Let’s play two: Pirates fend off resilient Reds for title
All of the dads at Fred Rightmier were given the gift of baseball – eight hours worth – on Father’s Day on Sunday.
Dads of Reds’ players were beaming with pride after their sixth-seeded team courageously played seven games in nine days and nearly pried the championship trophy from the Pirates.
Pops rooting for the Pirates were proud because their boys followed the regular-season title with a postseason championship.
The Pirates overcame a 4-0 first-inning deficit in the second game to capture the championship, 18-7. They were rattled earlier Sunday afternoon when the Reds pulled off a surprising 11-8 victory, forcing a deciding game.
“This was great stuff,” said Pirates’ skipper David Hallam. “I really believed that we had a good squad here, and I could trust them that when the game was on the line they would rise and score. They did it all season.”
Rylan Tepper’s two-run homer triggered a four-run Reds’ first inning.
The Pirates didn’t take their first lead until the fourth inning of the second game. Andrew Thiel’s double to right brought in the go-ahead run and a fielder’s choice by Moriah Lane and RBI single to center by Tyler Sharp put the Pirates ahead 8-4.
Reds’ 10-year-old starter Dominic Diana handcuffed the Pirates on three hits through two innings. But Diana, who closed out the first-game victory, incurred a sore arm in the third inning and was relieved by Kraig Ford. After the Pirates pulled within 4-3, the game swung in the bottom of the third when the Reds didn’t score despite three straight hits. Skyler Sheldon took a relay from right fielder Bryce Hallam and fired to catcher Cory Plummer to nail a runner at the plate. Plummer then picked off a baserunner at first base for the final out.
Alex Vogt’s two-run double keyed a three-run fifth as the Pirates built an 11-4 lead.
But the Reds kept battling, fighting back with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. A bases-loaded walk to Kyle Rossi and a RBI fielder’s choice by Andrew Contaxis trimmed the Pirates’ lead to 11-6.
However, the Pirates made the most of their final at-bat, scoring seven times to provide the first breathing room they had all afternoon. Doubles by Kyante Wilson and Vogt and a two-run single by Sharp put the Reds in too deep of a hole.
“We couldn’t keep the hitting going and that slowed us down,” said Reds’ manager John Dalton. “Once they started coming back, they made some plays to keep us from having some good innings. Hats off to the Pirates, they played well.”
After Lane made the final out unassisted, the Pirates tossed their hats and gloves in the air to celebrate their championship.
“We came here to get first, not second,” said Pirates’ shortstop Juliano Sparzo. “They got us in the first game, but we came back knowing that were going to try to win and we did.”
Hallam received a special Father’s Day gift from his boy, Bryce, who only gave up one hit after relieving winning pitcher Tyler Sharp with one out in the fifth.
“It was beautiful. There’s nothing better than that,” said David Hallam, who gave Bryce a bear hug as he came off the field.
After surrendering four runs on five hits in the first inning, Sharp blanked the Reds over the next three innings, giving the Pirate hitters time to find their strokes.
“It was pretty tough, but I kept my focus and started pitching strikes,” Sharp said. “That was basically my dad’s Father’s Day present, winning the championship.”
The opener, however, belonged to the Reds as Tepper went 4 for 4 with two RBIs and Diana knocked in two runs to support the four-hit pitching of Justin Dalton, Charlie Manoukian and Diana.
“That was the best game we’ve played so far, and they underestimated us,” Tepper said. “We played like a team and that’s what matters. I think the first game was our championship because we hadn’t beaten the Pirates yet and we proved we had what it takes to beat them.”
The Pirates tried to battle back after falling behind 11-2, but the Reds had all of the answers. Even John Dalton’s intentional walk of Lane with the bases loaded turned out right.
“It was a managerial move. I’d love to pitch to her every time, but giving up one or giving up four, I’m voting for one every time,” said Dalton, who didn’t want the regular-season home-run champ to bring her team back with one swing. “We kept her in the park and we pitched to her most of the day.”
Manoukian struck out the next batter as the Reds escaped the bases-loaded jam with an 11-4 lead.
A two-run double by Wilson and Sparzo’s sacrifice fly led to three Pirates’ runs in the fifth. And the Pirates even brought the tying run to the plate after pushing across their eighth run in the sixth. But Diana coaxed a groundout to Justin Dalton for the final out.
“We were probably better than the sixth seed in the first place, but we came in and we played. It was a tough way to go,” John Dalton said.
It was a full day of baseball that made a lot of parents proud.