Summer Baseball: Rural Baseball Rolls the Dice at Regionals
By The Chronicle
CALGARY, Alberta — The final result wasn’t exactly what they were hoping for but the Dirtbags won’t soon forget their experience here at the Senior Babe Ruth Pacific Northwest Regional tournament.
Last week the Dirtbags took their sometimes eccentric brand of baseball over the border in an attempt to punch their ticket to the World Series. Playing at Optimist Park in Calgary, Alberta, Rural Baseball Inc. wound up winning two games and losing two games in pool play and tied for the fourth best record as they sought to reach the semifinal round of the tournament. Those hopes were dashed, however, due to the tie breaker formula that placed precedence on runs allowed against common opponents. The host team, Calgary’s AAA Blues, also finished pool play 2-2 but managed to shutout Newcastle, Wyoming while the Dirtbags were only able to defeat Newcastle 15-4 in five innings. That four run differential wound up being the balance that brought the Rural Baseball season to an end.
“What can I say? That’s just the way it goes in tournaments like this. We had a couple of innings throughout the week where things got away from us and that was our demise,” said Rural Baseball coach Jordan Nailon. “The boys came ready to play every day and let it all hang out when we needed to. It was just a couple of bad breaks that doomed us in the end.”
The Dirtbags opened up their international affair with a comeback victory in extra innings over British Columbia on Tuesday. Rural Baseball held a 3-2 lead after two innings but British Columbia went off for three runs in the fourth inning to stake out a lead and then added two runs in both the fifth and sixth innings for insurance purposes. Trailing 9-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning the Dirtbags went to work in clawing victory from the jaws of defeat. Kyle Hamilton and Mekhi Morlin got the rally going by drawing back-to-back bean balls before Chase Staup and A.J. Volk milked consecutive walks. When Bubbles Cantrell came up with two outs and the bases loaded, he hammered a ball into the left-centerfield gap for a three-run double that cut the Dirtbags’ deficit to just two runs.
In the seventh inning, with three outs left to get two runs, Ben Woodrum led things off with a double before Matt Kurzeika brought him home with a triple down the right field line. Hamilton then drove in Kurzeika on a fielder’s choice ground ball that sent the game into extra innings. Volk led off the eighth inning with a single before Seth Butler drew a walk and Cantrell was handed an intentional free pass. With one out, Woodrum came to the plate as B.C. brought an outfielder in to the infield grass to try to cutoff the winning run. When Woodrum drove a ball deep into the right-center gap, no defender could come close and Volk trotted home to score the game-winning run.
Matt Kurzeika earned the win on the mound with a four inning relief appearance that outlasted a 45-minute rain delay. Kurzeika finished with four strikeouts, and two hits allowed.
“That was a heckuva way to start the tournament,” noted Nailon. “We have a saying in this program that when you play like peanut butter and jelly, you get PB and J but when you play like steak, you get steak. We certainly got our fill of grilled cow and ribs that night.”
Wednesday was not as kind to the Dirtbags as they ran face first into a juggernaut squad from Columbia Basin. The Riverdogs, a team full of current and future college baseball players, defeated Rural Baseball 13-1 with 11 damaging hits over five innings. A.J. Volk was 2-for-3 at the plate with a double and scored the Dirtbags’ only run. Seth Butler added a double off the wall in deep right-centerfield to score Volk.
“That just wasn’t our day. The Riverdogs sport an impressive lineup and we didn’t give them our best showing. I’m pretty sure we got theirs, though,” noted Nailon.
After enjoying a day off to explore the big city on Thursday, the Dirtbags were back in action on Friday. They opened up with a morning game against the co-host Calgary Blues AA squad and fell 9-3. Rural Baseball held a 3-0 lead after three innings before the AA Blues put up a three spot of their own in the fourth frame. The game remained tied into the sixth inning when Calgary exploded for six runs on two hits and a buffet of free passes.
Cole Bowers threw well in relief for the Dirtbags with two strikeouts and no runs allowed over 1 ⅔ innings. Cantrell turned in two hits, a run scored and a RBI in the game and Hamilton was 2-for-3 at the plate. Kurzeika added a triple and Volk scored a run after notching a single and stealing a base.
“That was one that had all the makings of a win early on but baseball is a cruel mistress,” said Nailon. “Tip of the cap to Calgary as they weathered a tough start and made us pay for our mistakes.”
In the afternoon game the Dirtbags rebounded with a 15-4 defeat of Newcastle, Wyoming. Volk earned the win on the mound with a four inning performance where he struck out seven batters and allowed just two earned runs. Todd Tabor spun a scoreless inning in the fifth to preserve the win.
Offensively, Rural Baseball batters pounded out 13 hits on their way to a mercy rule victory in five innings. Jackson Hull, of Kalama fame, and Hamilton both went 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and three runs driven in. Volk was 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, two runs scored and a RBI, while Staup went 2-for-4 with two runs and a RBI. Butler, Woodrum, and Cam Bowen also drove in runs with hits in the contest.
“Even though we didn’t know it at the time, that game was about as good of a way to send these boys off into the sunset as I could imagine,” said Nailon. “We’ve done some things and been some places that only our dugout knows about. Our seniors helped create a culture that I’d put up against anyone, any day. I’m grateful to these guys for all that they’ve given to the Rural Baseball program.”
In the Semifinals Calgary AAA defeated Columbia Basin 9-6 and Primetime, out of Vancouver, downed Calgary AA 14-4. Primetime then topped Calgary AAA 6-4 in the championship in order to seal their spot in the World Series in Mobile, Alabama next month.
DIRTBAGS 10, TEAM B.C. 9 (8 inn.)
British Columbia 011 322 00 — 9 6 1
Rural Baseball 120 004 21 — 10 9 4
Batteries: British Columbia — Salas, Lazecki (3), Senay (7) and Karnidas; Rural Baseball Inc. — Bubbles Cantrell, Matt Kurzeika (5) and Seth Butler
RIVERDOGS 13, DIRTBAGS 1 (6 inn.)
Columbia Basin 041 224 X — 13 11 0
Rural Baseball 001 000 X — 1 6 2
Batteries: Columbia Basin — Bigson, Hesse (6) and Ramirez; Rural Baseball Inc. — Tristen Lawrence, Mekhi Morlin (4), Ben Woodrum (5), Todd Tabor (6) and Seth Butler
BLUES AA 9, DIRTBAGS 3
Rural Baseball 102 000 0 — 3 8 1
Calgary 000 306 X — 9 9 2
Batteries: Rural Baseball Inc. — Tyler Nelson, Cole Bowers (4), Cam Bowen (6), Ben Woodrum (6) and Seth Butler; Calgary — Barton, Hatenberg (3), Kelly (7) and Bender
DIRTBAGS 15, KNIGHTS 4 (5 inn.)
Rural Baseball 350 07 — 15 13 5
Newcastle (WY) 100 30 — 4 2 4
Batteries: Rural Baseball Inc. — A.J. Volk, Todd Tabor (5) and Seth Butler; Newcastle, WY — Tystad, Williams (2), Stevens (5) and Darrow