By Benito Vila
Having the last at-bat finally made a difference for the home team last Thursday, T&S Mott rallying from three runs down in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Sag Harbor Liquors 8-7 in Mashashimuet Park and walk off with the 2009 Sag Harbor Mens’ Fastpitch League championship. The title is Mott’s first since 2005, the team also taking the league trophy home in 2001, 2002, and 2003.
Back-to-back losses to Liquors in the finals in 2007 and last year motivated Mott throughout the season, even though Liquors took this year’s regular season match-ups two games to one. Team manager Tim Mott said afterwards, “Going in, we knew if we could limit our mistakes in the field, we had a chance to win. We just had to keep from giving them at-bats they didn’t deserve; their line-up is too good for that.”
In each of the regular season games and the first three playoff games, the “visiting” team came away with the win. That left Mott up, two games to one, victories in game one and three giving them a slim advantage.
That also made Mott, the home team Thursday, more intent to get off to a good start. And the team responded in the field, recording a one-two-three first inning behind pitcher Bob Burden. In the second, shortstop Mike Semkus made a diving stop up the middle, turning a sure RBI single into an inning-ending force out.
Liquors Leads, Mott Comes Back
Liquors broke through in the top of the third, a two-out single by Alex Tekulsky and a double by Chris Schiaffino knocking in the game’s first run. Liquors’ lead was short lived, Mott scoring four times in the bottom of the third to move ahead 4-1.
The Mott rally was sparked by newcomer Tyler Gilbride, who legged out a double on a line drive into right center. Liquors’ ace Kelly Fox induced a pair of pop-ups to put pressure back on Mott, Semkus came through with an RBI single to tie the score.
Keith Schulmann followed Semkus with a triple to put Mott up 2-1 and Sean Mott followed Schulmann with a line-drive home run to give his team some breathing room. Conferring with her infield, Fox carefully walked Mike Labrozzi, who had homered three times in the series, and retired Fred Marienfeld on a grounder to end the inning
Despite yielding a pair of two-out hits, Burden kept Liquors off the board in the top of the fourth. Fox did the same in the bottom of the frame, a strikeout and a pop-up leaving Mott runners at first and third. Both pitchers were stingy again in the fifth, Liquors going one-two-three and Mott making nothing of a two-out walk.
Liquors Ties, Then Goes Ahead
In the sixth, Liquors tied the score, a lead-off single by Schiaffino and a Joe Sullivan triple rousing the visitors’ side. A sacrifice fly by Andy Tuthill made the score 4-3, but Liquors wasn’t done, Jeremy Karl ripping a single, advancing on a passed ball and scoring on a single by Brendan Fennell.
The game now 4-4, Burden induced an infield pop-up for the second out, but Fennell moved Liquors closer to the lead in taking third on a wild pitch. The pressure on, Burden induced another pop-up to get out of the inning.
Fox saw her infield put a runner on with one out in the bottom of the sixth and then turn a bunt into a double play to cut short a Mott comeback. The first out of the double play came at first, third baseman Brian Anderson cleanly fielding the bunt and throwing to Fennell at first. Fennell fired the ball back across the infield to Schiaffino, who had moved over from shortstop to cover third, keeping Mott from making a move.
The play enlivened Liquors’ side even more, momentum swinging rapidly to the visitors when Carl Johnson reached on an error and Eddie Palomo put Liquors up 5-4 with a double to left. Tekulsky cracked a sharp single to score Palomo and moved to third on a groundout and a passed ball. A walk to Sullivan, left runners at first and third with one out and brought Tuthill up to hit.
Known as “King Tut” for his long ball hitting, Liquors’ dugout exploded with expectation. With Burden working carefully, Tuthill had little to hit. Suddenly finding a pitch in his zone, Tuthill lined a shot into right field that was snagged, but Tekulsky alertly tagged and scored to put Liquors up 7-4.
Sullivan took second on the throw home, leaving Liquors with a runner in scoring position with two outs for the fifth time in the game. Once again the Mott defense made the play it needed, second baseman Mike Daniels leaping to snare a Karl liner to end Liquors’ rally.
Mott Makes it 7-7
Gilbride led off the Mott seventh, his bench egging him to get on any way he could. With two hits in the game, Gilbride patiently waited on Fox to throw strikes and found himself at first, drawing a walk on five pitches.
Brendan Mott, another newcomer, stepped in to pinch hit and let Liquors know there was still a lot of game left, lining a home run to right center to cut the lead to one.
Liquors’ side suddenly quiet, Fox battled back inducing an infield groundout. Little could anyone have imagined that would be Liquors last out of the season, Semkus using an excuse-me swing to lift a ball softly over the second baseman and Schulmann quickly tying the score with yet another triple.
The go-ahead run at third, long ball threats Sean Mott and Labrozzi due up, Liquors’ infield conferred with Fox. The meeting broke up with Mott and Labrozzi being waved on, by way of intentional walks, setting up a force play at the plate or a home-to-first double play and bringing Marienfeld to the plate.
The Happy Walk-Off
Marienfeld, the Mott first baseman, had hit a productive fifth for much of season, but was one-for-13 in the series and came up determined to make good. Fox came after him immediately and his quick bat responded, lining a single between short and third to bring in Schulmann and set off the Mott celebration.
In enjoying the moment, Marienfeld said, “After Tuesday, when Mike hit his home runs, I knew they might do something like that. I knew I’d get a chance to come through.”
Burden, who in coming away with the win will soon find his team on the trophy for the fourteenth time in 20 years, added, “This team showed a lot of heart all year. It made the season and the series. Even though it didn’t come easy, everyone kept doing what they had to do. The way everything worked out, we’ll be joking about Semkus’ swing and patting Fred on the back for a long time.”