The Highlanders won the men’s Island Softball League championship for the third time in their history by defeating the Blazers two games to none in the best-of-three series Thursday night at Veterans Park.
The matchup between the league’s top two teams played out over two markedly different games.
In the opener, the top-seeded Highlanders (21-1) jumped out to a 12-0 lead after four innings, and closed out a 16-8 win. The second-seeded Blazers (17-5), plagued by defensive mistakes throughout, scored all of their runs in the fifth inning and seemed poised for a stirring comeback, but their sudden flame burned out quickly.
The Highlanders had a dream start, scoring seven runs in the first inning. Ryan Kurth drove in the first two with a triple, Kyp Cooperrider doubled in Kurth, Aksel Cooperrider brought in his brother, and Russell Hodson completed the rally with a two-run double. Kyp Cooperrider and Jeremy Scheffer knocked in a pair of runs with two deep flies in the second inning, and Todd Hitchings had a key double in a three-run fourth.
The Blazers finally got untracked in the fifth by manufacturing eight runs with nine hits. Mike Mussell led off with a double, but the rest, from Billy Panek, Andrew Williamson, Mike O’ Brien, Josh Cotterill, Lucas Landers, Ben Madeiras, Andrew Wiley, and Ronnie Miske, were all singles. But that was it offensively. The Blazers sent 11 batters to the plate in the fifth, but just eight in the last two innings and 12 in the first four. The final Blazer highlight of game one belonged to third baseman Mike O’ Brien, who made a put-out at first with a bullet throw from his knees.
In the sixth, Jock Cooperrider and Ryan Kurth belted triples as the Highlanders padded their lead with four more runs.
The Highlanders sealed their game one victory with defensive panache in the seventh. Third baseman Russell Hodson made a remarkable play, tumbling over and firing to first base from his back to get Andrew Williamson in time for out No. 1. Danny Merry followed with a big strikeout, and shortstop Aksel Cooperrider closed out the game by running halfway into left field to make an over-the-shoulder grab.
Rather than wait until Monday night, the teams had agreed to play game two of the best-of-three series after a short break. In a tense, well-played, defensive gem, the Highlanders edged the Blazers, 3-2.
The game started with a play for the ages, as Highlanders leadoff batter Todd Hitchings hurdled Blazers second baseman Billy Panek to stretch a base hit into a two-bagger. He would make it to third, but the Highlanders were retired without runs in the first.
Mike O’Donaghue put the Highlanders up 1-0 in the second, knocking in Jeremy Scheffer with a single into right-center. In the Blazers second, hard-luck Andrew Williamson was robbed again by another brilliant piece of defense, this time courtesy of “Johnny Mazz” Mazza, who dove toward second and picked off a line drive. Mazza’s teammate Aksel Cooperrider pulled off a similar feat at shortstop in the fourth.
Again, the Blazers heated up their bats in the fifth. Mike O’Brien and Josh Cotterill led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Lucas Landers tied the game with a sac fly, and Ben Madeiras ripped a line drive up the middle for a 2-1 lead.
Blazers first baseman Jeff Wingo started off the sixth with a terrific catch on Danny Merry’s liner, but the Highlanders regained the lead. Jock Cooperrider batted in Todd Hitchings to tie the score at 2-2, and John Mazza ripped a scorching line drive for an infield hit to score Jock with the game winner.
Andrew Williamson and Josh Cotterill singled to get the Blazers off to a promising start in the seventh, but the threat fizzled, and the Highlanders recorded three straight outs to clinch the title.