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Minor League Pirates win in the end

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All I can say is, “Wow!” What an incredible finish it was to the 2014 Minor League season. This was one of the most memorable finishes, in what can now be called the year of the “Pirate Express.” It took them a little longer to get going, but when they did, there was no stopping a determined team of youngsters who just wouldn’t give up. And that determination, talent and a little luck here and there resulted in the Tom’s Market Pirates winning the post-season Minor League tournament after winning only a single game during the regular season. Talk about peaking at the right time!

It began when they won their last regular season game, the only outright season win, with a 9–8 victory over the Sam and Eddie’s Open Books Reds on Saturday, July 26. That still left them in last place for the overall season with a record of 1–3–7 and destined to take on the regular season champion Winds Café Indians in the first round of the post season tourney. Indians coach Kelly Dunn was worried, as he knew of the Pirates’ potential.

The two teams stepped onto the field Monday night, July 28, in one of two semi-final games. When the dust cleared, they had combined for 59 hits, 23 of them for extra bases and exchanged the lead 12 times before the Pirates outlasted the Indians, 25–20 in six innings. Yes, 25–20. Tied 20–20 after the regulation five innings, the Pirates strong offense added five sixth-inning runs and then held off an Indians rally in the bottom half of the inning to advance to the tournament final. The game saw eight Pirate hitters combine for 30 hits, 22 RBIs and 24 runs scored.

The Pirates wasted no time and took an early 6–0 lead in the top of the first, to which the Indians responded with six runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. The Pirates added four more runs in the second, while the Indians put up six more to take a 12–10 lead after only two. The teams stayed close in the third, with the Pirates scoring three and the Indians adding another pair to cling to a slim 14–13 lead. The fourth saw the Pirates add three runs while holding the Indians to only a pair in the bottom of the inning to put the Pirates up 17–16. The teams then evened up the score at 20 in the fifth, with the Pirates crossing the plate three times and the Indians scoring four to send the game to extra innings. The Pirates then sealed the win thanks to a strong sixth inning, adding five more runs to take the win.

Dylan VanHoose and Malcolm Blunt went a perfect 5–5 at the plate for the Pirates with three RBIs. Pirates Shawn VanHoose and Justin Nash both went 4–5 at the plate with four RBIs, while Scout Espinosa went 3–5 and knocked in three RBIs. Meanwhile the Indians’ Lucas Dunn and Luka Sage-Frabotta went 4–4 at the plate with three RBIs each.

Meanwhile, the Reds also advanced with a narrow 5–4 win over the Vintage Truck Dragons in Monday’s other semi-final contest. Brothers Jason and Ethan Knemeyer each went two for three and scored twice, while Keldan Harker added another run, all in the top of the first to go up 3–0. Tallis Onfroy-Curley responded for the Dragons in the bottom of the first with a double and then scored on Liam McClean’s RBI single. After holding the hard hitting Reds scoreless in the second, the Dragons tied the game at 3–3 after brothers Tyson and Kenji Housh both singled and then scored on Rocky Warren’s double. The teams held each other scoreless in the third and fourth before the Knemeyer bothers both scored again in the fifth to take a 5–3 lead. The Dragons tried to rally, when Cameron Bruggeman singled and scored on Onfroy-Curley’s RBI single. But the Reds defense stiffened and shut down the rally to take the win.

The stage was then set for the tournament championship game Tuesday, July 29, which saw the Pirates finish their late season sprint with a 14–6 win over the Reds to earn the title of tournament champions. The game was decided quickly as the Pirates exerted their will early with seven runs in the first two innings while the Reds responded with three of their own. The Pirates added another pair in the third when the Reds scored once. They held the Pirates scoreless in the fourth while scoring once more, but the Pirates then exploded again in the final inning, scoring five more runs. The Reds bottom of the fifth rally scored two runs, but succumbed to the strong Pirates defense on Noah VanHoose’s infield put out of Jason Knemeyer for the final out and the game.

Veterans Emmett Cipollini and Malcom Blunt, along with rookies Scout Espinosa, Justin Nash and brothers, Shawn, Noah and Dyllon VanHoose all led the Pirates, each going 4–4 at the plate, with four RBIs from Cipollini and Noah VanHoose and a pair from Dyllon VanHoose. The Reds were led by Keldan Harker who went 2–3 at the plate, drove in one and scored one run.

And so another season is in the books. All four teams were outstanding and a big thanks to all players, coaches, other volunteers, family members and our sponsors, Tom’s Market, The Winds Café, Vintage Truck and Sam and Eddie’s Open Books. Everyone is invited to an all baseball picnic and awards ceremony at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 16, at Gaunt Park. Please bring a covered dish to share; hot dogs and hamburgers will be provided.


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