End of the Summer Special: Notable Players from the Summer Months

By: Paul Cooke

Later this year, The Drop will award the Player of the Year award to the player – among ten finalists – that the editor determines was the best all around wiffler in unrestricted pitch speed competition for the 2018 season. Plans are also in the works for a comprehensive “Top 100” list to be released towards the end of the calendar year.

In July, we highlighted the stories of twenty players who for one reason or another stood out for their performances during the first six months of the calendar year. This time we look at the stories of fifteen additional players who caught out attention during the third quarter of 2018. As a reminder, the award, list, and this article only looks at performances in unrestricted pitch speed environments.


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Did any other hitter do more in fewer games this summer than Ben Stant? In ten spring & summer games between Mid Atlantic and Palisades Ben collected 29 hits, 12 walks, and 8 home runs while striking out only 15 times in 68 trips to the plate. Lest you think he was feasting on subpar competition, Stant did his damage against an array of quality arms: Jarod Bull, Jimmy Cole, Matt & David Herbek (Naturals), Tim McElrath, Adam Milsted, Chris Owen, Johnny Costa, and Jordan Robles. On a per plate appearance basis, Stant very well might have had the best year of any hitter in the sport. Unfortunately, the sample of games is a little too small for Stant to place highly on year-end lists – as his placement in the Mid Atlantic Hitter of the Year category demonstrated – but its an impressive output nonetheless. Stant’s season appears to be done, but everyone – well, expect for opposing pitchers – hope to see him and his bat on the field more frequently in 2019.

One of the coolest things about any Wiffle Ball summer is seeing players from the past that faded from the scene suddenly pop up in unexpected places. Dereck Anderson was the heart and soul of the Los Angeles-based Gunners – who finished runner up to In the Box in the 2005 Fast Plastic NCT – in the early to mid 2000’s and won a GSWL Fast Pitch title in 2010. Dereck faded from the public eye shortly thereafter but re-emerged mid-2018 in the Washington based JAL. Anderson is having a fine JAL XVIII season at the plate, with more than double the number of walks (64) than strikeouts (31) to go with three doubles and three home runs. On the other side of the ball, Anderson has been a solid number two pitcher for the first place Castle Rock Rapids, forming a top notch 1-2 combo with Rapids’ ace Jeter Larson.

I had the opportunity to chat with many players this summer who participated in the NWLA Tournament. When I asked these individuals to name the players from the tournament that impressed them the most, almost to a man the name Gus Skibee came up. The St. Louis based player finished top three in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, and totals bases at the yellow bat, fast pitch tournament. Skibee did at least some of his damage against known commodities including Austin Berger (WILL), Anthony LaValley (AWAA), and K-Von (AWAA). Gus was solid on the carpet as well, throwing six shutout innings for his Cardinals team. Skibee’s 2018 unrestricted pitch speed resume is diminished by it’s relative brevity, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who saw him play in Morenci that was impressed with his bat. Certainly, participating in a major fast pitch tournament or league outside of the NWLA tournament would go a long way to assessing just how good of a hitter this NWLA Tournament standout is but there is little doubt that he has the tools.

Only two pitchers so far this year have managed to hold the dangerous McElrath brothers hittless over a full 5+ inning game. One is the Palisades’ Dodgers Tim Trenary. The other? The Jersey Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick. And oh yea, if that weren’t enough Ray also has head-to-head victories over Jordan Robles, Conor Young, and Chris Sarnowksi this year. The Lemon Heads were one of the busiest and winningest teams during the back-half of the summer with Ray leading the charge. During four MAW tournaments this summer – including September’s Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament – Ray ran over opposing batters to the tune of 267 strikeouts and 18 ER in a whopping 104 innings pitched. The Lemon Heads’ workhorse pitched nearly every game for his team, using a power drop pitch - reminiscent of Dan Cryan - to befuddle hitters. In addition, Ray went 5-1 for the Lemon Heads at the tournament formally known as National Wiffle. On September 8th at the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament, Ray had a tournament for the ages as he pitched at least a part of all nine of his team’s games on the way to a second-place finish and tournament MVP honors.

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Speaking of the Lemon Heads, Ray’s teammate Dave Clark is another player to keep an eye on in 2019. Clark’s numbers in MAW – both on the regular season and in the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament – don’t jump off the page by any means, but he has all the makings of a top flight Wiffle Ball hitter. Until running into Robles – who he did hit up for a triple and a single – Clark had a heck of a Championship Tournament, including eight hits in twenty at bats against Young and Blake Hoffman. Clark is a line drive hitter and tends to keep the ball in the middle of the field – which limited his home run totals – but he is nonetheless a major threat at the plate with a great swing and effortless power. Now that he has a full season under his belt, 2019 could be a breakout year for Clark. Keep him on your radar.

Ryan Bush has been on the radars of most serious players for years now but his performance during the second half of the 2018 calendar year is going a long way towards reaffirming his spot as a top tier pitcher. It began for Ryan at the NWLA Tournament in July when he threw 14 shutout innings over the course of three games for OCWA. His underlying numbers were just as good. The tall righty allowed a measly three hits and nine walks while striking out 36 batters throughout the course of the two-day tournament. After disappearing for a year from Palisades following a great rookie campaign and tremendous 2016 post-season, Ryan re-emerged this year throwing 20 innings of two-run ball for the pennant-winning Giants. Although he has been far less impressive at the plate this season, Bush has already proven this year that he can shut down hitters no matter what the environment. A good showing at the Fast Plastic Texas Open would only add to his impressive and diversified pitching resume.

