The first games of the Final Four Double Elimination format in the 2016 Atlantic Stewardship Bank Inter-Church Softball League are complete. In the preview, it was written that both games would come down to “great offense vs great defense”. Over at Lincoln School in Wyckoff, it was UnityOne against top seeded Pompton Plains. Coach Scott Botbyl says, “UnityOne’s defense is always so impressive, we have played many games against them thru the years where the final score is in the single digits, my boys and I got to watch them play outstanding defense in the second round when they knocked out Repeat Champion Preakness, and with so many people in the league talking about the Pompton offense, I wish I could have seen how this game played out”. It sounded like the UnityOne defense was able to silence the Pompton Plains bats, as UnityOne got the victory in a low-scoring game. Defense was also the deciding factor in the other game over in North Haledon between Midland Park and ALRC. In the preview for this game, it was mentioned that, “ever since the Green&White joined the league 12 years ago, this was the 6th playoff meeting between ALRC and Midland Park, that’s more than any other team”. Playing the same team that often means a lot of familiarity with each other, as the players on both rosters have been quite similar over the past the decade. Coach Botbyl joked “when I gave Coach Frank my lineup, he probably didn’t need it, as he probably could have predicted it”. Only one difference for Midland Park, and that was on the mound. Botbyl teased Midland Park during batting practice “he doesn’t have the trademark orange Midland Park shirt, they brought in a ringer at pitcher, lol”. A MP player joked “he showed up asking both benches, which team is Midland Park”. Funny stuff. The pitcher was Frank’s brother Ben, who has probably been in the league twice as long as me. With everyone laughing, you could tell it was going to be a fun game, and that was certainly needed as players found out some extremely sad news. A special pre-game prayer took place regarding the passing of Genzink at only age 30 and well-known with several players, over in Michigan. Both churches filled the stands with support, both teams gave it their all, it was a fantastic atmosphere. It’s just too bad the game wasn’t closer, but maybe somehow these two will meet again in the next few days.
Both teams were coming off very emotional second round playoff wins. For Midland Park, they came back with 10 runs in the last two innings, to come back from a 12-4 deficit and stun HeritageOne. For ALRC, Coach Botbyl had said in the preview “our three previous trips to the Final Four, we have always lost the first game, and I think it’s because we have emotional let downs the very next game and hopefully we learned from those past experiences”. The Green&White were coming off the best win in team history, preventing Faith Hill from reaching the Final Four after 20+ consecutive years. Everything seemed to go right for ALRC on Wednesday, they couldn’t do anything wrong, but unfortunately for the Green&White it felt like quite the opposite, as just 48 hours later, it seemed like they couldn’t do anything. For ALRC, it was basically an instant replay of their 2012 Final Four Game against Sixers. On that day in North Haledon back in 2012, ALRC was coming off their one and only Final Four win, over Midland Park, and a win over the Sixers would send ALRC to their first ever championship game. They lost 5-1 on that day four years ago, as ALRC scored one run in the first inning, and was then held scoreless for the remainder of the game.
Dan Bosgra hit a lead-off single in the top of the first inning. Dave DeWaalMalefyt also hit a single. Brett Fritzsch’s RBI single scoring Dan Bosgra gave ALRC a quick 1-0 lead. Midland Park answered right back in the bottom of the first inning with 3 runs, highlighted by a 2-run HR off the bat of Keith Spoelstra. When these two teams had met during the regular season, Midland Park won 14-5. Botbyl called the game “the Keith Spoelstra show” as he was 4 for 4, made several highlight reel plays defensively and was a HR short of the cycle. Well, he took care of the HR in his first at-bat this time.
In the top of the 2nd inning, Joe Bosgra hit a single, but ALRC was unable to score. Midland Park added two more runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning, thanks to an RBI single by Keith Spoelstra, to increase their lead to 5-1.
