Lightning Strikes, and So Do the Retif Oilers, at the American Legion World Series
Oilers Pounce Early in Their Second Game, Holding Off South Carolina, 5-2
The Retif Oilers are two-for-two and batting a thousand at the American Legion World Series in Shelby, NC.
On Friday, Retif beat the Northeast team from Connecticutt, 2-1. On Saturday, Retif struck before the lightning did at Keeter Stadium with the Oilers staking a 5-2 win over the Southeast team from Chapin-Newberry, SC. The Southeast regional champions arrived at the World Series with an undefeated record that boasted of 28 wins, zero losses.
The Oilers play their third and final “pool” game against the Great Lakes team from Midland, Michigan on Sunday evening. First pitch is approximately 7:30 p.m. (6:30 in New Orleans). The Oilers know they control their own destiny and a victory over the Great Lakes team (1-1) guarantees that Retif will be one of the four survivors to play in the semifinals on Monday. The two winners of the semifinal games will meet Tuesday evening for the World Series championship.
What this all means is that the collective angst level is increasing among the many parents, grandparents, and friends who made the trek to Shelby to support the Boys from Banks. The Oilers’ fan base, including those who could not make the trip to Shelby — but are keeping up with all the action by watching and/or listening to live streams of the games from wherever they are — will have to find something else to chew on while cheering for the Louisiana team, as fingernails won’t cut it.
Saturday’s game between Retif and South Carolina had all the signs of two titans going after each other in a sumo wrestling pit. Both teams had a bye on Thursday; on Friday, they both won with identical 2-1 scores. Retif beat the Northeast team, while the Southeast team snagged a walk-off win over the Great Lakes team from Midland, MI. Down 1-0 with three outs left, the Chapin-Newberry team scored one run that tied the game. Then, with the bases loaded, the winning run was walked in. The Great Lakes team Retif will play Sunday had a bye on Saturday to clear the cobwebs.
But back to the Louisiana and South Carolina game. Retif had not encountered a team all season that started off with two consecutive bunts. The Oilers’ defense was caught by surprise on the first bunt, a perfect roller that skidded down the third base line and suddenly braked. Third baseman Hayden Fuentes picked it up and threw to first baseman Dan Edmund but it wasn’t even close. The runner was safe by 10 minutes.
When the second Carolina batter squared around for a sacrifice bunt, successfully fielded by starting pitcher Brandon Briuglio, the first runner was on second base. You could hear an Oiler fan, who apparently thinks consecutive bunts are for sissies and have no place in baseball, shout, “Hit the ball!” A passed ball promoted the runner to third base with one out. A grounder to second baseman Alex Galy was thrown to first for the sure second out. But the runner on third scored and the Southeast team was up 1-0 when the top of the first inning ended.
In the bottom of the first, Retif showed their grit. Nick Ray led off with a single; Briuglio walked; Ben Hess singled to left field, plating Ray; Trent Forshag hit into a double play, but Briuglio advanced to third base. Scott Crabtree knocked an RBI double to right center, scoring Briuglio. Two runs on three hits with one left on base and Retif was coming back for more in the second inning.
Fuentes smacked a double to lead off the bottom of the second for Retif. Galy grounded out but advanced Fuentes to third base. Harrison Daste’s single to left field plated Fuentes. With one out, the top of the batting order returned and Nick Ray’s stick hits his second of three singles, advancing Daste to second base. After Briuglio struck out swinging for out number two, Hess stepped up to the plate and hit his second single, this one to right field, scoring Daste from third base. Forshag popped up to end the inning that produced two more runs on three hits, with Retif taking a 4-1 lead.
Scoring four runs in the first two innings took some of the pressure off Briuglio, who pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on six hits. He walked two batters and didn’t strike out any.
“I just went in and pounded the zones,” the Jesuit senior said after the game. “I was just trying to keep the ball low and let my defense play, and they played great.”
Coach Joey Latino affirmed that his instructions to Briuglio included pounding the strike zone.
“When Brandon is at his best, he’s getting a lot of ground ball outs,” said Coach Latino. “He kept the ball down, he got his curve ball and his fast ball over for strikes. The main thing he did is that he got ahead in the count, a lot. The four runs we put up for him in the first two innings were huge. It allowed him to settle in, relax, he didn’t put too much pressure on what he had to do, and he just relied on his defense to play behind him.”
Coach Latino was confident that Briuglio could have pitched a complete nine inning game. But for the lightning, accompanied by some sprinkles, that crept up on Shelby in the seventh inning. Baseball doesn’t fool around with lightning and the players quickly came off the field and remained in the dugout until the all-clear signal was given 58 minutes later to resume the game.
“The rain delay was the last thing we wanted because Brandon was only at 78 pitches in seven innings and throwing effectively,” said Coach Latino. “We had Hayden ready and I told him after about an hour that the move was going to be made. It’s too long for Brandon to sit in one spot. And Hayden is a strike thrower. He came in and did exactly what Brandon did — he kept the ball down, let his defense work behind him, and he got us through the last two frames.”
Fuentes allowed two hits and a walk. He didn’t have any strike outs, a rare game in which Retif struck out no one. (Five Oilers struck out.)
In the minutes leading up to the weather delay, South Carolina scored their second run in the top of the seventh. With runners on first and second and one out, Carolina was threatening. Coach Latino called time out and strolled to the mound.
“I went out to the mound basically to set our defense,” he explained. “I said if they double steal, we were going to throw to box that guy out at second. But after that base hit that loaded the bases, I knew the guy coming up was a good fastball hitter. We threw a curve early in the count. He got his hands started a little early and that’s what rolled him over and got the easy ground ball to first base.”
The grounder went through the legs of the runner making it difficult to field. But Dan Edmund, a southpaw, plays first base for a very good reason. “Dan is about as good as they come defensively,” said Coach Latino. “He is one of the best if not the best I’ve ever coached at that position.”
When a reporter asked Latino what makes Edmund so good, the coach replied: “His hands, his dedication to detail, he’s going to practice just like he plays. He works on all the little nuances of playing first base. And I can’t tell you how many times… he’s either fielding a ground ball or picking a ground ball out of the dirt like he did in the eighth when Alex (Galy) threw the ball across. That’s a tough play for a first baseman to pick that out.”
Retif had a collective 12 hits versus eight for South Carolina. In addition to Nick Ray’s three singles, three Oilers, including Edmund, Hess, and Fuentes, each had two hits. One of Fuentes’s hits was that second inning double. Notching one hit apiece were Forshag, Crabtree (a double), and Daste.
As for strategy in Sunday’s game against Great Lakes, Coach Latino issued a standard respone: “We’re still going to focus on what we have to do. And that’s coming out and playing our best baseball. We just want to focus squarely on what we are doing.”
And what those Oilers are doing, they’re doing very well.
American Legion World Series: Statistics Summary, Teams Stats, Individual Stats
The New Orleans Advocate: Retif tops Chapin-Newberry, South Carolina, moves to 2-0 in American Legion World Series
ShelbyStar.com: New Orleans nabs 2nd win at ALWS, topping South Carolina 5-2