West Virginia MSBL
Orioles 4, Charlies 3
Editor’s note: This passionate accounting of a special night was written by Brian Nickerson, a team member of the Orioles in the West Virginia MSBL. The summary is too long, is pleading for some editing, there is no highlighting of names or events but it is written from the heart. I am going against the grain here and posting this story untouched. To try to edit this player’s passion would be an injustice-Steve LaMontia
“A Championship for the Ages”
Top Row L-R: Josh Rakes, Jeff Altizer, John Witt, W. Brian Nickerson, Chris Ojeda, Scott Amburgey and Mark Adkins. Front Row L-R: Wes Adkins, Aaron Amburgey, Matt McClanahan, Todd Hutchinson and Junior Shaffer. Not Available: Seth Amburgey, Ricky Vinyard, David Quick, David Brown, Aaron Chapman and Mike McClain
Written by: W. Brian Nickerson
(Charleston, WV) – As the evening descended upon Triana Field, situated in the heart of Charleston, West Virginia, just across from one of the most impressive State Capital Buildings in the nation, there was a noticeable tension and anxiety in the air. For this evening, another WVMSBL Championship Series was set to begin. However, this 2014 Championship Series was not just “another” series; it was a series between two heavyweights: the Charlies and the Orioles. For clarification purposes, let me explain: since 2006, no other WVMSBL team has a won a championship. Coming into the 2014 season, the Matt and Lee Bradley managed Charlies had won 5 postseason championships (’06, ’07, ’10, ’12, ’13) and every regular season title since ’08, while the Orioles, managed by Junior Shaffer, had won three postseason titles (’08, ’09, ’11). Further, of the 8 championships split between the teams since 2006, 5 were decided on the field between the two teams. All of this leads to one conclusion: these two teams are fierce rivals. For comparisons sake, think “Red Sox vs. Yankees” or “Cardinals vs. Reds,” except on a different level; these two teams were native of the same town, fighting for that championship. There has never been any love lost between the two and this late summer evening would prove no different.
Earlier in the playoffs, the Orioles had knocked off the Charlies behind a team performance topped off by a late home run by Todd Hutchison, meaning the Charlies would have beat the Orioles twice to win the double-elimination championship format. The Orioles sent right-handed junk ball vet Scott Amburgey to the mound, while the Charlies opted to rest right-handed flame throwing (and arguably the league’s best pitcher) Chris Hunt for a potential win or go home game the next evening, instead electing to start another quality arm.
Any manifestation of nerves dissipated immediately for the starting pitchers, as Amburgey and the Charlies starter put down their opponents in order in the first frame. In the 2nd inning, the Charlies struck first, scoring 2 runs on a combination of errors, a free pass and a hit. The Orioles matched in the bottom half on hits by Mark Adkins, local rock legend Chris Ojeda, Brian Nickerson and Junior Shaffer. Shaffer ripped a double down the left field line, driving in the tying run and potentially the go-ahead run, but the Charlies left fielder gunned down Nickerson at home plate to keep the game knotted at 2. Starting in the third, the pitching began to take over. Amburgey pitched a scoreless third and fourth frame while the Charlies starter put down the Orioles in order in the 3rd, 4th and 5th innings, striking out two batters and allowing no hits in that span. The Charlies dealt a blow to the Orioles in the top of the 5th, scoring one run on a combination of an error, a walk and a couple of hits. Left fielder Brian Nickerson prevented the Charlies from adding to their lead by throwing out a runner at home plate for the third out of the 5th. Starter Scott Amburgey was pulled in the inning after throwing 4.2 innings and allowing 3 runs, zero earned, scattering 5 hits, and giving way to local DJ Todd Hutchison in relief.
Hutchison started what would be his epic contribution in the top of the 6th inning. Hutchison, or “Hutch” as he is called, walked the bases loaded. Rather than allow the Charlies to widen the gap. Hutch and his defense struck out two and threw out another, getting out of the 6th inning unscathed. In the bottom half, the Orioles Wes Adkins led off by gapping a double to left field. Adkins was followed by Oriole stalwart and former Marshall University second baseman Aaron Amburgey, who grounded out, moving Adkins to third base with one out. The next batter, another Oriole and former Marshall University great, Josh Rakes, reached first on an infield single, putting runners on 1st and 3rd with one out, leaving the Orioles with a great opportunity to tie or take the lead heading into the 7th and final inning.
