Team Victory — 2014 Desert Classic 50+ Champions. Greg Bertrand (top row, third from right) threw all 18 innings in the title game. Rafael Fuentes, (front, third from left) knocked in game winning run with a sacrifice fly.
Bertrand throws complete game to lead victors
Team Victory beats Agua Dulce Reds 2-1 in 18 innings
By Britten Gerrard
PALM DESERT, CA – Greg Bertrand delivered one of the most remarkable accomplishments in Men’s Senior Baseball League history, throwing an astonishing 18 innings to help lead Team Victory to a Desert Classic championship in the 50+ Wood Bat Division at College of the Desert.
Bertrand allowed just one run as Team Victorydefeated the Agua Dulce Reds 2-1 after manager Rafael Fuentes drove in Frank Bons in the 18th inning on a walk-off sacrifice fly in an instant classic that lasted five hours.
“Greg Bertrand was just amazing, I can’t say enough about him,” Fuentes said. “To throw that many innings and to only give up one run that wasn’t even earned is remarkable.”
“It was barely believable,” said Reds’ skipper Gary Firestone.
Bertrand relied primarily on his slider, allowing just eight hits while striking out five in a marathon record-breaking day on the mound. And it wasn’t like he was facing a weak lineup. The Reds averaged nearly nine runs per game in round robin play, and had just come off a semifinal in which they buried the number two seeded San Diego Mariners 17-2.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like this before,” Bertrand (pictured right) said laughing. “It was a little frustrating because we had a lot of opportunities early and didn’t score but there was no way I was going to go out. Our team kept fighting and we were able to pull out the victory and the championship.”
Bertrand’s catcher, Pokey Sanchez, said Bertrand was right on target in the championship.
“He was throwing really well and hitting his spots,” Sanchez said. “He broke a lot of bats and had a lot of energy throwing the full 18. He hit the locations well. He’s like the energizer bunny because he probably could have gone another nine innings.”
After squandering a bases-loaded opportunity with no outs in the 14th inning, Team Victory received a spark in the 18thwhen Bons led off with a single. Doug Thigpen followed with an infield single that allowed Bons to advance to second base. The ensuing batter, Bob Pone, hit a soft grounder on the infield. The Reds tried to throw Bons out at third but the umpire ruled that Bons just beat the throw to the bag. Fuentes then took advantage, hitting the sacrifice fly to right field that sealed the championship for Team Victory.
“It was a total team effort and it feels amazing to win a crazy 18-inning game like this for the championship,” Fuentes said. “We missed some chances early on in the game but we kept on believing in each other and grinded it out.”
Fuentes stressed the importance of team play as a manager, but couldn’t resist acknowledging the MVP-like performance from Bertrand.
“If we had to choose an MVP it would definitely be Greg. We call him the “Bulldog”, Fuentes said. “Greg is in excellent shape because he runs eight miles a day.”
Bertrand credits his training for his success as a pitcher.
“I cross train, run mountain trails and swim a lot with my son and that helps me keep my legs strong and my cardio up,” Bertrand said. “As long as I can keep throwing strikes I can keep going in a game.”
The Reds took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when Jorge Flores drove in Javier Periera. However Aqua Dulce was only able to put up one run on the board despite four hits and a walk in the inning. Team Victory responded by tying the game at 1-1 in the sixth inning when Thigpen scored on an RBI-bunt by Pone.
Both teams struggled to get anything going offensively despite the fact Team Victory recorded a hit in every inning with the exception of the 15th. Reds pitchers Tracy Wheelen, Gregerio Alatome and Tony Couarrubias combined to allow just two runs despite giving up 20 hits.
Pitching aside, Firestone said defense was off the charts. “Nothing got through the infield,” he said.
Donald Bell, Manny Salinas, Sanchez, Rosario Carrion, Buzzy Sailer and Bons recorded multiple hits for Team Victory, who defeated theCentral Cost Hogs 6-2 in the semifinals earlier in the day.
MSBL Founder and President Steve Sigler, who watched the game, called it “the best championship game I have ever seen in any MSBL tournament.”
Firestone agreed which is amazing considering that he was involved in a game at the MSBL World Series a few years ago in which Couarrubias pitched 16 innings and allowed one hit in a 1-0 win. His opponent that day threw a three-hitter. “As great as that was,” Firestone said, “nothing compares to this.”
The 2014 Desert Classic was Team Victory’s first 50+ tournament, but a majority of the team has been together for eight years, winning six tournaments. Fuentes acknowledged their chemistry is a key factor to their success.
“We’ve been together a long time and we have the knowledge and a strong baseball IQ,” Fuentes said. “It’s an amazing group of guys that treat each other like family. We enjoy being around each other and communicate well and we all believe in each other.”
Bertrand and Fuentes have a history of playing well together. The two were named co-MVP’s at the 2013 Fall Classic in Jupiter Florida when they helped the San Antonio Reds win the 45-and-over Central title. Bertrand threw a complete-game in the Fall Classic championship game – an 11-1 win over Professores UCV from Venezuela. Fuentes led the team in hitting during that tournament and was 2-0 on the mound.”We’ve been through a lot of battles and wars and when you get the battle scars together that carries a lot of weight,” Bertrand said. “We have fun, play hard, fight for each other and our victories are always a team effort. There’s nothing better than winning with a bunch of guys you like.”