By John Burbridge firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLES CITY — Even though Westwood Park is the “home” for every team within the Charles City Men’s Softball League, the “home team” advantage is still something to covet in slow-pitch softball.
With scores often resembling offensive-packed football games, getting the last at-bat while knowing the amount of runs to chase tends to put one — as hall-of-fame broadcaster Vin Scully often quips — in the “catbird seat”.
By way of three unfortunate coin flips, DeRailed — in a quest to regain stewardship of the league’s traveling championship cup after relinquishing it to The Pub last season — was the visiting team during the final three games encompassing the semifinal and championship rounds of the league’s end-of-season playoffs that spilled from Wednesday night into the wee hours of Thursday morning.
In the semifinal against the Thundercats, DeRailed had a 3-run lead to protect going into the latter half of the seventh and advanced to the championship round after the Thundercats stranded the tying run at second base.
Waiting for DeRailed in the championship round were the Busch Leaguers, who had the league’s best record during the regular season and were undefeated during the postseason.
Needing to win twice in the championship round and having to protect another 3-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh of the first game, DeRailed escaped again when shortstop Brandon Rippentrop ranged to his left and made a leaping snare of a hard-hit liner from Jesse Gifford to end the threat with the tying and winning runs on base while forcing a second game.
The second game started after 11 p.m. with a ghostly mist haunting the outfield and the dewy grass becoming more of a factor as it slowed hit-through-infield grounders to near halts forcing deep-positioned outfielders to hustle forward out of the mist to prevent runners from taking extra bases.
DeRailed rallied for 7 runs in the first inning, seemingly determined to give itself more room for error come the bottom of the seventh. But the game never got that far.
The Busch Leaguers realigned their defense by bringing in a fifth infielder from the outfield — league rules allow for 10 position players with most teams opting for four outfielders.
The adjustment paid off as the Busch Leaguers tightened up their defense and allowed only 1 run through a span of three innings while giving their offense a chance to chip into the early deficit and take the lead.
Up by 4 runs going into the top of the seventh, the Busch Leaguers eventually won the league title after recording the final out of the season with the tying run at third base.
By way of team vote, the Busch Leaguers named Jim Severin as the tourney’s MVP.