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Monarchs Hold on in Ninth Inning to Outlast the Giants for the Bay Area 50+ Crown

Bay Area MSBL, 50+ Division

Monarchs 6, Giants 5

‘Monarchs Overcome History for 50+ Bay Area Crown’

Submitted by Gordon Wright

The Bay Area MSBL 50+ league has been dominated by the Giants since the league’s inception. The Palo Alto-based squad, let by Hall of Fame member Pat Carroll, has won nine of the ten championships awarded in the division, a reign broken only by the Marin County-based Monarchs in 2015.

Last year’s three-game championship series proved a particular heartache for perennial runners-up Monarchs, as they coughed up a six-run lead in the ninth inning in the finale to crater their back-to-back hopes and lending momentum to the Giants entering the 2017 season, in which the Giants again accumulated the most regular-season wins.

The 2017 first-round playoff series began with the Giants beating the Sidewinders, and the Monarchs, with the second-best regular season record, dispatching the Seals with a mercy-rule 18-5 score.  This set up the championship series with the Giants.

The championship round began with the Giants thrashing the Monarchs with a mercy-rule beating, lending worries that the Giants would win it all against the Monarchs as they have done in at least a half-dozen season-ending playoff series. But on September 24ththe Monarchs turned the tide, piling up 17 runs against the Giants in a shocking mercy-rule score of 17-7 to set up a winner-take-all match in Palo Alto on Sunday, October 1st.

The Monarchs started fast in the title game, putting up three runs against a tough MikeWilgus in the second inning, and adding a run in the third. Meanwhile, Mike Hanna, the season-long ace for the Monarchs and the BAMSBL 50+ Cy Young award winner in 2016, was overpowering the Giants with a shutout through seven innings.

In the bottom of the seventh the Monarchs plated two with efficiency. With two aboard, Steve Gray lined a single to left, scoring Bill Luoma as well as Gordon Wright, who came all the way around from first.  A Giants rally in the eighth brought home their first run, and more could have scored had it not been for 2015 BAMSBL 50+ MVP Steve Gray, who laid out in left field to snare a curving shot down the line.

Then, only three outs away from the Championship in the ninth, the wheels fell off, as the Monarchs began throwing the ball all over the yard. Years of frustration and repeated defeats fostered doubts among the players, even as Hanna labored through the errors to get two outs.

John Shea, a sports writer with the San Francisco Chronicle, fought off a two-strike count to slash a grounder to third and hustled up the line to force another error and suddenly, the tying run was on first for the Giants with the top of the order coming up.

Hanna again ran the count to 1-2 until Tony Kerlegan roped a sizzling shot up the first baseline. Luoma, in right field, flew toward the line, barely cutting it off before it skidded to the fence, and delivered a strike to second baseman Brad Lakritz who fired to catcher Mike Allen. With the entire season poised in the balance and years of losses looming in the background, Allen tagged out the runner just 40 feet from home plate.  This brought an end to the Giants’ dominance and secured the second championship for the Monarchs in three years.

It was an especially sweet ending for the founding members of the Monarchs, Hall of Famer Mike Knittel and Reggie Vance. Knittel, with 29 years of service to the MSBL, keeps threatening retirement, but his players are hoping to put an end to that kind of talk and are already looking forward to defending their title in 2018.

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