It was a bizarre summer for the Ridley Park Red Sox. The team began the 2018 RPWL season 0-6 and needed a 6-2 run to sneak into the playoffs. Lefty Tyler Nachbar had an inconsistent season on the rubber but pitched three shutouts down the stretch to get his team into the postseason. A power threat every time he steps to the plate, Nachbar sent seven of his eleven hits during the RPWL regular season out of the park for home runs. In the playoffs, Nachar’s pitching woes continued and he eventually came down with a sore shoulder following an impressive pitching performance – 11 innings of one run ball – at MAW’s August 4th tournament. With nowhere else to turn, Nachbar handed the ball to his team’s number two pitcher – Cam Farro – who only had 8 2/3’s innings of pitching work to his name during the regular season. That lack of experience mattered little to the high school senior. Farro took the ball for his team’s next five games and threw 27 innings of 2-run ball on the way to clinching the title for the Red Sox. Farro is still a raw flame thrower but was picking up new pitches as the playoffs rolled along. With plus velocity already, he is another pitch or two away from joining what seems to be an endless supply of quality pitchers to come out of the Ridley Park Wiffleball League.

Correction 9.19.18 7:00 PM:

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The minor league arm of Palisades WBL is only three seasons old, but it may have already found its poster boy in Vinny Lea. Lea had a cup of coffee in Palisades proper back in 2015, was missing in action in 2016, and returned in 2017 on the minor league Dragons. Lea had a tremendous season for the Dragons last year on both sides of the ball. He picked up hits in almost half of his plate appearances and worked 33 innings on the carpet while allowing just 11 runs. Despite his minor league success, Lea made it to just one Major League in game ’17 for the Mariners. This year, however, Vinny was not to be denied. In 25 1/3 innings with the Dragons this season, Lea did not allow a single run. He carried that success over to the majors for the first time, pitching to a 0.71 ERA in 60+ regular season innings to lead an underdog Royals squad into the post season.

Two veteran players made good in Tennessee the weekend of July 22nd at the aforementioned National Wiffle tournament.  David “Toast” Wood – back in action for the first time since last year’s Fast Plastic Texas Open – pitched both the semi-finals and finals for the all-star Golden Sticks squad, defeating both the Mothmen and Chicken ‘n Wiffles (a team name of the year contender) to capture the championship. Toast did not allow a base runner the entre championship game. His teammate that weekend – Josh Pagano – took care of the rest, smacking a walk off homerun in the last of the sixth inning. The multi-time Fast Plastic National Champion has been very good at the plate in fast pitch competition when he played this year – including a 10 for 17, four-homerun performance in two games in Palisades – and will no doubt be looking to build off that in a few weeks in Texas.

It takes a special kind of player to be universally known by a nickname. It also doesn’t hurt when your last name is such a mouthful that a nickname becomes a necessity. Kyle “K-Von” Vonschleusingen spent the prior five seasons in Palisades WBL blossoming into one of the league’s cornerstone players, which culminated in back-to-back sub 1.00 ERA seasons in 2016 and 2017. This season, K-Von took another step forward towards becoming one of the game’s best. While his Palisades’ ERA is up over the prior two seasons (1.45), his walk rate is significantly down, his strikeout rate is up, and his batting average has remained virtually unchanged. More importantly, K-Von took a major step forward at the plate by adding nearly .110 points to his ISO (slugging percentage less batting average) this season. Also for the first time, K-Von ventured to a few tournaments outside of Palisades where his plus movement wowed more than a few people. It began in April at AWAA’s Opening Day tournament, continued at the NWLA Tournament where – despite some command issues – K-Von impressed with his ability to throw non-scuffed, and wrapped up with a victory in a late season 2 on 2 tournament in New York. His biggest accomplishment this year might be yet to come as the Palisades Padres – which K-Von is owner/manage of – has a very good shot at winning the 2018 championship.

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On the subject of pitchers who proved adept in both the clean ball environment of the NWLA Tournament and elsewhere, you can add Austin Berger of the Wiff is Life League Waves to that list. Some felt that Berger’s NWLA Tournament performance – where he pitched to a 2.12 ERA over 17 innings of work including the championship game – should have earned him tournament MVP honors. In a tournament with a lot of walks, Berger bucked that trend allowing just 5 walks to 69 batters, for a walk rate that was a fraction – a fifth to be exact – of the overall tournament rate. After relying mainly on an uncut slider in the NWLA tournament, one month later Berger showed off a still developing but already above average cut screwball while pitching in the MAW Canonsburg Classic. In games against the Lemon Heads and Stompers, Berger allowed only a single run. Whether pitching with clean or cut balls, Berger attributes his success not just to his ability to throw strikes, but to his ability to work both sides of the zone effectively.