In the top of the 3rd inning, ALRC got singles from Jason Young and Brett Fritzsch, but ALRC was unable to score. Midland Park had their best inning of the game in the bottom of the 3rd inning to put the game away early, scoring 7 runs! When Midland Park won during the regular season, they put the game away early with 7 runs in the first inning. Coach Botbyl says, “I have been saying it for a long time, they are known for their hitting, they are so consistent with their offense, it seems like they have no problem at all, scoring 12-18 runs, and sometimes they make it look so easy”. Keith Spoelstra did hit a double in this inning, but it was Josh Wisse delivering the big HR as Midland Park now had a commanding 12-1 lead.
In the top of the 4th inning, ALRC got another single from Joe Bosgra, but they were unable to score. The ALRC defense finally held Midland Park scoreless in the bottom of the 4th inning.
In the top of the 5th inning, ALRC got a single from Dan Bosgra, but they were unable to score. The ALRC defense had their best inning of the game in the bottom of the 5th inning, as Midland Park was sent down in order 1-2-3.
In the top of the 6th inning, ALRC got a single from Scott D’Alessandro, but ALRC was unable to score. Midland Park added two more runs in the bottom of the 6th inning to increase their lead to 14-1. In Keith Spoelstra’s 4th and final at-bat of the game, he needed a triple to hit for the cycle. And of course, he did just that, hitting for the cycle to lead his team to victory. Botbyl has been heard saying often “he is the best player in the league, I even told my son, watch Keith play today, you’ll learn something”. During batting practice, 9-year old Brandon asked his father, “which one is Keith again”. I told Keith to wave his arm to Brandon, “that’s Keith”. I wrote in the preview, maybe my son can be viewed like Keith 10 years from now as the best player in the league, a father can dream right. But, I did know that Brandon got to watch the best today, and hopefully he learned. Actually, everyone got treated to yet another “Keith Spoelstra show”, and soon he will be off to the military, he will certainly be missed by everyone in the league, but what a role model. We all get to brag that we got to take the field and play with him.
In the top of the 7th inning, ALRC loaded the bases thanks to singles by Joe Bosgra, Dan Bosgra, and Dave DeWaalMalefyt, but yet again, ALRC was unable to score.
Basically, defense was indeed the story of this game, but it was Midland Park playing outstanding defense, not ALRC. Coach Scott Botbyl says, “When we scored just 1 run four years ago against the Sixers, our guys were just so tired from having played over 30 innings in one week, there were many lazy flyouts in that game, but that wasn’t the case today, we hit the ball hard, they just made so many great plays, I feel like each player contributed for them in the field”. Frank at 3B, Ron at 2B, Ken at 1B, Keith at SS, Josh and Andrew in LF and RF, they each made at least one play where you thought to yourself “wow”, and Ben really pitched great, because most teams might struggle if they have to go to a back-up pitcher, and that wasn’t the case today as Ben really stepped up, but the Midland Park player that made the most web-gems by far was CF Brian Sietsma. Some of his catches certainly took away extra base hits, and at least 1 or 2 of those are HR’s against anyone else in this league.
A complete and total team effort by Midland Park to get the win and they will now face UnityOne on Monday with a trip to the championship game on the line. ALRC will go up against Pompton Plains in an elimination game.
Only one player posted a PERFECT box score for ALRC. He was also PERFECT defensively too, as no one on the other team recorded a stolen base, and that’s important to note because the ALRC defense did make a couple uncharacteristic errors. Joe Bosgra was 3 for 3 with 3 singles. Coach Botbyl feels that “Joe played absolutely outstanding, both hitting, and behind the plate in the heat, it’s too bad we didn’t help him out and that includes me too”.
In four trips to the Final Four, ALRC is now 0-4 all-time in the first game of the double elimination format. The Green&White are now 2-4 all-time against Midland Park in the playoffs.
The Green & White now have a 9-15 record during the Play-offs. They are 4-2 in the first round. They are 4-6 in the second round. They are now 1-7 in the Final Four.