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  • Writer's pictureJosh Smith

ICYMI: Opening Day Sees League Enter New Era

ICYMI is a recap column series for each series, if you want more then... I guess 'you just had to be there.'

What do you do when something has a lot of rust on it? The short answer is: put a lot of hard work into restoring it. You submerge it overnight in white vinegar then scrape it with something harsh, such as steel wool or a metal brush. Then you wrap it with a cloth soaked in white vinegar again and repeat the process if necessary. In extreme cases, more corrosive chemicals like phosphoric acid can be used to remove the rust (if you know what you're doing). Then of course there's some sanding and WD-40 where required. And presto, good as new! But why am I talking about iron oxide? Well, if you're like me, four years of not playing wiffle ball and then suddenly being back on the field - you're feeling two things: happy and a little rusty.

But as I alluded to earlier, being rusty isn't the end of the world. It is possible to restore something that has fallen into a state of neglect. I'm convinced that 2023 will be our best season yet. It's featuring many of the return-to-form features responsible for much of our success in 2018 but also some exciting new rules to make the games quicker and more exciting. Four long years of inactivity are finally being followed up by what will surely be an eventful season. April 29th was filled with familiar sights and sounds. The sound of strikes pounding the sheet metal boards and balls sailing over the outfield wall. Yes, it's good to be back.

Hall of famer and league co-founder Jeremy Litton had the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the first games began. This was a poetic gesture given he threw out the first pitch in the league's inaugural season in 2012, it only seemed fitting he did so this year as well as the league rebooted from a four-year slumber. Two fields were set up on field three at St Cloud Commons Community Park in West Huntington, WV. Rain threatened the games all day but Mother Nature decided to grant us the time to play before the skies opened up eventually in the afternoon once games ended.

Two four-game series match-ups were scheduled for opening day: the Charleston Yellow Sox vs Hurricane Locomotives (on Field A) & the Poca Great Aunt Pearls vs Huntington Aces (on Field B).

Charleston Yellow Sox / Hurricane Locomotives series Recap

In game one of the Sox/Locomotives series, it was clear that former teammates and now management rivals Josh Smith (Yellow Sox) and Greg Sowards (Locomotives) will be responsible for the strategies for many memorable matches this season against one another. They have been playing either together or against one another for nearly 25 years and have assembled great rosters that displayed they could compete against each other evenly. Locomotives drew first blood with a solo shot from Brice Clark in the bottom of the first. But Rick Patterson and Josh Smith would go back-to-back with a pair of home runs to drive in 3 runs to make up for the damage. The Locomotives would only put together another couple runs with a solo HR from Kevin Chattin and another blast from Clark but that would be all. The Sox roared back in the top of the 4th inning with 4 runs with a 2-run blast from Jim Bryant and another 2-run shot from Steven Adkins that would ultimately provide the security needed for Bryant to get the win on the mound and a rare loss for Clark on the hill. Another notable moment for this game is Jim Bryant (Sox) performed the first regulation steal during this game in the 4th inning. Final score, 7-3 Sox victory.

Game two the Locomotives put the old veteran, Greg Sowards, on the bump to throw and he did what he does best - keep hitters guessing. Steven Adkins made his debut on the mound for the Sox and it didn't go as well as the team had planned. He gave up 11 runs through 3 innings pitched before getting his control of his accuracy in the 4th inning but by then the damage had been done and the Yellow Sox were down 11-6. Rick Patterson came in to finish the 4th inning but the Locomotives had already taken 4 walks, scored 11 runs and hit 5 HRs. Adkins vowed after the game to be hitting the bullpen practicing after the outing. On the other side, Sowards pitched a complete game, giving up only 7 runs, 9 hits, 4 K's & 1 BB. Some opportunities were spotted in the Locomotives outfield but they showed improvement as the series waned on. However, the team struck when the iron was hot on offense early on in the game and when the Sox attempted a late rally in this game they were down by too many runs to overcome. Perhaps the most memorable bit of this game was that Josh Smith (Sox) and Brice Clark (Locomotives) hit 3 HRs each in this game. Locomotives won evened the series 11-7.

The Locomotives were riding high from their momentum going into game 3 of the series and Brice Clark found himself back on the mound but he'd be facing off against Josh Smith this time. The Sox not only were coming off a gut-punch of a game but were also down to three players. The game was scoreless in the first inning but then Greg Sowards launched a surprise bomb over the fence in the top of the 2nd inning to put the trains up top. Smith saw no run support on the mound as the Sox put together zero runs. Moreover, the Sox did not manufacture a single hit during this game. Brice Clark threw a no-hitter in this game (5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) and the first of his HWL career. Kevin Chattin blasted two HRs in this game and Jerry Shook hit a solo shot. Julie Smith Meadows boldly stole two consecutive bases in the top of the 4th inning (first time this has occurred). Final score, 6-0 Locomotives.

