Dayton Ducks 6, All-Star Baseball Academy 3
The Dayton Ducks made their inaugural appearance in the 2024 MSBL Holiday Classic. Player/Coach Ruben Rodriguez assembled a star-studded team from several Dayton-Cincinnati area teams and a few of his friends from his former hometown of Boston, MA.
After battling through a tough round-robin phase of the tournament the Ducks qualified for the American Division semi-finals. We beat the DC Mustangs Baseball Club with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth by second baseman Harry Smith. This earned us a spot in the American Division final versus the All-Star Baseball Academy.
Steve “Bert” Bertles was tapped to start on the mound, as he scattered three runs, eight hits, three walks, and five K’s over 7-1/3 innings. Bertles held the All-Stars scoreless in the top of the first, after which the Ducks went to work at the plate. Third baseman Juan Sanchez led off with a single to left and stole second base. Bertles later singled to score Sanchez. After stealing second base, Bertles went to third on shortstop John Bellamy’s ground out. Bertles later scored on a passed ball making the score 2-0 Ducks after one inning.
The All-Stars scored their first run with two outs in the top of the third when Ignacio Lara singled, followed by lead-off hitter Steve Stone’s double, scoring Lara from first. The middle innings were mostly dominated by pitching and some defensive gems by both teams. Of note in the top of the fifth was Duck’s left fielder Juan Rouge’s spectacular running catch of a sizzling line drive down the line off the bat of All-Star Jeff LaPorta.
The All-Stars tied the game at 2-2 when (former MLB pitcher) Joe Grahe led off the top of the seventh inning with his third hit of the game – a towering solo home run to left. The Ducks shut down the All-Star rally with a ground out, a walk, and a Bertles to Bellamy to Lonnie Robinson 1-6-3 double play to end the top of the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Ducks retook the lead when second baseman Mark “Pedro” Siler reached on an error, stole second and third, and then scored on an RBI single by Marcos “Tony” Garcia.
The All-Stars showed some resilience in the top of the eighth inning. After LaPorta grounded out to Bellamy at short, Bob Bruzik and Rich Burns both hit sharp singles. This prompted Coach Rodriguez to bring in Mark Sevier to relieve Bertles. Jim Godley singled up the middle which scored Bruzik to tie the game at 3-3 (run charged to Bertles). Lara bunted Burns and Godley to second and third. After an intentional walk to Stone to load the bases, Sevier stopped the rally by getting Jovie Baretto to ground out to Robinson at first.
In the bottom of the eighth with the score tied at three, Bertles led off with a walk. Clean-up hitter Bellamy doubled down the left field line moving Bertles to third. All-Star left fielder Jeff “JT” Tomlinson made a great play to cut the ball off before it could get past him, saving at least one run. Rodriguez then walked to load the bases. Juan Rouge then singled to left scoring Bertles with the go-ahead run, Harry Smith singled in Bellamy for an insurance run, followed by a bases-loaded walk to Siler which scored Rodriguez giving the Ducks a 6-3 lead heading into the top of the ninth.
Sevier began the ninth by coaxing a grounder to short from the mighty Joe Grahe, then getting Brett Graves to fly out to right field. Down to their last out, Mike Vasas hit a sharp sinking liner into centerfield but Ducks center fielder Tony Garcia made an “ESPN Top 10-worthy” sliding catch to end the game and secure the championship for the Dayton Ducks!