2023 Mayport Cruisers Sweep Indians to Win First Championship in Jacksonville MABL

Jacksonville MABL

Mayport Cruisers 5, Jacksonville Indians 4 (Game two in best-of-three Championship Series sweep)

Submitted by Brian Hasden, Cruisers’ manager

To be the best, you have to beat the best. In the Jacksonville MABL, the Jacksonville Indians, led by Joe Hellett, are the best team. They appeared in 15 of the last 17 championship series, winning 10 titles. This season was no different. The Indians finished the season with a league-best 16-3 record and entered the six-team, double-elimination playoff tournament as the number one seed. After a first-round bye and two wins, they had punched their ticket to the three-game championship series.

The Mayport Cruisers, however, never won a title. Our team was founded in 2005 by Vic Miller who led us to our only prior championship series appearance in 2014. We lost that series to… the Indians.

After a bit of controversy at the end of the 2023 regular season, we finished with a 14-5 record and entered the playoffs as the third seed. Our road to the championship series included wins over the Cowford Bootleggers, Bold City Kings, and Jacksonville Wahoos. It also included a 13-3 loss to… again… the Indians.

So, on a hot and muggy late afternoon at Greenland Park on August 27th, the Mayport Cruisers batted first to begin game one of a doubleheader. The scoring began early, with Anthony Guzman leading off the second inning with a solo home run. We scored three more runs on a series of hits from Mitch Hyser, Sage Ramirez, Kelby Staley, Taj McQueen, and Bilal Ragland. Then, in the top of the fourth inning, we scored two additional runs after some uncharacteristic errors from the Indians. We were up 6-0 and our starting pitcher Collin Taylor was working efficiently.

However, the Indians began to rally. They took full advantage of fielding errors, mental mistakes, and good hitting and were able to plate one run in the bottom of the fourth, four runs in the sixth, including a three-run home run from Drew Austin, and one run in the seventh. As we entered the eighth inning, the game was tied at six, and Cruisers’ starting pitcher Collin Taylor was coming to the plate. The big lefty promptly sent one over the right field fence to give us a 7-6 lead. He then handed the ball over to Eder Romero to finish the game on the mound. Romero struck out five over his two innings of work and earned the save. Alex Hendricks hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth to give us a much-needed insurance run. The Cruisers won 8-6 and were one win away from our first championship.

We are on the cusp of our first championship, but we’re running out of pitching. Eder Romero, our other regular starting pitcher, had just thrown two innings in relief and threw seven innings in a shutout win four days earlier. Other available pitchers included two proven relievers, Kevin Baez and Cory Sapp, and a handful of guys who could throw strikes but were more valuable at other positions. Nevertheless, we had to put someone on the mound to start the second game of the day and Romero was the guy.

The scoring began early again with an RBI single from Nick Ulrich and a sacrifice fly from Devon Hellett putting the Indians up 2-0 in the top of the first. However, the Cruisers struck back in the bottom of the second, taking a 3-2 lead after scoring one run on an RBI single from Alex Hendricks and two more on an Indians error.

This is a pivotal point in the game. We’re at the top of the third inning and Kevin Baez, who usually throws two or three innings in relief, is going to need to take over for Romero and go at least four innings if we want to have a realistic chance at winning this game. Baez retired six of the first seven batters he faced and we pushed across another unearned run in the bottom of the fourth to extend the lead to 4-2.

Here’s where our championship was won: it’s the top of the fifth inning and the Indians are at the top of their lineup. Baez quickly gets the first two batters, but then a single, error, and walk load the bases. However, the next batter flies out to end the inning. In the top of the sixth, the Indians started the inning with a double from Taylor Peterson who would later score on an RBI single by Jordan Tylski to reduce our lead to 4-3. The Indians would then load the bases again, with one out. Again, Baez got out of the jam by getting the next two batters to fly out.

Cory Sapp would then pitch the seventh inning, giving up one run to tie the game at four before leaving in the top of the eighth with an arm injury. Alex Hendricks, our star center fielder, stepped onto the mound and retired the next six batters to send us to the bottom of the ninth, still tied at 4.

Hendricks led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single. An error, fielder’s choice, and an intentional walk loaded the bases with one out. Collin Taylor, after hitting the go-ahead homer in the first game, stepped to the plate. It had been well over six hours since Taylor himself threw the first pitch of the day for us. Nightfall had come hours ago. The dugout benches were empty, with players standing in anticipation of what would come next. Deep into the count, Taylor fouled off two-strike pitches and then dumped an opposite-field fly ball into shallow left. Hendricks, now on third base, raced home and crossed the plate as the winning run. Players rushed onto the field to meet Taylor who had rounded first and was celebrating behind second base.

The Cruisers, longtime Jacksonville MABL member and perennial playoff team, had won our first championship.

We would once again like to say thanks to all the fans who showed up to cheer us on this season. Thank you to the spouses and significant others for tolerating late nights at the ballfield. Thank you to the players for an incredible season.

To all Cruisers, current and former, we won it!