JACOB NOSEWORTHY for the Grand Forks Gazette
Day five action at the Grand Forks International on Saturday had something for all baseball fans with close, defensive games and high-scoring comebacks.
It also marked the final day of round-robin play at James Donaldson Park. Two teams were sent home and eight more learned who they’ll play in the Money Round, starting Sunday.
All the games except for the showdown between the Reno Astros and Cuban team Unión de Reyes which was postponed from Thursday’s rain and played an entire nine innings, went seven in order to accommodate the extra game.
Alaska Goldpanners 0 at Everett Merchants 3
Losing Pitcher: Tanner Inouye | Winning Pitcher: Caden Cornett
The morning began with a fight for top spot in the Gerry Foster Division of the tournament, as the Everett Merchants shutout the Alaska Goldpanners 3-0 through seven innings.
Everett opened the scoring early in the bottom of the first inning thanks to an RBI groundout by Bryce Peterson and an RBI bloop single to shallow right-centre field by Jaxsen Sweum.
The only other scoring play of the game took place in the bottom of the fifth inning when Merchants designated hitter Patrick Chung hit a lead-off double off the right-field fence and Peterson earned his second RBI of the game with a single to score Chung.
It also appeared that Everett scored another run on a play at the plate in the second inning, but Nic Anderson was called out by home plate umpire Matt Hicketts.
Harold Pyatte, the head coach of the Merchants, was disappointed with the call but encouraged his team to keep working towards the win despite it.
“I told the guys that we basically got robbed at home plate,” Pyatte said. “Everybody knew it; the fans knew it, I knew it, [Alaska] knew it. But I told our guys [that] we’ve got to work through adversity here [and that] they needed to answer with their bats and not with remarks from the dugout. We got through the adversity.”
Everett pitcher Caden Cornett earned the complete game shutout as he only allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six.
DH Chung also had a good day at the plate as he earned three hits from three plate appearances.
With the win, the Merchants finished top of the Gerry Foster Division with a 3-1 record and earned a bonus of $1,000 for their achievement which was well-received by Pyatte.
“[Winning the bonus money] feels like we eat tomorrow,” the head coach said. “It’s great to win the division. We had a tough division [and] Alaska’s always a very good, tough team, but we’re playing well, we got a great pitching effort from our lefty [Cornett] today and we played great defence.”
“And we’ve still got good pitching left,” he added as a preview of what is still to come from his ball club.
Unión de Reyes 5 at Redmond Dudes 3
Winning Pitcher: Randy Parra | Losing Pitcher: Brian Pino
In a tight first game of the day for Unión de Reyes, the Cuban club earned their first win at the GFI, booked themselves a spot in the ‘Money Round’ and eliminated the Redmond Dudes with a 5-3 win over the Washington State team.
Unión de Reyes got the scoring started in the top of the third inning after a single from first baseman Endris Soliz scored Christian Acosta, but the Cubans really got on the bats in the fourth.
After a lead-off single by fan favourite Randy Camaraza, Unión de Reyes capitalized on a Redmond error and several hits to score four and take the commanding 5-0 lead.
With their tournament on the line, Redmond attempted a comeback in the bottom of the seventh inning, but three runs and two runners left stranded came up short.
Through the game, he Cuban club’s bats seemed to swing to the beat being kept in their dugout, where teammates whistled, clapped and drummed with bats on poles and benches to cheer on their team.
Starting pitcher Randy Parra was a crucial part of his team’s big win, allowing no runs and only four hits in his six innings on the mound.
The victory in the must-win game meant Unión de Reyesqualified for the quarterfinals before even playing their final match of the group stage later in the day, while the Dudes dropped to 1-3 and became the first team eliminated from the 2019 GFI tournament.
Northwest Honkers 3 at Houston Westchase Express 1
Winning Pitcher: Tanner Braun | Losing Pitcher: Joseph Mack
In a crucial elimination game in the Gerry Foster Division, the Northwest Honkers beat the Houston Westchase Express 3-1 and ensured their continued survival in the tournament while their opponents were knocked out.