The Frisco Braves ran over the competition in the Texas Wiffleball League, finishing with an 8-1 regular season record in the league’s top division and then capping things off by winning the league playoffs. The Braves owe a fair amount of their 2018 dominance to right-hander Brian Simpson. Simpson was a force at the dish all season long, batting .500 and reaching base in 62% of his plate appearances – rankings that bear out to the top of both statistical categories in TWBL – while hitting eight home runs. It was his work on the mound, however, that truly made a difference. As his team’s main pitcher, Simpson allowed run one in his first start of the season on June 13th and nothing more the rest of the regular season. Simpson went 21 straight innings without allowing a run to finish out June and July. His best pitch appears to be a hard, sweeping slider that combines velocity and movement in a way not often seen from that particular pitch.

When Nate Cruz left the house on Sunday mornings this summer, he probably had to do a double take to make sure he was wearing the right t-shirt. Cruz played eight games in Palisades over four weeks, which would not be unusual if not for the fact that he did so for FOUR different teams. This year alone, Nate suited up for the Giants, Padres, Cardinals, and Expos for weekend series in Palisades. He proved to be more than just a warm body, hitting a respectable .222/.333/.352 in 54 plate appearances. The ultimate utility player enjoyed more regular playing time at the NWLA Tournament in July as a member of the AWAA Blue Kamikazes. Cruz made the most of it and finished the tournament as arguably his team’s best all around hitter, leading the Kamikazes in OBP while finishing second in batting average and slugging percentage to K-Von and Jimmy Cole, respectively. Here’s hoping Nate can find himself a permanent Palisades home next season.

2018 Regular Season Award Winners

 

Mark “The Bopper” DeMasi Home Run Champion

The Mark “The Bopper” DeMasi Home Run award is given to the most prolific home run hitter in the regular season. This year, two players tied for the most home runs with ten. In the event of a tie, the award is decided by which player left the park in a larger percentage of his plate appearances. With a homerun once every 11.8 plate appearances compared to one homerun every 17.1 plate appearances, the Stompers’ Chris Sarno edges out Connor Young for the 2018 Mark DeMasi Home Run award. 

Winner: Chris Sarnowski (Stompers)

Runner Up: Connor Young (ERL) 


Jerome “The Legend” Coyle Hitting Award

The Jerome “The Legend” Coyle Hitting Award is given to the player the voting committee considered the best all-around hitter during the regular season. This was a close race with three players receiving at least one first or second place vote and seven players showing up on at least one ballot. The winner of this award beat out Sean Bingnear, Ryan McElrath, Tyler Nachbar, Dan Potter, Chris Sarno, and Ben Stant, by hitting .355/.415/.671 while leading the league in at bats, total bases, runs, and hits. The 2018 Jerome Coyle Hitting Award recipient is My Name is ERL’s Connor Young. 

Winner: Connor Young (ERL)

Runner Up: Chris Sarnowski (Stompers)

Others Receiving votes (in order): Ben Stant (G€M); Dan Potter (Yaks); Tyler Nachbar (Longballs); Sean Bingnear (Longablls); Ryan McElrath (Giants)


Billy “The Kid” Owens Pitching Award

The award with the narrowest margin of victory this year was the Billy “The Kid” Owens pitching award, given to the player the voters felt had the best overall season on the carpet. Seven players received at least one vote in this category including Sean Bingnear, Blake Hoffman, Ray Lutick, Jordan Robles, and Dan Whitener. In the end, it was another battle between Sarno and Soup for the top spot. In the end – thanks to his miniscule walk rate, league leading 16 starts, and league leading ERA, Connor Young is the 2018 Billy Owens pitching award winner.

Winner: Connor Young (ERL)

Runner Up: Chris Sarnowski (Stompers)

Others Receiving votes (in order): Ray lutick (lemon heads); Blake hoffman (erl); Jordan robles (stompers); sean bingnear (longballs); dan whitener (erl)


Joe Nord Rookie of the Year Award 

Eight players received votes in a stacked MAW rookie of the year category. Players that did not compete in a major MAW style (i.e. non-base running) tournament prior to this season were eligible for the award. Tyler Nachbar, Ryan Drecher, Colin Pollag, Tony Manelli, and Gino Joseph all received non-first place votes in this category. On the strength of top four finishes in every single significant statistical pitching category, ERL’s Blake Hoffman edged out the Longballs’ Sean Bingnear to become the 2018 MAW Joe Nord Rookie of the Year recipient.

Winner: Blake Hoffman (ERL)

Runner Up: Sean Bingnear (Longballs)

Others Receiving votes (in order): Tyler Nachbar (Longballs); Ryan Drecher (Shortballs); Colin Pollag (Longballs); Tony Manelli (Bruisers); Gino Joseph (Revolution); Dave Clark (Lemon Heads) 


Mike “The Czar” Palinczar Most Valuable Player Award

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The best overall player during the course of a full Mid Atlantic season is honored with the Mike “The Czar” Palinczar Most Valuable Player Award. The winner of this award must get it done at the plate, on the rubber, and in the field, while leading his team to top four finishes and tournament titles. Eight players received votes in this category including – in order from 8th to 3rd – Jarod Bull and Adam Milsted of the Yaks, the Stompers’ Jordan Robles, Sean Bingnear of the Longballs, G€M captain Ben Stant, and the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick. However, this category once again came down to a battle between Soup and Sarno. Both players had incredible seasons and were neck-and-neck by nearly all criteria. The 2018 Mike Palinczar MVP award winner – for a second straight year – is My Name is ERL’s Connor Young.

