Atlanta MSBL, 25+ Division
Atlanta Dragons 8, Cigars 7 (Game two in Best of Three Championship Series Sweep)
‘Dragons Walk It Off for Fourth Title in Eight Years’
Submitted by Brett Washburn, Dragons’ manager
The Cigars finished the regular season with a 15-2-1 record and #1 seed entering the playoffs and the Dragons were the #2 seed at 14-3-1. Evenly matched over the last two seasons, the Dragons took two from the Cigars in the 2022 finals. We met again in December with the Cigars comeback win by one run in the Santa Shuffle. Tied at 6-6 in the regular season, it was a much-anticipated championship matchup.
In Game One in the best-of-three championship series, the Dragons opened the scoring in the second when Stef Lollar doubled home three runs and Glenn Harbin followed with a 2-run opposite-field blast to take a 5-0 lead. Cody Tournear doubled home two more in the third inning to make it 7-0 with all seven runs coming with two out.
In the fifth, with the Cigars looking to get something started, they lined a shot that looked like it might be a double but Cole Outz closed on the sinking liner full extension to make an incredible catch in center.
Matt Bishop would make it three more with two outs when he homered in the seventh for his third of the year.
Stef Lollar (3-0, 1 save, 2.35 ERA) pitched a stellar game going the distance, allowing just three runs, one earned, while limiting the Cigars to four hits and striking out a season-high 11 in the 10-3 rout to take game one.
In Game Two, there was a lot of scoring early as the Cigars got two unearned runs across in the first. The Dragons answered quickly putting up four runs, again all with two outs, when Matt Bishop singled home a run, while Jeremy Duffy’s 2-RBI single and Justin Myles bases-loaded walk made it 4-2.
The Cigars put three more up in their second with a single, double, and two triples to take a 5-4 lead. The Dragons’ Glenn Harbin answered with a solo blast to left to tie the game 5-5.
Again, the Cigars took the lead back 7-5 with two more runs in the third.
Things got interesting in the bottom of the third when Bishop singled and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. The left fielder kept barking at Bish as he was walking off the field and finally, Bishop stopped and words were exchanged. After a long delay, the Cigars player was thrown out of the game and we finally resumed play.
After that, Haggard settled in on the mound and would not allow a run the rest of the way pitching out of trouble in the fourth, retiring the side in the fifth, and dodging a first and third, one-out situation in the sixth by getting an inning-ending double play.
The Dragons would get one run in the fifth on yet another 2-out RBI single from Cole Outz, scoring Glenn Harbin, to make it 7-6.
It would stay that way until the seventh, when after a leadoff single, Dragons’ catcher Justin Myles threw out the runner trying to steal. Another single followed and with one out it looked like a blooper to shallow left was going to put two runners on but Cody Tournear made what might have been the play of the year running with his back to the infield and made an over-the-shoulder sliding catch, nearly doubling off the runner at first. Haggard would strike out the last batter to end the inning as the Dragons had some energy and momentum going into the seventh trailing 7-6.
With one out, Glenn Harbin walked, followed by a great at-bat from Brendan Pilger who also walked. A strikeout followed and two were out. Matt Bishop then put together another great at-bat with the Cigars closer throwing 88-90 and inducing yet another walk to load the bases and the stage was again set for our first-round playoff hero, Cole Outz, who walked the Dragons off in round one with a grand slam.
Outz fouled off a 90-mph fastball straight back to go down 0-1. Outz would take a ball to even the count and on the third pitch, he ripped a shot to the right side. A leaping Matt Bishop narrowly missed getting hit by diving over the ball, as the ball flew past the first baseman into right field. Harbin scored and Pilger followed with a head first slide into home for the walk-off winning run as Outz came through again and the DRAGONS ARE REPEAT CHAMPS IN 2023!!!
This team can be described as one of the toughest, most resilient teams we’ve ever had. Career seasons for Caleb Autry and Matt Bishop at the plate. Brendan Pilgers .518 average and .630 OBP might be the best ever. Cole Outz had 12 RBI in four playoff games to lead the team with 23. Jeremy Duffy returned to the Dragons and put up one of his best seasons hitting .362 with 14 RBI. Glenn Harbin’s six home runs in 16 games with a .450 average are just some of the notable performances.
Stef Lollar on the mound and at the plate epitomizes the definition of a baseball player. Justin Myles work behind the plate never goes unnoticed as he is the best catcher in the league. Dan Sarisky proved the be the best pitcher in the league once again while finally given a chance to hit on a consistent basis, hit .361 with 13 RBI’s in just 12 games.
And finally, Chris Haggard, who struggled through the first half of the season, came on in the second half. He made adjustments along the way, gutting out a huge 148-pitch effort keeping the Dragons close the final four innings of shutout ball, giving us a chance to win. This gave the Haggs his fourth win of the year and another Dragons championship!