2012 45+ Wood Bat Central

Raleigh Braves pitcher Dan Kopitzke uncoils during the title game
Raleigh Braves 8, South Atlanta Twins 3

By Chris Errington, MSBLNational.com

Jupiter, Fla., Nov. 17, 2012 — With one final, high, unhittable fastball, Dan Kopitzke gave the Raleigh Braves something they could always remember, and he gave manager Dave Halley a reason to briefly forget.

Kopitzke struck out the final hitter of the game to earn his fourth win of the tournament, and put an exclamation point on the Braves 8-3 win over the Atlanta Twins in the 45 Central division title game.

Braves players beamed with pride as they watched manager Dave Halley hoist the championship trophy after the game. It was a welcome respite from a battle that has consumed Halley’s life since July – his fight against non-hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“These guys are like brothers,” said Halley, who was slated for his final chemotherapy treatment three days after the end of the Fall Classic.

“They shaved their heads for me when [my hair] fell out. Right now, I feel like I’m cancer-free. I’ve been able to forget about it for a while.”

Fittingly, it was Kopitzke who was one of the final Braves players to share a post-game hug with the manager teammate after teammate thanked for the opportunity to play on such a dominant club, but more importantly, for being a great friend.

The lefty, who runs a baseball training academy in Apex, NC, won four games during the tournament. The incredible effort included 10 innings of shutout ball during playoff victories over the D.C. Express and Albany Cubs, the second in relief, before a five-hit masterpiece in the final.

“I’ve always tried to take the confident approach every time I’m on the mound,” Kopitzke said. “I knew our sticks would eventually take over and we’d get runs to win it. When you have an offense like ours, it allows you to relax more on the mound.”

Kopitzke was speaking of an offense that ran roughshod through its first six opponents and averaged nearly 16 runs per game.

Still, when the Braves needed them most, Kopitzke and his fellow pitchers were there to shut down the competition. “Dan’s got an incredible arm and we’ve got a lot of guys who can throw for us,” Halley said. “That was a big advantage we had all week.”

The Braves got a six-hit combined shutout between Jay Biesenthal and Kopitzke to beat Albany, 3-0. Then, after South Atlanta tied the game 3-3 in the top of the sixth, they got three hitless innings from Kopitzke and an offensive outburst to finally put away the pesky Twins.

“We just kind of ran out of gas,” Twins manager Greg Woodward said of his 14-man club. The team finished 6-1-1 including a 13-inning, reservoir-draining semifinal win. “We had close games all week, but [Kopitzke] was tough. He threw a lot of strikes and made it difficult on us.”

Both teams traded runs throughout the first six innings, with Raleigh’s Hector Diaz [2-for-3, two doubles] scoring twice on the back end of double steals and South Atlanta’s Joel Grier driving in a run in the second and scoring the game-tying run on a ground out in the sixth.

45 Wood Bat Central champion Raleigh Braves

That’s when the Braves’ explosive offense finally came to life and paved the way for Halley’s first championship. Dave Royek [2-for-2, double] and Kenny Glanville [2-for-4] scored to give Raleigh a 5-3 lead, before Chip Haver, Royek and Glanville had RBI singles in a decisive three-run seventh that put the game away. All that was left was one bit of unfinished business in the ninth.

With two outs and holding a five-run lead, Kopitzke was all set to fulfill his role in a plan he and Halley had hatched beforehand. It was agreed, that in tribute to his friend, Kopitzke would provide Halley with the chance to close the game.

“I was ready, but when it came time, Dave said, ‘Finish it for me.’ So, I stayed out there and that’s what I did.”

Not surprisingly, for the final time of the 2012 Fall Classic, one of Halley’s teammates had his back.