwing hard and hitting his locations. He had control of everything.”
Habeger said Derby helped power the Twins past the Bulls, as he hit a grand slam and a solo home run in consecutive at-bats, while Brown hit what might have been the longest home run the manager has ever seen. “And from then on, he was unstoppable,” Habeger said of Brown, who finished the season with a team-high .530 batting average with eight home runs and 53 RBIs in 31 games.