Team Victory 12, Boston Wolfpack 5

“Bertrand and Murray Pitch and Hit to Lead Team Victory”

By Jim Richards, special to MSBL

TEMPE, Ariz.–Team Victory’s John Murray isn’t any different than all the other senior leaguers who travel to places like the Phoenix area to play baseball tournaments for the love of the game. But he’ll admit that winning a title can be quite a grind.

“It’s been 24 years,” said Murray, Team Victory’s clean-up hitter who rejoiced after his squad held off the Boston Wolfpack, 12-5, to win the title game of the 2014 50-Plus Wood Bat American division at Tempe Diablo Stadium. “Now I have one.”

Murray went one for five with an RBI and even bunted on a pop out to the pitcher with the bases loaded in what turned out to be a three-run fifth, but his heroics in prior games and just the thought of his grind to the winner’s circle was enough that team managers Rafael Fuentes and Dave Brunette awarded him the team’s Most Valuable Player honor for the tournament. “He got his first title and we’re thrilled for him,” Fuentes said.

Team Victory’s only loss came to Boston during pool play. Boston had been unbeaten heading into the final game. To get the title, Team Victory relied on veteran right-hander Greg Bertrand, a former pitcher at the University of San Diego.On Friday, Bertrand resembled actor David Strathairn, who portrayed pitcher Eddie Cicotte in the movie ‘Eight Men Out’. On Friday, the only things Bertrand threw were fastballs and sliders through his seven innings of work, a few of which he labored through against a tough Boston lineup that featured former football star Doug Flutie in the lead-off spot.

“I threw more pitches than I should have,” said Bertrand, who said he won his eighth title with various teams. “I really didn’t count. It was more than it should have been.”

Pokey Sanchez and Ken Henry each had three of Team Victory’s 16 hits. It took a while for the Team Victory bats to get it together against their long-time rival. Boston left-hander Edgardo Mercado retired the first seven men he faced but Team Victory got him for five runs in the third. Doug Thigpen singled off Flutie’s glove at second base with one out before eight consecutive Victory hitters reached base. Manny Salinas drove in two runs with a single and Murray, Henry and Sanchez had RBI singles in the inning.

Victory extended the lead to 8-1 in the fifth behind RBI singles from Oscar Duran, Sanchez and Frank Bons but Boston wouldn’t quit and got back into the game quickly. German Rivera opened the Boston fifth with a double off Bertrand and Dean Borrelli, Carmela Bastia and Mark Moise followed with singles. Flutie came to the plate with a runner at second and two out but there was no Hail Mary and he grounded out to second to end the three-run uprising with Victory ahead 8-4.

Boston added a run in the sixth when Russ Ward singled and scored on Borrelli’s force out. Fuentes told his team not to panic.

“We’ve been there before,” Fuentes said. “Our guys aren’t nervous. We tried to slow it down at that point and we know we have a great pitcher on the mound with a great defense. We slow it down do that we don’t make any mental errors on defense.”

Victory put the game away with a four-run eighth highlighted by Henry’s two run, two-out double. Bertrand then gave way to Pepe Valencia. “Overall, it was a little frustrating,” Bertrand said. “I expected to be a little better in a big game like that. I was missing spots today. I was flying open a little bit and struggling with that.” He was good enough to Fuentes.

“The guy is just amazing,” Fuentes said. “He threw nine innings for us on Sunday. He got a little tired. It’s hot out there. They are a great hitting team. They’re our biggest rival. They’re always going to play hard like we are. But (Bertrand) is a bulldog. He’s a gamer. He walked right through that.”

And Murray rejoiced. “It feels great,” said Murray in his 12th season with Team Victory. “I’ve been in the championship game six times and I finally got one here.”