In the top of the first, Houston made a mental error in a rundown between first and second when they ignored the other runner on base who scored from second and contributed to the early 2-0 lead.
The Express finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth inning thanks to a Keanu Van Kuren double and the ensuing RBI single, but the single run was not enough and sent the 2017 quarterfinalists home.
The Honkers added an additional run in the sixth inning to ensure the victory.
Despite the loss, Houston pitcher Joseph Mack was impressive.
While he allowed two earned runs, he also struck out seven in seven innings, a feat which kept Northwest’s lead from ballooning late in the game.
Additionally, the Honkers pitching staff held Houston to three hits over seven innings which allowed for their success.
Reno Astros 11 at Unión de Reyes 10
Winning Pitcher: TJ Czyz | Losing Pitcher: Jonny Matos
As the only nine-inning game of the day due to its postponement on Thursday, many fans at James Donaldson Park anticipated a potential mercy-rule victory for Union de Reyes as the Cuban team was up 9-2 on the Reno Astros after five complete innings.
However, the two-time GFI Champion Astros had other plans, as Reno bats began connecting with pitches in the latter half of the game to power the Americans to an 11-10 victory.
A four-run first inning for Unión de Reyes set the tone for the game early as the club showed extended flashes of offensive brilliance.
Disaster struck for the Cubans in the seventh inning though as Reno scored six runs on five hits, including the tournament’s first ground rule double of the year, to take a 10-9 lead.
Although Unión de Reyes was able to tie the game up in the bottom of the inning off of an RBI double to right field, Joey Dice earned the win for the Astros after scoring on a passed ball in the top of the ninth to take the 11-10 lead.
It appeared that fatigue was starting to set in on the Cuban team during their second game of the day and the rescheduling because of Thursday’s rain may have contributed to the loss.
Reno Astros 13 at Seattle Studs 8
Winning Pitcher: Paul Ferrari | Losing Pitcher: Tegan Aden
The round-robin ended in thrilling style on Saturday as the Reno Astros won their second consecutive game, this time a 13-8 victory over the defending champion Seattle Studs.
It looked like Reno was suffering fatigue from the back-to-back games as the Studs took a four-run lead after four, but the Astros held strong for their second straight comeback of the evening.
The top of the fifth inning started to slip away from the Studs as they allowed three runs to score on passed balls as part of the four runs the Astros put up in the inning to tie the game.
Reno led off the sixth inning was a single from Scott Underwood that dropped between Seattle’s second baseman, centre fielder, and right fielder.
From there, the next four consecutive batters got on base which led to a five-run inning and a 9-4 lead for the Astros.
The Studs attempted a comeback of their own by scoring another four runs in the bottom of the sixth, but Reno put up the same figure in the top of the seventh to put the game away.
Reno head coach Matt Konopisos was the man of the evening with two comeback victories and an induction to the GFI Hall of Fame by tournament coordinator Steve Boutang before the final game of the night.
“It’s a good night to be back in Grand Forks,” Konopisos said.
The win also propelled the Astros to the top of the Jerry Seminoff Division and won them the $1,000 bonus, which the Reno team wasn’t expecting.
“We weren’t even thinking about [the bonus money],” Konopisos said. “We started off 0-1 and we were just worried about making it into the playoffs, [but] we ended up with the number-one seed. God was good today and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The game was also notable as it was Boutang’s 200th game umpired at the GFI.
Money Round Schedule
10:00 a.m. – Game 21 – S3 Seattle Studs at F2 San Francisco Seals
1:00 p.m. – Game 22 – F3 Alaska Goldpanners at S2 Burnaby Bulldogs
4:00 p.m. – Game 23 – F4 Northwest Honkers at S1 Reno Astros
7:00 p.m. – Game 24 – S4 Union de Reyes, Cuba at F1 Everett Merchants