However, Jeff Altizer followed Amburgey with a fly out, of which the Charlies easily handled while also preventing any runners to advance. With two outs, Mark Adkins came to the plate and quickly fell down 0-2. At this juncture, feelings of anxiety, nervousness, urgency and frustration were beginning to fall upon the Oriole players and fans. Wiley veteran Josh Rakes felt this urgency and in an attempt to score Adkins from third to tie the game, caught himself in a run down between first and second in hopes that Adkins could swipe home before he was tagged out. Unfortunately, the Charlies’ shortstop made a great throw to home, resulting in umpire making a controversial call ruling Adkins out. In response to the call, the Oriole dug out cleared and the fans roared in protest in what both teams agreed should have resulted in the tying run. However, Adkins was ruled out and the Charlies took a 3-2 lead into the final inning amidst a frustrated, almost-downtrodden Oriole team.
The silence, tension and ever decreasing confidence were becoming palpable in the top of the 7th as Hutchison again allowed the bases loaded. Somehow, the Oriole players, behind the south paw, in the face of all odds, were able to escape yet another jam allowing no runs. While the Oriole players collected in the dug-out prior to their last chance to tie this game, the message from Manager Junior Shaffer was clear: “Boys, we’ve done this as a team all year and we are going to do this as a team right now. I have said all season we have something special, and we are going to prove that right now.” This type of perpetual optimism and faith, in the face of seemingly impossible odds, is what makes Junior Shaffer a great manager and leader.
In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Orioles sent hitters 5 through 8 to the plate, who had combined to go 2-7 in the game, striking out three times. Rather than bring in a fresh arm, the Bradley Brothers decided to let their man finish up the game, meaning they would have Stud Righty Chris Hunt in a winner take all game the following evening if they were to win. The Charlies’ players and fans were confident and raucous heading into the deciding frame. The stage was set for what would become one of the most epic and exciting endings to any baseball game, one that the players and fans in attendance will never forget and one that will live on in WVMSBL folklore for eternity.
To lead off the 7th, Mark Adkins ripped another single. The hit seemed to breathe life into the Orioles. During the bustle after the single, Aaron Amburgey quickly and sternly looked at the next better up, Todd “Hutch” Hutchison, and delivered a short and succinct message: “END IT.” To end the championship game on a walk off home run was a pipe dream, I thought. No way, right? As Hutch stepped to the plate, the Oriole players and fans were filled with cautious optimism. Pitch number one was a ball. Pitch number two was a strike. The count was 1-1 as the Charlies starter prepared to deliver pitch number three. Hutch took a short and compact swing, pulverizing a line drive to right field. The Charlies right fielder immediately turned around to start running towards the fence. Simultaneously, every last Oriole player had jumped the dugout rail onto the field. Could it be?
Seconds later, the baseball cleared the right field fence, resulting in pure pandemonium, from Oriole players and fans alike, as Hutch had just catapulted the Orioles to their fourth WVMSBL championship by way of a walk off home run. The Orioles celebrated on the field as the Charlies solemnly trotted toward the visiting dug out. This one had to sting. As the night concluded, I could only think one thing: This game was a game for the ages, not only for the ending but for the quality of baseball played by both teams. It added another epic chapter the Charlies/Orioles rivalry and hopefully reminded everyone involved of what a special game baseball is, and what a privilege it is to continue to relive boyhood memories on the diamond into your middle ages.
On behalf of the entire Orioles team and especially Manager Junior Shaffer, I want to extend a big thank you to Kenny Phillips, the man behind the WVMSBL. If it wasn’t for Kenny, we would not have a league. Additionally, I would like to thank Matt and Lee Bradley for not only letting us use Triana Field, but also for their tireless work in ensuring the field was always in great playing shape. Last but not least, I want to thank the Oriole players for great camaraderie and a wonderful season. We did have something special. Can’t wait for 2015!