Winner: Connor Young (ERL)

Runner Up: Chris Sarnowski (Stompers)

Others Receiving votes (in order): Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads); Ben Stant (G€M); Sean Bingnear (Longballs); Jordan Robles (Stompers); Adam Milsted (Yaks); Jarod Bull (Yaks)

2018 Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament: Timeline

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The 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship began at 9:10 AM ET with the Longballs’ Tyler Nachbar taking a called strike from the Yaks’ Jarod Laird and ended nine hours later with a walk off single in extra innings of Game 3 of the championship series. Here are some of the moments - one from each of the day’s thirteen games - that defined the tournament.

9:20 AM – Sheff - Longballs vs. yaks
Harshaw’s Home Run

After Sean Bingnear reached on a walk and Colin Pollag struck out to start the bottom of the 2nd inning, Longballs’ captain Dylan Harshaw stepped in the box against the Yaks’ Jared Laird. Behind in the count 0-2, Harshaw deposited a hanging drop pitch over the Wall of Wifflers to put the Longballs up 2-0. The Ridley Park crew would hold on to take game one.

10:12 AM – Buffalo - Bruisers vs. Lemon Heads
“Yea Baby!” - Hill Escapes jam & Celebrates

With two outs in the bottom of the 5th and the winning run in scoring position, the Barrel Bruiser’s Jerry Hill got the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick to ground back towards the carpet. Jerry pounced on the ball, partook in a rare mid-play celebration, and competed the throw to escape the jam. Although the Bruisers would eventually lose in six innings on total bases, the Bruisers gave the eventual runners up all they could handle.

10:40 AM – Buffalo - Longballs vs. Lemon Heads
Pollag’s HR Sends the Longballs to the Semi’s

In a battle to see who would face the Stompers in the semi-finals, the Jersey Lemon Heads and Ridley Park Longballs entered the 3rd inning locked at zero. After taking a riser right over the plate, Colin Pollag unloaded on a Ray Lutick dropper and deposited the ball over the left field fence. The solo shot held up and the Longballs punched their ticket to the semi-finals

11:10 AM – Sheff – Barrel Bruisers vs. York Yaks
That was brutal” – Milsted & the Yaks stay alive

Adam Milsted paints the outside corner of the strike zone to get Jerry Hill looking. The strikeout keeps the Yaks’ championship hopes alive while eliminating the Barrel Bruisers from the tournament.

11:50 AM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. York Yaks
Clark’s Clutch 2b Puts the Lemon Heads in Front

Things changed in a hurry in the Lemon Heads and Yaks elimination game. With two outs in the third and no score, Ray Lutick draws a walk and Dave Clark immediately cashes in with an RBI double. The Lemon Heads hold on and secure the last spot in the semi-finals, eliminating the Yaks in the process.

12:29 PM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. ERL (G1)
Clark’s Triple Knocks out Hoffman

Dave Clark brings Blake Hoffman’s day on the mound to a premature end with a 2-run triple in the top of the first inning. Connor Young would stem the tide, but the damage was already done and the Lemon Heads take game one.

12:35 PM – Buffalo – Longballs vs. Stompers (G1)
Robles Goes Deep in First At Bat

In his first at bat of the Championship Tournament, 2017 Championship Tournament MVP Jordan Robles went deep off the Longballs’ Sean Bingnear. The run stood up and the Stompers took game one of the semi-finals by a score of 1-0.

1:35 PM – Buffalo – Stompers vs. Longballs (g2)
Sarno Strikes Out Bingnear; Stompers advance

With a steady rain falling, two runners on, and two outs, Sarno trikes out Sean Bingnear to wrap up a win for the Stompers and send the Longballs home.

2:22 PM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. ERL (G2)
“I’ve got plenty left!” – Soup Forces a Game 3

Mere minutes after breaking a 7th inning tie with a solo home run, Connor Young finishes off the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick to force a game 3.

3:19 PM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. ERL (G3 - post-game)
“We’re really excited. We don’t get here often.” – Lemon Heads Advance to the Finals

Moments after punching their ticket to the finals, the Lemon Heads chat with MAW’s Nick Schaefer about their improbable run to the finals 

4:11 PM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. Stompers (g1)
Tim Beck & the Lemon Heads Strike First

Tim Beck stays hot by taking Jordan Robles deep to straight away center for a second inning solo home run. Ray Lutick would see to it that the run held up and the Lemon Heads take the first game of the Championship Series 1-0.

4:45 PM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. Stompers (G2)
Robles Strikes Backs

Robles extracts a small measure of revenge with a home run of his own in Game 2. The Stompers tack on several runs from there to even the series at one game apiece.

6:09 PM – Sheff – Lemon Heads vs. Stompers (G3)
There It is!” - Tim Cooke Walks It Off

The marathon final game of the day comes to an end in the 7th inning when Stompers’ captain Tim Cooke singles back up the middle to drive in the game’s only run, giving the Stompers both the game and the 2018 Championship

2018 Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament Recap

 The Stompers’ Jordan Robes delivers a pitch to the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick during the championship series with ERL’s Connor Young providing commentary in the background.

