New Jersey Reds – Central 38 Champions MSBL 2004 Fall Classic
by Joe Nardini, Scott Bills, and Ron Pasko
Bill McClintock - loaded for bear
No victory tastes so sweet as when it comes against the previously “unbeatable” foe. Such was the case for six Flemington Orioles players who traveled to Clearwater, Florida last November to compete in the Men’s Senior Baseball League 2004 Fall Classic. Scott Bills, Phil Forman, Bill McClintock, Vinny Pankowski, Ron Pasko, and Bob White represented Hunterdon County’s best from the 30-and-Over leagues in capturing the prestigious Central 38 Tournament Championship.
The New Jersey Reds captured the Central 38 Tournament Championship in Clearwater, Fla
The Os played on a team of fifteen All-Stars comprised mostly of players from the Flemington Reds 40-and-Over team that plays its games locally on Wednesday nights. They were entered into the 38-Central, Division 1 Tournament along with six other teams from across the country. Together they competed as the New Jersey Reds. In all, the tournament consisted of nineteen teams spread over three divisions, with teams from as far away as Denver, Colorado, Detroit, Michigan, and St Louis, Missouri, and as close to MSBL Headquarters as Clearwater, Florida. In all, three teams from New Jersey competed in the tournament, one team in each MSBL division.
Following a six-game Round Robin, or qualifying round of competition, seedings for tournament play depended on three different rating categories: won-lost record, tournament points, and runs-scored-against. A victory in Round Robin play earned a team 2 points in the standings, a tie counted for one point. While a favorable won-lost record can enable a team to win its division in the qualifying round, tournament seedings generally come down to point accumulation. In 2004 the Reds attained the number one seed with a 5-0-1 record, giving them 11 points. The New Jersey Redbirds, who won the Division 2 Round Robin, took the second seed with a 5-0 record and 10 points. In case of identical records and point totals, runs-scored-against would determine final seeding for the championship round.
Division winners and other teams with the highest point totals from the Round Robin competition ended the week in a series of single-elimination, head-to-head contests to decide the tournament championship. And therein lay the drama for the 2004 38-Central Tournament.
To understand the reason for that, a brief recounting of the Central Jersey MSBL regular season in 2004 is in order. The New Jersey Redbirds’ roster comprised players from various CJ-MSBL teams that had consistently beaten the Flemington Orioles during the spring and summer of 2004. The Orioles’ combined record against those teams was 3-7. As fate would have it, the two teams that met in the 38-Central Tournament Final were the New Jersey Reds and the New Jersey Redbirds.
Both teams moved through their qualifying rounds without a loss. Little did the players on either team know at the time, but that the stage was gradually being set for what amounted to a grudge rematch at week’s end.
The Reds tuned up for that game of destiny by scoring runs in bunches throughout the week. Against the Tuscaloosa Tornadoes and the Chesapeake Marlins on the opening day of Round Robin play, the Reds swept a morning-afternoon doubleheader by the combined score of 41-11. The Reds became human just long enough in their third game, scoring only ten runs on 16 hits while skidding to a 10-10 tie versus the Eastern Pennsylvania Express on Day #2.
Ron Pasko putting metal
to the pebble
That, however, was to be the closest that any 38-Central opponent would come to beating the on-fire Reds in the qualifying round. They “bounced back” on Day #3 with a 23-6 trampling of the St. Louis Paradigm, behind a 23-hit attack, moving them into the last day of the Round Robin as the team to beat in Division 1.
On Day #4 the Reds again swept a morning-afternoon doubleheader, on what proved to be their first real day of hard work, beating the Detroit Diamondbacks 8-3 in the opener and taking a hard fought nightcap against the Asheville Orioles 8-7. Against Detroit the Reds blew open a taut 4-3 contest by scoring 4 runs in the top of the 8th inning. Flemington Os Scott Bills (2-4, 1 run, 1 RBI), Bill McClintock (2-4, 1 run, 1 RBI), and Phil Forman (3-4, 2 RBI) contributed seven of the Reds’ 13 hits to ice the win.
Their second game that day, versus the Asheville Orioles, tested the Reds’ resolve, as they withstood a late-game rally to sneak away with the one-run victory. Again, the hometown Os belted out seven of the team’s 11 hits. However, it was a stellar defensive play by Vinny Pankowski, Phil Forman, and Bill McClintock that saved the victory in the top of the 8th inning.
|MSBL Fall Classic - 38 Central
Riding an 8-4 lead into the 8th inning, the Reds surrendered two runs on an error, two wild pitches, a sacrifice fly, and a ground out. With two out and runners on first and second, a double to left-center scored the runner from second and sent the runner from first scampering all the way around the bases for what would have been the tying run. The relay from Pankowski-to-Forman-to-McClintock cut down the runner at the plate, ending the game in typical Flemington Os heroics, and sending the Reds into the championship round undefeated.
Overall on the day, Flemington hitters proved to be the difference between winning and losing. Scott Bills had 3-7, with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI; Bill McClintock had 3-7, 2 runs, and 2 RBI; and Phil Forman 5-7, and 6 RBI. Also, in the second game, Vinny Pankowski had 1-3, with 1 run scored, and Bob White had 2-3 and 1 RBI.
With a memorable week of winning baseball under their belts, the Reds moved into the championship round clicking on all cylinders. In the opening, quarter-final round, they made short work of the High Spire Yankees, 7-0, behind a 14-hit attack that again featured Flemington Orioles stars, Ron Pasko (2-3, 2 runs), Scott Bills (3-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI), Vinny Pankowski (1-3, 1 run, 1 RBI), and Bill McClintock (3-3, 4 RBI).
In their semi-final game, the Reds took an early 4-0 lead and recovered from a 5-run Denver Pelican 4th inning (didn’t realize they have pelicans in Denver) to tie the game in the 7th at 7-7, and eventually win it with a run in the bottom of the 10th.
Hence, the stage was set for a Reds-Redbirds, winner-take-all final for the tournament championship. The Reds continued their hot hitting through the first four innings of the championship game, scoring single runs in the bottom of the 1st and 2nd innings and five more in the bottom of the 4th after the Redbirds had tied the score in the top half of the stanza.
Scott Bills & Andy Vazquez
display the championship trophy
In the Reds’ 1st, Pankowski doubled home Bills who had walked, all with two out. In the 2nd, Lou Velez’ fielder’s choice chased home Dick Harvey who had singled and stolen second. After the Redbirds knotted the score with two of their own in the top of the 4th, the Reds answered immediately and loudly with a 5-run outburst in the bottom half of the inning. Singles by Pankowski and Mike Maconi, sandwiched around walks to McClintock and Harvey and a sacrifice by Forman did the job.
The score stood at 7-2 through the late innings when the two teams traded single runs in the 7th and 8th. The Reds padded their advantage in the bottom of the 7th when Mike Maconi, who had 3 RBI in the game, drew a bases loaded walk.
With the Reds leading 8-3 in the top of the 9th, the Redbirds managed to score two meaningless runs on four singles and a walk. However, a pop fly to the pitcher and a force out at second base sealed the deal for good, sending the Reds back north as tournament winners and leaving six Flemington Orioles in particular with a warm glow of vindication.