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2018 45+ National

Boston Wolfpack 8, Vituro Health Cardinals 1

‘MVP Benedict Shuts Down Potent Cards’

By Chris Errington, special to MSBL

January 15, 2018, Kissimmee, FL – Dave Benedict knew. So too did the Vituro Health Cardinals. In fact, anyone who’s followed the Holiday Classic during the past decade is more than familiar with the script: Give the Boston Wolfpack any advantage and their virtually assured of winning the title.

Such was the scene again, as Boston parlayed three hits and a pair of first-inning errors into two runs. It was a lead the Wolfpack would never relinquish in continuing an unprecedented run of success at the annual tournament.  This marked Boston’s 10th Holiday Classic championship in the past 11 years. In fact, the Wolfpack have been so dominant, that they’ve lost just two games during that stretch.  “It’s great,” Benedict said of his team’s prowess. “Our defense is so good and I know that no matter who we face, our offense will put up runs.  It’s my job to not screw it up.”

While the right hander went about holding the Cardinals to seven hits and a single fourth-inning run over eight-innings of work, Boston did what it had throughout the tournament. Entering the final, the Wolfpack had outscored five opponents by an incredible 72-5 margin, including dominating playoff victories over the eighth-seeded Clearwater Rays (16-2) and third-seeded Jacksonville Hops (15-0).

In the championship game, Boston grabbed an early lead, doubled it in the third, countered the Cardinals’ lone run with another in the fourth and then put the game away in the fifth. Even that outburst was remarkable in its execution.  Despite beginning the inning with a pair of outs, the Wolfpack utilized a Sean Miller double and two walks to load the bases. Then, German Rivera drove a ball into the left-centerfield gap to clear the bases and firmly stamp Boston’s claim to yet another title.

“That two-out rally was huge,” Boston manager Steve Wolf said. “We know we’ve got a strong lineup and were fortunate to have good at-bats like German’s.  The key is always to get runs early and we were able to do that. The team’s getting older and the opponents are always great, but it never gets old [winning a championship].”

Despite the lopsided score, the Cardinals actually were Boston’s toughest opponent all week. Vituro Health’s only loss during round-robin play was a 7-1 setback to Boston in the tournament’s opening game. The Cardinals then grabbed a pair of victories to earn the playoff’s No. 5 seed where they upset the fourth-seeded Redwings(13-2) and second-seeded and perennial power EC Cardinals (7-3) to reach Championship Monday.  “We had a good run, but you can’t make errors against a team as good as [the Wolfpack] are,”Cardinals manager Scott McSparen said. “They’re just too good and will take advantage of anything you give them. Every time you look up, it’s 2-0, 3-0…If we’d played like we did against [the EC Cardinals], we would have stayed in the game. But, we’ll be back and give it our best shot to dethrone them next year.”

On this day, Benedict never allowed the Cardinals a hint at dethroning his team. The righty, who earned a title game victory last season and learned he’d get his only start on the mound the night before, utilized a heavy mix of tailing fastballs with a sharp-breaking curves to keep Cardinals hitters off balance. Surprisingly, the number of off-speed pitches he threw wasn’t by original design.  “The game plan was to command the fastball to keep it down in the zone and make them hit ground balls,” Benedict said, “but I couldn’t always locate the fastball. We knew from the first game we played them that they swung at a lot of first pitches. That’s why I went to the curve ball early in the count so often.”

Except for a quick fourth-inning outburst that plated Vituro Health’s only run, Benedict was nearly flawless. Leading 4-0, the righty allowed Bubba Wagnon’s one-out double to center, Joe Williams’ single to second and Jeff Fortune’s RBI single to left that cut the deficit to 4-1. That’s as close as the Cardinals got. The team tournament MVP got a called third strike for the inning’s second out, before inducing a ground out to third to end the threat.

Just as important as limiting the damage in the fourth was Boston’s ability to make the difficult defensive play look routine. The Wolfpack converted three ground ball double plays and made several other outstanding efforts to rob the Cardinals of hits.  In the end, it was all just status quo for a team that’s made winning Holiday Classic championships as natural as throwing, hitting and catching.

“We’ve got guys that make so many plays defensively that it makes my job easier,” Benedict, who spent the first part of the week playing shortstop, said. “I know that if I make a bad pitch and give up a hit, I’m only one good pitch away from a ground ball and having the bases empty.  That’s just one of the reasons we’ve been so successful here.”

Cardinals   0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 – 1  7  3

Wolfpack   2 0 2 1 3 0 0 0 x –  8 11 0

WP: Benedict. LP: McSparen. 2B: Wagnon (VH). Benedict, Smith and Miller (B).

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