The Stompers’ Jordan Robes delivers a pitch to the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick during the championship series with ERL’s Connor Young providing commentary in the background.

Six months ago, Mid Atlantic’s sophomore season commenced with the 8-team Opening Day tournament. In The Drop’s recap of that event, we highlighted the well-balanced nature of the field by noting that thirteen of the tournament’s fifteen games were decided by three runs or less. As it turned out, that level of balance and competitiveness would be a staple of the 2018 MAW season.

It is only fitting, therefore, that the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament – the culmination of the MAW summer season – was yet another tournament decided by the thinnest of margins. Of the thirteen games played on Saturday, eleven were decided by three runs or less. Two of the three 3-game series went the distance, a trio of games required extra innings, and the eventual runners up were one out away from losing their very first game of the day to the one team that went winless in the tournament. From the very first pitch of the day to the very last, there was little margin of error for any team or any player.


 The Barrel Bruisers’ Jerry Hill delivers a pitch while teammate Tony Manelli gets set in the infield.

The Barrel Bruisers’ Jerry Hill delivers a pitch while teammate Tony Manelli gets set in the infield.

The tournament format ensured that one team – and only one team – would leave York without a win. While the smart money was on that team being the Barrel Bruisers – which ultimately would be the case – no team better exemplified the nail-biting nature of this tournament. Bucking conventional wisdom, captain Jerry Hill took the ball in his team’s first game against the Lemon Heads. When the Lemon Heads’ Tim Beck allowed a pair of runs in the first – and was quickly removed in favor of Ray Lutick – Hill recognized a big opening to pull off an upset. At a stage where most wifflers are putting their plastic balls away for good, Hill has quietly and steadily grown into a solid pitcher. Working out of the stretch and relying heavily on a three-quarters drop, Hill pitched the game of his Wiffle Ball life against the Lemon Heads, holding them scoreless through three innings while the Bruisers clung to their two-run lead. 

A familiar refrain for the Barrel Bruisers this year has been their inability to close out games late. Unfortunately for them, that refrain would play out one more time this season. In the 4th inning, the Lemon Heads put together a string of patient at bats, which led to their first run of the game. With the bases loaded, Hill only needed a single out to pull off the shocker but issued a game tying walk instead. Jerry rebounded immediately by getting the final out of the inning and escaping another jam in the 5th, but the damage had already been done. The Barrel Bruisers dropped their opener on total bases and couldn’t muster up any magic against the Yaks, exiting the tournament in two games.

One out removed from pulling off a major upset to two-and-done, the Bruisers will carry that sudden turn-of-events with them all winter long. However, their tournament – as brief as it was – is also a testament to the their tenacity and competitive nature.  


 Dylan Harshaw of the Longballs digs in during a semi-final series game.

Dylan Harshaw of the Longballs digs in during a semi-final series game.

In the Championship Tournament preview, we pointed to the Ridley Park Longballs’ depth as their greatest strength and the major reason why they had a chance at winning it all. The Longballs didn’t disappoint in that regard, steamrolling through the double elimination portion of the day thanks to contributions from all four team members. In going 2-0 and grabbing the #3 seed, the Longballs took down both the York Yaks and Lemon Heads. Although the games were anything but, the Longballs made those early games look easy through a combination of shutdown pitching and timely hitting.

Sean Bingnear – the 2018 MAW Rookie of the Year runner up – handled a tough Yaks’ squad with the command and poise of a veteran. The Yaks took quality swings against Bingnear from the first pitch to the last, but the hard throwing righty continually found ways to get them out. The fact that the Longballs were so willing and able to use their best arm in the first game was, if nothing else, a testament to their ballyhooed depth. Southpaw Tyler Nachbar picked right up where Bingnear left off when facing the Lemon Heads in game two. Nachbar – with one win against the Lemon Heads already on the season – allowed his opponents very few scoring opportunities and pitched his team to a narrow 1-0 win. Although Nachbar and Bingnear are considered rookies for MAW award purposes, the poise they showed in pressure situations on Saturday is a direct result of their years of experience in the Ridley Park Wiffleball League and their national experience at the NWLA Tournament.

All the shutout innings in the world from Bingnear and Nachbar may have been for not if it wasn’t for the clutch hitting of their teammates, Dylan Harshaw and Colin Pollag. Harshaw got the scoring going with a two-run opposite field blast off a game Jared Laird in the Longballs’ opener. Against the Lemon Heads, it was the Colin Pollag show. Pollag hit Ray Lutick as well as any player all tournament long, picking up three hits including a solo shot. The solo home run – a no doubter that Colin pulled over the left field fence on Buffalo – held up as the game winner. So good was Pollag against the Lutick that late in the game Ray decided to intentionally walk Colin rather than risk any further damage.

Although the Longballs’ bats could not solve Chris Sarnowski in the semi-finals – leading to a quiet exit in the semi-finals – the Ridley Park crew were the most impressive of any team in the opening round thanks to their vaunted depth. If the Longballs add Tommy Loftus to their MAW roster next season – which they are rumored to do – that depth is only going to get deeper and scarier.


 First year Yak Adam Milsted delivers a pitch to the Bruisers’ Jerry Hill in the day’s first elimination game.