In game 4, Rick Patterson made his debut start on the mound and did quite well (4 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 5 BB & 4 K) as expected given his performance during Spring Training. The Locomotives put rookie Jerry Shook on the mound in a surprise move. The Sox took the opportunity to avenge their two consecutive loses, particularly the last one in which they were no-hit. Josh Smith led the Sox going off at the plate with a 2-run home run after Rick Patterson drew a walk. After Adkins grounded out, Patterson then hit a home run before the inning came to an end. The fuse was lit and by the time Smith was done with the game he had hit 3 HRs (one of which was a grand slam), taken two walks, and brought in 8 of the teams 12 runs. The clenching runs for the mercy rule in the 4th inning were brought in via a 2-run blast by Smith. The bomb campaign was also supported with a HR by Patterson in the 1st inning and 2 HRs by Adkins. Shook endured on the mound for 2 innings before Sowards pitched in the 3rd and Chattin finished the game in the 4th inning. All told, Yellow Sox mercy ruled Locomotives 12-2 (4 innings).

With that series split 2-2 the major takeaways are that Brice Clark has remained one of, if not the best, player in the league and that although speed is not a crucial function of this format of game, accuracy and junk are elemental to pitching. It will be interesting to see how pitchers progress given the rotation rules and how that will force evolution of 2nd and 3rd pitchers on each team to improve in their skills as the season moves forward.

Aerial shot of Field A from the Yellow Sox/Locomotives game taken via drone by Jeremy Litton

Poca Great Aunt Pearls / Huntington Aces Series recap

We move on now to the other series that took place between the Huntington Aces and the Poca Great Aunt Pearls. These two teams are captained by two phenomenal talents within the league: Jeremy Ray (Pearls) & Paul Hesson (Aces). These two managers have played on tournament teams together and are familiar with one another competitively to where they can anticipate each other's strategies. This series proved how good the games are going to be between these two franchises each time they square off this season as each game was even better than the last.

Game 1 of the series saw the Aces jump take the first bite in the top of the first with a 2-run dinger by Paul Hesson after Jacob Dunkle drew a walk. This turned out to be the only insurance needed for the Aces to ensure victory as Paul Hesson led the team from the mound with a complete game performance. Hesson gave up only 1 ER and 5 walks and struck out 4 batters. The rest was handled by the Aces defense in the outfield. As for the Pearls, they were hitless until the third inning when Ray hit a single. Their only other hit came when Ray hit a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth when the Pearls were attempting to rally but they couldn't gain momentum. The Aces didn't put up another hit or run on the scoreboard after their first inning sting but the damage was done and the Aces bested the Great Aunt Pearls 2-1 in the series opener.

Many were expecting much more offense from both of these teams but the low scoring pitcher's duel was far from a disappointment in game 1. In the following game, the Pearls quickly jumped out front with a pair of home runs (from Jeremy Ray and Wyatt Zuspan) against Aces' Paul Hesson. Wyatt Zuspan made his season debut on the hill for the Pearls and pitched a complete game, giving up only 1 ER, 1 BB and 3 hits while striking out 7. Hesson stayed on the mound through the 3rd inning when Hunter Smith was called in to finish the game. The Aces had kept the game close 2-1 through 3 innings, but in the bottom of the 4th the Pearls came alive. Ray and Zuspan went yard back-to-back to bring in 3 additional runs to make the score 6-1. The Aces answered with a solo poke from Hunter Smith but were unable to pull off a rally. The Great Aunt Pearls tied the series up with a 6-2 final score in game 2 of the series.

Jeremy Ray settled in on the mound for the Pearls in game 3 of this series while Paul Hesson prepared to square off once more. The Great Aunt Pearls established early command in the game with a solo jack in the very first at bat of the game. Ray held the Aces scoreless through the first three innings of the game. The Pearls provided needed run support for Ray's efforts on the mound, including from Ray himself (2-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, & 2 BB), as the team brought in 7 runs. Andrew Westcott had showed up during this game as well and went 2-5 with a single, HR, RBI, SB and a pair of strike outs (an uncharacteristically muted performance by the team's superstar batsman). The Aces finally found their first runs crossing the plate int he bottom of the 4th when Jacob Dunkle hit a 2-run long ball. Hunter Smith would rip a solo homer in the bottom of the 5th inning as the team tried to mount a comeback with Jacob Dunkle making premiere on the mound but it was too little, too late. The Aces fell short 7-3 in this one and the Pearls moved up to a 2-1 record in the series.

Game 4 was the offensive shootout that most of us expected to occur the entirety of the series, only it happened in the last game. But... better late than never. The game started off slow but the Pearls struck first with a HR by Jeremy Ray in the first 1st inning and Zuspan hit a 2-run bomb in the 2nd. Hesson put a one spot on the board for the Aces in the bottom of the 2nd but the Pearls came out swinging in the top of the 3rd by going yard 3 consecutive times (Ray, Zuspan & Eaches) to put them up 6-0. They would put up 3 more runs in the 4th inning with a pair of homers (Westcott & Ray) before the Aces would have their chance to answer. In the bottom of the 5th inning, the Aces put up 6 runs Hunter Smith, Jacob Dunkle & Tyler Pelfrey went long on Wyatt Zuspan before going back to the order and Smith and Hesson inflicting more long ball damage before the rally eventually ended. Ultimately, the Aces fell one run short and the Pearls shut the door on the Aces 9-8 to win the series 3 games to 1.

The league returns for more gameplay on May 27th. The Hurricane Locomotives will square off against the Poca Great Aunt Pearls and the Huntington Aces prepare to take on the Charleston Yellow Sox. Below you can see the updated standings and links to the batting and pitching leaders. Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts until the next games!



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