Saunders championship dream comes true in NAFA AA World Series

Written by Bob on August 20th, 2017

JOEL COOLEY pitched four innings of one-hit ball to help the Kegel Knights Old Timers defeat the Calahoo Chiefs 2-1 to claim the NAFA AA World Series championship at Northside Softball Complex, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Photo By BOB OTT / 2017 NAFA World Series, Fargo, N.D.

FARGO – Rick Saunders has won his share of tournaments and awards playing for the Kegel Black Knights of Fargo. But winning a national or international championship has eluded him.

But that all changed when the Kegel Knights Old Timers defeated the Calahoo Chiefs of Alberta, Canada in a dramatic walk-off 2-1 victory to claim the NAFA AA World Series championship at Northside Softball Complex, Sunday.

And Saunders played the leading role.

With two out in the bottom of the seventh, he hammered a clean single up the middle scoring pinch runner Andrew Kutnikoff from second base with the winning run.

“This feels really good,” said Saunders. “I’ve never been on a championship team and to be with these guys years and years, and be able to contribute when we need it, feels great.”

Calahoo took the lead in the third inning when pitcher Bryn Redhead drilled a line drive over the third base bag that bounded down the left-field line, sending Brayden Arcand racing home from second. Arcand worked Kegel starting pitcher Gerald Muizelaar for a walk and moved to second on Wyatt Berube’s bunt.

REDHEAD PITCHES, CLARKSON HOMERS

Redhead – pitching brilliantly after hurling 11 innings of relief in the loser’s bracket final that finished less than an hour earlier – made the lead stand up until the fourth.

But as well as he spotted his pitches, he made a costly mistake to cleanup hitter Duane Clarkson.

DUANE CLARKSON is greeted by Kegel coach Tom Wilson after he hit a tying solo home run in the NAFA AA World Series championship game, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Photo By BOB OTTO

Redhead hung a pitch too sweet in the strike zone on a full count and Clarkson, a classic swing-for-the-fences home run hitter, walloped the ball high and deep over the right-centerfield fence. It was so long-gone that the Calahoo outfielders only turned their heads to watch.

And then the game settled into a pitcher’s duel with Redhead and Joel Cooley refusing to buckle to championship pressure.

COOLEY DOMINATES LIKE AN MVP

Drafted for the tournament, Cooley was at his best in the championship. He took over for Muizelaar in the fourth and held the Chiefs to one hit with seven strikeouts over the final four frames.

“Joel has developed over the past four to five years into a well-rounded pitcher,” said Kegel Manager Tom Wilson. “He understands now what he wants to do with his pitches. He pitched fantastic.”

With the win, Cooley (2-0) was selected the AA World Series Most Valuable pitcher.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE

But Redhead nearly matched Cooley. The right-hander held the veteran Knights lineup of open-caliber hitters to four hits, while striking out seven.

BRYN REDHEAD pitched the Calahoo Chiefs to the runner-up spot in the 2017 NAFA AA World Series, losing a 2-1 decision to the Kegal Knights Old Timers in the title game, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Photo By BOB OTTO

“Bryn was in a good groove and kept them off balance by mixing his pitches,” said Chiefs’ manager Ken Berube. “He was strong after the 11 innings in the first game today, and he had a good defense behind him.”

The Knights went through the eight-team tournament undefeated at 4-0, and beat Calahoo, 7-4, in the winner’s bracket final.

Dropped into the loser’s bracket, Calahoo needed a win to climb out for a second crack at the Knights.

But Wisconsin’s Willkomm Mobil / Optimum Crush stood in the way for 13 grueling innings. Finally, Wyatt Berube’s squeeze bunt scored the winning run in a 6-5 final. In that game, Redhead pitched 11 innings in relief to pick up the win. Forty-five minutes later he was back in the circle facing the Knights.

Though Calahoo (3-2) took home the second place trophy and the silver medal, Berube was pleased with his ball club’s performance.

“The tournament went great and almost to plan,” he said. “We had some great games and this one was great too.”

PROVEN VETERAN LINEUP

The name on the AA bracket board says Kegel Old Timers. It might say that, but these “old timers” played more like the name Knights printed across the front of their jerseys.

For Wilson, managing this savvy ball club with years of fastpitch experience, is just a matter of letting them play the game the way they know how.

“This is a veteran team that knows how the game runs,” he said. “They recognize opportunities to win games and don’t count on any one guy. Everything they do is about team concept.”

Saunders has the World Series championship he wanted, and he surely enjoys the part he played, and he’s happy he won it with guys he has called teammates for years.

But this title is special for another reason.

“This is special to win it for Jon (Kegel),” Saunders said. “He has been such a big part of fastpitch.”

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