First year Yak Adam Milsted delivers a pitch to the Bruisers’ Jerry Hill in the day’s first elimination game.

In the finals of the repechage bracket, the York Yaks’ Adam Milsted was cruising right along through the first 2 2/3’s innings. Sure, the Yaks’ offense still had that pesky task of trying to figure out how to score off Ray Lutick but it looked as if Milsted was going to give the offense ample time to figure Ray out. Games could – and did – change in an instance all day long, however, and Milsted was about to experience that firsthand.

With two outs in the third, Milsted temporarily struggled with his mechanics and issued what looked to be a harmless walk to Lutick. One minute and one Dave Clark double later, that walk no longer looked so harmless. Just like that, the Yaks were staring down the barrel of elimination and were indeed knocked out not too long after.

It was that kind of day for the hometown team. Jared Laird appeared to have a little extra giddy up on his pitches against the Longballs, but a walk and well-timed home run did him in. The Yaks left the tournament with a +5 run differential, but that matters little when two games are lost by a combined margin of 3 runs. Milsted and Laird pitched reasonably well, but runs were hard to come by for the Yaks on this day. A key hit here or there from the Yaks’ hitters and the 2018 Championship Tournament may have played out in significantly different fashion.


 With a steady rain falling around him, Connor Young (My Name is ERL) goes into his patented windup.

With a steady rain falling around him, Connor Young (My Name is ERL) goes into his patented windup.

Nobody can win on will alone. I know this to be true. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit to momentarily questioning that fact while watching Connor Young play in game two of the semi-final series.

The Championship Tournament did not go as the top seeded My Name is ERL planned. Pitching in a steady rain, Rookie of the Year winner Blake Hoffman struggled early in the first semi-final game against the Lemon Heads and got the hook before he ever got a chance to redeem himself. ERL’s offense struggled all game and a straight two-game sweep did not seem out of the question at the time.

Young, however, would not allow that to happen. He returned for game two – after a lengthy pause in the action – with even more steadfast resolve than he brings to a “normal” game. Soup pitched a brilliant game, exploiting whatever little holes could be found in the Lemon Heads’ lineup while waiting for his pitch at the plate.  

That pitch finally came in the top of the 7th inning with only one frame left to be played before the total bases tiebreaker kicked in. Young got a hold of a Lutick drop pitch and hit it out over the season awards wall in right-center – Young’s go-to home run spot on Sheff. Screaming out “I told you I’d get mine!” he returned to his bench and focused on finishing off the game. In the bottom half of the inning, Young made quick work of his opponents, punctuating the final strike out with a fist bump while loudly letting everyone know that he still had plenty left in the tank.

In the moment, it certainly seemed like Young would push his team into the finals any way possible. If winning was as simple as willing it into existence, Young and ERL almost certainly would have taken the third game of the series. It never is, however, and despite Young’s heroics and positive energy, ERL was bounced from the tournament before the championship series.


 Ray Lutick of the Lemon Heads - shown here pitching to Colin Pollag - was named tournament MVP.

Ray Lutick of the Lemon Heads - shown here pitching to Colin Pollag - was named tournament MVP.

When MAW organizers put together the format for the six-team Championship Tournament prior to the start of the season, there was some concern about a team potentially playing nine games in a single day and the impact that might have on their pitchers. In the end, MAW concluded that it would take a perfect storm for that to happen. That team would have to start in the double elimination bracket and go two-for-three every single round, which from a pure odds standpoint was a long shot. In the unlikely event that storm occurred, surely that team would have to be at least three pitchers deep to get that far and thus there would not be too much strain placed on the arm of any one pitcher.

The problem with that logic was nobody took the Lemon Heads and Ray Lutick into account.

After a near loss to the Bruisers, the Lemon Heads weren’t as lucky against the Longballs and dropped to the loser’s bracket, thus ensuring they would play the maximum three games during the opening round. In getting by the Yaks, the Lemon Heads officially reached the semi-finals, but it would have been a stretch at that time to state that they had any significant momentum on their side. After all, they had scored just one run in three games entering the series with ERL. That didn’t matter one bit to this New Jersey-based club as they knew that with Ray on the mound, one timely hit per game was all that was required – momentum be damned.

The Lemon Heads, of course, are by no means a one-man team and that showed as the day progressed. Dave Clark had the game-defining hits against the Yaks and in game one of the ERL series. Tim Beck had the game winning hit in the third game against ERL and then he took Jordan Robles deep early in the first game of the finals. Ray’s pitching and the Lemon Head’s timely hitting helped create the aforementioned perfect storm whereby the Lemon Heads won when they got a timely hit and lost when they didn’t, resulting in the team playing the maximum number of games in the day.

Somehow Lutick’s right arm stayed in one piece through it all. Throwing the bulk of all nine games his team played, Ray racked up an unbelievable number of innings and strikeouts on his way to the tournament MVP award. The Lemon Heads long day is – in one respect – a once in a lifetime run. It is almost certainly not, however, the last time the Lemon Heads will be in the finals of a major tournament. And the scary thing is, this team is only going to get better. 


 The Stompers’ Jordan Robles awaits a pitch during the Championship Series. Robles had a big home run and threw 18 quality innings in the series to pick up a second straight title for his team.

