Tainos 10, Chicago Oaks 7
By Elliot Brownstein, special to MSBL
The Tainos defeated the Chi-Oaks to claim the Central Division’s 50-plus league title in the 2019 Fall Classic at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Saturday. They won the back-and-forth match by a 10-7 margin.
All-around player Reggie Barrau was recognized as Most Valuable Player by the Tainos players and coach after his four-hit performance, including a score-capping two-RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth inning.
After pitching multiple times throughout the week, Barrau also came in as a reliever on Saturday, helping to stymie the Chi-Oaks’ dangerous hitters.
Though the high-scoring affair painted both offenses on display from start to finish, the championship game followed a decidedly unlikely journey for both teams.
The Tainos found themselves playing for the Central Division title against all odds after beginning the tournament 0-3, while the runner-up Chi-Oaks faced an 0-2 deficit early on in the week of play.
“Our team fought back,” Barrau said after his team emerged victorious. “We started 0-3, and we could have given up for the week. We were facing elimination. We went out there 0-3 struggling to score runs, and we were facing a 3-0 team — and everyone was like, ‘we’ve got to step up now. We don’t win our next two games, we’re going home.’ The team stepped up, responded, won four in a row, and ended up here today. So, awesome performance for the team.”
Just like earlier in the week, though, the Tainos found themselves in an early hole on Saturday. The Chi-Oaks’ lineup quickly came to life, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning. For the Tainos, it was a familiar position to be in.
“They got a 7-0 lead on us in the first game we played them earlier in the tournament,” said head coach Rick Crain. “So to be down 4-0 after the top of the first inning was like deja vu.”
In the first edition of these teams’ meetings, the Chi-Oaks got the better of their counterpart, winning 8-6 following a rally fallen short. This time around, when the Tainos found momentum, they grasped tightly and didn’t let go.
Much of that momentum came in the Tainos’ bottom half of the fourth inning, when they turned an 0-4 deficit to an 8-4 lead.
Nelson Pedraza hit an infield single, stole second, and scored on an error. Clarence White and Thurman Johnson also reached, followed by Barrau’s RBI-single. That’s when things got a little odd. Three straight players — including Vince Horton — reached via hit-by-pitch.
When Barrau’s two-run triple came during the Tainos’ last inning at bat, it proved all the insurance needed. “That was great,” Barrau said. “That’s the moment you wait for. You hope you get that opportunity. The guys before you set the table. I can’t hit a two-run triple without my teammates getting on base.”
The game’s result, to some extent, came down to errors in the field from the Chi-Oaks, which head coach Cedric Collins lamented after the matchup. “The Tainos did an excellent job of capitalizing on mistakes, forcing misplays with speed around the bases.”
“We’re a running team, and once I saw they weren’t going to throw us out, we just kept the momentum going,” Crain said.
Though his Chi-Oaks fell short of the ultimate goal, Collins spoke on his team’s triumphs following the game.
“It’s been a fun week,” he said. “We came out here the first week with a short staff in the middle of the week and we lost the first two games by big scores. We came together and got some momentum, got into the playoffs, we got to the championship game — and what more can you ask for?”
For the Tainos, once the American and National playoffs were out of the picture, it became about the winning streak.
“‘Let’s just win every game,’” Crain said of the team’s goal. “So, it wasn’t about the championship — it was about the winning streak, because we know what we’re capable of.”
Exactly what the Tainos are capable of was on full display Saturday — right up until the trophy presentation.