AJW White Sox 9, Long Island Black Sox 1

‘Gontmaher is Money at the Plate’

By: Patrick Lagreid, special to MSBL

Tempe Diablo Stadium, Sunday, October 26, 2014–The AJW White Sox capped off a solid week in Phoenix with a decisive 9-1 victory over the Long Island Black Sox in the 25+ Chandler Bat American Division championship on Sunday morning at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

The team that has been known for their aggressiveness on the base paths all week used a similar approach in the final game, getting on the board first, taking advantage of a pair of walks with two outs in the bottom of the second inning when Drew Madden lined a single to center field that scored George Ban from second base. They added on in the bottom of the third, with Nick Gontmaher driving in Jake Anderson, and the energy from the first base dugout was becoming palpable.

It wouldn’t be long before that energy would spill over to the field and in turn the scoreboard, as the White Sox jumped on starting pitcher Noel DeLeon for five runs in the bottom of the fifth, knocking him out of the game for reliever James Roubal. The inning was highlighted by RBI singles from Drew Madden and Alfonso Quintor and an RBI double by Steve Rodgers. J.J. Constantino drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, while Ban scored a run via a wild pitch.

The Black Sox’ offense, meanwhile, struggled to string together hits in the early innings, notching singles in the second, third and fourth innings, but none of those runners got beyond second base, largely due to the effective pitching of Dennis Neal. After a bit of a scare in the top of the 1st when he took a line shot from Andy Diorio off his leg, he jumped back up to not only make the putout but retire the next batter on a soft grounder to second base for a 1-2-3 inning. He faced just one more than the minimum number of batters through the first five innings.

The Long Island club plated their first run in the sixth as Jerry Geigle led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a Chris Shacca single. While Neal got out of the inning having given up just one run, the seventh started with an error that allowed Ryan Pembroke to reach and then Neal plunked Chauncey Garcia, which got the bullpen moving and brought manager Johnny Qura to the mound for a chat, where he said he tried to help him get refocused, as well as to give Neal a quick breather. A walk then loaded the bases, and while it looked like Chris Degennaro would get the Black Sox their second run with a sacrifice fly to center, Constantino came up throwing and retired the runner by two steps for an 8-2 double play. Black Sox manager Jimmy Rose said that not being able to score that run and get a rally started took the wind out of his team’s sails.

He acknowledged the struggle it took to get to the championship game, both from the quality of the competition and the toll the week takes on the players. “We were short on arms going into the tournament, and we spent every arm yesterday just to get here; we did the best we could,” he said after the game. The injuries that were bothering the Black Sox ranged from pulled hamstrings to a broken finger.

While Neal pleaded his case to finish the game, Qura knew he had reached his pitch count and wanted to give closer Nick Alexander a chance to close the game out. Alexander did just that, striking out one and inducing a game-ending double play.

The White Sox named Nick Gontmaher the tournament MVP after a 17-for-24 performance over the tournament. “He picks his spots, he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes in the count – he will wait until he can get a pitch to drive, and he was awesome. He was money all tournament,” Qura said. He also praised the experience and leadership that Gontmaher brought to the team, having been to the World Series before both as a manager and a player.

Gontmaher praised the cohesiveness that the team brought to the tournament, noting how the team has played a lot together both in the regular season and in several tournaments. “It was a great week with a huge team effort, which is what you get when everyone knows, respects and believes in one another.”

“We’ve had a lot of success this week,” Qura said, citing his club’s aggressiveness on the bases as one of the things that got them to the championship game, and he noted it would be key to winning on Sunday.

Qura considers Dennis Neal the White Sox’ most effective pitcher with good command of the strike zone. The hope was that he could give the team six innings, as he said he had plenty of arms in the bullpen to get through the later innings. He threw in game three and was starting on three days’ rest.