The Stompers’ Jordan Robles awaits a pitch during the Championship Series. Robles had a big home run and threw 18 quality innings in the series to pick up a second straight title for his team.

The Stompers franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary this season. After a rare crooked number win, the longest tenured members of the team will often joke that winning in that fashion is not “the Stompers’ way”. No matter the roster – which has obviously changed over the years – the Stompers have long made a habit out of making things hard on themselves. For a team that made its name on winning ugly, the 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship turned out to be an appropriately themed anniversary gift.

The defending Mid Atlantic champions slogged through the rain to take two straight games from the Ridley Longballs thanks to two more shutout performances from Chris Sarno in a season full of them. The mere presence of rain was itself a reminder of the team’s past, as the franchise’s memorable 2003 postseason run took place almost entirely in wet conditions in both New Jersey and Texas.

With a fresh Jordan Robles on the carpet to start the finals, the Stompers felt good about their chances, but those good feelings went away in an instant courtesy of Tim Beck’s second inning home run. Just like that, the Stompers had their backs against the wall. The outlook improved slightly with a win game two, but even that was a drawn out contest marred by a disputed tag play. Speaking of long and drawn out, the deciding game of the series felt – at times – as if it would never end. The ever dangerous Chris Sarno was issued intentional walk after intentional walk, but the other Stompers’ failed to get him in. From the second inning through the seventh, the team had bases loaded each inning but failed to score. To the Stompers’ credit, Robles kept the Lemon Heads at bay and was never in serious danger of being scored upon in the third game. At long last – and appropriately enough – Stomper founder and captain Tim Cooke poked a Lutick dropper into centerfield for the game-ending single.

The path to a second straight Mid Atlantic title certainly wasn’t pretty, but then again with the Stompers, it rarely ever is.


Although the champion remained the same, there is no doubt that the 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship was a significant step up from the 2017 iteration. From the cash purse - up $1,200 to $2,500 - to the robust live streaming schedule and the previously mentioned high level of competition, everything was a little bit bigger and better this September. Even the rain couldn’t dampen what was a an excellent day of wiffs and a fitting end to a quality season in the Mid Atlantic. MAW officials would like to thank all of the Championship Tournament teams as well as every single team and player that competed in a Mid Atlantic tournament this season.

Planning is already under way for the 2019 season, which will be here sooner than you think . . .

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: My Name is ERL

Roster: Blake Hoffman, Joe Schlindwein, Connor Young

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Playing Out Of: Medford, New Jersey

2018 MAW Record: 19-6

Seed: #1

Signature Wins: vs. Stompers 1-0 (5/5); vs. Longballs 1-0 (8/4)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 13-2

First Game: vs. 2-1 team (#4 seed) from double elimination bracket

Why They Will Win It All:  Connor Young is having – without any hyperbole – an all-time great season inside and outside of Mid Atlantic. At present, he is on the [very] shortlist of best players in the game. The 2018 Mid Atlantic championship – one way or the other – will go through Soup. Connor has come up with big hit after big hit this season. He’s been a workhorse on the rubber and is rapidly approaching 200 fast pitch innings across multiple organizations. As great of a summer as Connor is having and as great of a career he has had at only 21 years old, he has yet to win a major title in the sport. The chance to rectify that should provide even more motivation to a player who has never lacked for drive.

Of course, ERL is far from a one-man show. As good as Connor has been, it is easy to forget that rookie southpaw Blake Hoffman pitched right with – and in certain areas outdid – the ERL captain on the carpet. Blake bested Connor in several statistical categories including WHIP and batting average against. Hoffman led MAW in both of those categories (minimum 24 IP), a telling sign that if you reach base against the rookie sensation you better make it count because there won’t be very many opportunities like it. Hoffman experienced some growing pains earlier this season but since July, he has allowed just a single run in 27 innings pitched. When Blake is mixing his pitches, he is as tough to square up on as any pitcher in the game.

The two-headed pitching monster of Young and Hoffman gives ERL the luxury to strategize and play match ups should they so choose. If ERL wants a lefty-lefty match up against a dangerous left-handed hitter like the Longballs’ Tyler Nachbar, they can turn to Hoffman. If ERL faces a team in the semi-finals that hasn’t done much damage against Young this season, they can throw him that series. Both pitchers have the stuff to throw championship-level innings, which may allow Connor get more creative early on in regards to lineup decisions without having to worry about any negative downstream effects.

Offensively, Young is the team’s best hitter and always seems to get a big hit when needed. Joe Schlindwein led MAW in walks this season. Joe’s ability to get on base could be an x-factor for his team. The more times Joe is on base, the more run producing chances Connor will have and chances are he will eventually cash in. Blake had arguably his best offensive tournament three weeks ago in Canonsburg. If he can carry that performance over to the Championship Tournament that will make ERL all the more dangerous. With their pitching, the team only needs a run or two per game on average to be successful and it is easy to see several ways they could go about getting them.

Lastly if you need one more reason to believe the #1 seed will hold up, ERL's 13-2 mark against fellow Championship Tournament teams is the best among all Championship Tournament teams. The club is a combined 12-0 against the Yaks, Longballs, and Bruisers, 1-2 versus the Stompers, and they have yet to play fellow Garden Staters, the Lemon Heads. 

