By Al Rose
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Mustangs win championship in last at-bat


August 3, 2017

Al Rose

The champion North States Crane & Hoist Mustangs went 3-for-4 during the 2017 Arrowhead 16/18 and Under Fastpitch League tournament played on Monday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 26 to earn their first place medals. The Mustangs had an overall record of 18-4-2.

The Mustangs, sponsored by North States Crane & Hoist, had a strong offense and played superb defense to go on to win the Arrowhead 16/18 Fastpitch League championship in a dramatic last at-bat by a score of 3-2 on Wade 7 in West Duluth on Wednesday, July 26. It was a hard-fought winner-take-all seven inning game against the rival MN Blast 15s. It was also a rubber match as the teams had two wins in the four games against each other during the year.

After only three hits for each team in the evening's opener, both teams got the bats going. The Mustangs out-hit the Blast 8-6 with no extra-base hits for either team. Jamie Benzie had a stellar game at the plate as she went a perfect 4-for-4, including an RBI single with an error on the pick that became the game-winner. The Mustangs finished with an excellent overall record of 18-4-2.

The always steady Lilli Skelton yet again trusted her defense and earned the complete-game win with two strikeouts, no walks and only two earned runs on six hits. The Blast's pitcher struck out four, walked no one and allowed two earned runs on eight hits.

The Mustangs' defense was flawless as they played great error-free softball. Along the way, the defense spun four 1-2-3 defensive gems. The Blast's defense had one 1-2-3 inning, but they committed five errors with three contributing toward runs. Two of those very costly miscues came in the Mustang's last at-bat, including a missed pick in the outfield to allow the game-winning run to race around from second base.

With Skelton's walking no one and the Mustangs keeping runners off the bases, the Blast's running game was limited to only two steals, including one of third. Neither of the two steals were cashed in. The theft stat ended up being a wash as the Mustangs' head coach, Tonya Benzie, called for one double steal. Although that play was successful, neither of the runners scored. The Mustangs lost one attempted steal of second in the early going. The Blast ended up stranding only two runners with just one in scoring position. To give credit to the Blast's defense, the Mustangs ended up having to survive eight stranded runners, including five in scoring position.

It was the Blast quickly drawing first blood with a single, an infield hit and another single for 1-0 and a sharp single spanked past third for 2-0.

The Mustangs looked like they would fire right back. Lead-off hitter Dallis Kukuk timed the Blast's pitcher's tricky change-up and stroked it straight up the middle. Benzie put down one of her patented perfect bunt singles, but the runners were stranded.

After a 1-2-3 defensive inning, the Mustangs threatened again. Kayla Behrman reached on an error on a rap-back, but she was thrown out stealing. Liz Risacher was hit-by-pitch and Laney Danelski reached on an error at short. With Jordan Jokinen up, the Mustangs pulled off a successful double steal, but the runners were stranded.

The Mustangs spun their second 1-2-3 inning. Kukuk reached on the pitcher's second error and Benzie poked a single just high enough to get it over the shortstop's reach. With Raeann Barney up and making no bones about her intent to bunt, a wild pitch ensued. Another wild pitch followed and Kukuk raced home and appeared to have tied the game. A very rare and extremely unusual umpired interference call was made. The runners were sent back to their respective bases and Barney continued her at-bat. Barney made a decent bunt out in front, but the Blast made a good play and Kukuk was correctly rang out at home. Clean up hitter Amber Lehti of Cromwell, who performed very consistently throughout the season, and especially during the tournament with a one RBI-single, a two-RBI and a single, got it done. Lehti's fielder's choice RBI closed the gap to 2-1.

The Mustangs had good plays by Behrman in leftfield and Lehti at second base en route to their third 1-2-3 inning, but the Blast followed suit with their first 1-2-3 inning.

The Blast got a single and coach Tyler Korby tried to get it going with a steal of second and some trickery on a rolling steal of third, but the runners were stranded.

Kukuk sprinted out an infield roller for her second hit. Benzie's solid rap up the middle was her third hit, but they were stranded.

The Mustangs got their fourth and final 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth inning. Although Sami Nylen reached on the Blast's fourth error, she was stranded.

Skelton, still with no walks, notched her second strikeout of the game by taking a little something off a pitch. A little nine-iron of a single was dropped over first, but Risacher raced in and threw the runner out that was trying to stretch it into a double to help stop a possible rally.

The Mustangs were trailing by 2-1, but they had the last at-bat in the seventh inning. The bottom of the order was due up. Although Risacher got caught looking, Danelski got a single and Jokinen reached on the Blast's fifth error for runners on the corners. The speedy lead-off Kukuk, who already had two hits and had reached once on an error and scored, had to wait it out for a prolonged chat in the circle with the entire Blast team. Some more luck came for the Mustangs. Kukuk struggled, but she nubbed an odd one out in front that was as good as any intended bunt to load the bases with her third hit. Benzie, who was already 3-for-3, stepped in. Benzie, a lightning-fast lefty, was down in the count but she hung tough and sliced a shallow opposite field one-RBI spinning single that landed very close to the left field chalk to score Danelski from third for 2-2. With the left fielder over-running the slowly rolling ball and failing to make the pick for the Blast's sixth error, Jokinen raced all the way around from second base to score the 3-2 game-winning run. The very deserving 18-4-2 North States Crane & Hoist Mustangs had gone 3-for-4 in the tournament to earn the championship.


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