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Don't Go Soft, Play Hardball!

2011 25+ American

Asheville(NC) Angels 10, Puerto Rico Lobos 5

25+ American Division Champs, the Asheville Angels.

By Dick Sanford

Jupiter, FL Nov. 19, 2011 — Trophies and accolades aren’t the first thing on your mind when lose three games in a five-game round robin tournament — unless you play for the Asheville Angels.

The 2-3 Angels backed into a sixth playoff seed, squeaked past an opening round playoff opponent, and then steamrolled their final two opponents to become champions of the 25-and-over American division at the 2011 Fall Classic at Roger Dean Stadium.

A 10-5 win over the Puerto Rico Lobos was the clincher.

Pitcher Bryce Rivenbark, sore and bruised from playing the outfield as well as pitching through the week, still had enough energy to hurl a complete game. The Winston Salem State graduate helped himself with two hits, a run scored, and an RBI. He was part of a balanced attack that featured eight teammates with two or more hits.

The Lobos displayed a potent offense all week, but Rivenbark spread out five runs on eight hits and avoided the big inning. He struck out the side to start the game, fanned five more before the day ended, and walked just two. His performance earned him the Most Valuable Player award from his manager. “Just put the MVP with the team championship trophy” a modest Rivenbark told his teammates before they headed off to get sized for their championship rings. “Each one of you owns a piece of this.”

Third year Manager Jeromy Bullman never lost faith — even after an opening round, 4-0 loss to San Luis de Venezuela, and consecutive games to the Lobos and Georgia Cherokees.

Through the wonder of tournament math the Angels 2-3 Angels earned a sixth seed for the playoffs and quickly dispatched the Dundalk Brewers 3-1 before unleashing an 18-7 win in a rematch versus Venezuela.

That earned the club a chance at redemption – a title match against the Lobos.

The championship was a first for Bullman. “We never lost confidence that we could come back after the slow start in pool play. This truly was a team, as we showed in the game today.” he added. He wasn’t kidding either. Eight different Angels scored runs, eight had RBI’s, and eight players had two or more hits apiece.

The Lobos held a 2-1 lead after three innings, but the Angels rallied for five runs in the fourth. Drew

Suber’s two-run double was the big blow. The Lobos cut the lead to 6 to 4 on run scoring singles by Gioser Lopez and Edwin Arroyo, but the Angels answered with two more runs. Paul Regan’s two run single scored Justin Wilkens and Kris Cline to give the Angels an 8-4 advantage.

After issuing a leadoff walk in the sixth, Rivenbark, like a thoroughbred in the home stretch, retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced for the win. “This is the biggest accomplishment in my baseball career, even after winning the conference title while at Winston-Salem State in what was the school’s first championship in 32 years.”

As confident as he was on the mound, the 25-yeard old Rivenbark was humbled by being singled out by his manager as the team’s best player. “All 16 of us combined to win this…..we never were down or doubted our chances to come back.”

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