Why They Won’t: While Schlindwein and Hoffman are both capable of contributing on offense, each ranked in the bottom third of most offensive statistical categories during the 2018 regular season. There is no question that Young is a great hitter – particularly when it matters the most – but there is also no question that he is a notoriously free swinger. If pitchers take advantage of Connor’s aggressiveness and he is unable to change his approach, the results could be disastrous for the ERL offense. It is hard to see Hoffman and Young getting battered around for four games, but it is not nearly as hard to see their bats going cold for an extended period of time. If that happens, ERL will be in trouble.

Highlights:

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: Stompers

Roster: Paul Cooke, Tim Cooke, Jordan Robles, Chris Sarnowski, Nick Schaefer

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Playing Out Of: Baltimore, MD

2018 MAW Record: 20-5

Seed: 2

Signature Wins: vs. My Name is ERL 1-0 (4/14); vs. My Name is ERL TB’s (07/14); vs. Lemon Heads 1-0 (8/18)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 6-3

First Game: vs. 2-0 team (#3 seed) from double elim bracket

Why They Will Win It All:  On a per tournament basis, the Stompers have had the most success of any team in Mid Atlantic this season with three tournament titles and one runner up finish. The team has done so in large part because of an MVP caliber season from Chris Sarnowski. Chris is a legit two-way threat, equally capable of changing the game with his bat as he is with his arm. Sarno is one of only four players to toss 20 or more innings in a single Mid Atlantic tournament this year. Should the Stompers find themselves locked in extra inning battles and/or long series, his ability to go long will come in handy. At the plate, Sarno is a big time power threat and has accounted for his team's only runs with a homer a handful of times this summer.

Furthermore, if the team so chooses, they can ride Sarno for multiple games and 15 or more innings in the semi-finals with the comfort of knowing that they have Jordan Robles waiting in the wings. Jordan was his typically impressive self at the plate and on the carpet this season. Nobody loves the drama and intensity of a championship game more than Robles who almost always rises to the occasion when the lights are the brightest. Robles is one of the best the sport has to offer and probably the last hitter or pitcher any team will want to see on the 8th with a game on the line.

The 1-2 combo of Sarno and Robles is hard to beat, but the Stompers will also have veteran Nick Schaefer to go to if needed. In this format, Schaefer might act as a safety net of sorts for his squad. In the unfortunate event of an injury or underperformance, Schaefer – with years of big game experience – can take the ball as a spot starter or a late inning reliever. Schaefer could also take the ball in less pressure-packed situations and take some of the burden off Robles and Sarno. The Stompers undoubtedly have the pitching depth needed to win the tournament.

Offensively, the Stompers ran hot and cold this year but have gotten the big hits when needed from virtually everyone on their roster. They are the only Championship Tournament team with four players bringing a .200+ batting average into the Championship Tournament. Robles and Sarno are liable to go on a tear at a moment’s notice while Schaefer and Tim Cooke are veteran hitters who showed they still have a few big hits left in their bats. As a team, the Stompers get on base enough that they are usually able to find a way to push a run or two across against top tier pitchers.

Why They Won’t:  If the Stompers’ bats do run cold, all the pitching in the world might not be enough to save them. In 25 games played during the regular season, the Stompers scored one run or less 13 times. They won their fair share of those games thanks to the pitching but living on the edge in that fashion can come back to bite them. In terms of potential Championship Tournament opponents, the Stompers are 2-2 against the Lemon Heads and have yet to really solve Ray Lutick. Their 2-1 record versus ERL looks solid but the third game was a veritable coin flip and one run decided the other two games. Which is all to say that the Stompers will likely have very little margin for error on the 8th. A lengthy stretch of offensive futility or a single down day from one player could easily spell the end of their quest to repeat as Mid Atlantic champions.

Highlights:

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: York Yaks

Roster: Jared Laird, Adam Milsted, Dan Potter

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Playing Out Of: York, Pennsylvania

Seed: 3rd

2018 MAW Record: 8-15

Signature Wins: vs. Longballs 6-3 (5/5); vs. Lemon Heads 1-0 (8/4)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 4-9

First Game: vs. Longballs

Why They Will Win It All:  No trio on any other playoff team hit as many regular season home runs (16) as Laird (4), Milsted (4), and Potter (8). If those three are clicking on all cylinders offensively, they can make up for any pitching deficiencies the Yaks may have in the Championship Tournament. Any lineup that affords Potter an opportunity to hit at least once per inning is a potentially dangerous one. He is one of a few hitters in this tournament who can single-handedly take over with his bat. The Yaks’ 3-man offense has the potential to score runs in droves if everyone is locked in. That production could allow them to shorten a game or two by mercy rule and/or give Milsted a breather after getting out to a big lead.

Jared Laird had a sneakily solid season on the carpet, posting a 4.46 ERA in 11 2/3 innings. It is conceivable that the Yaks could squeeze a win out of Laird, which would take some pressure off Milsted. On August 4th, Milsted threw 15 shutout innings against a pair of playoff teams – Barrel Bruisers and Lemon Heads – and a quality Shortballs squad. Based off that single tournament performance, it is fair to assume that – on a really good day – Adam might have 20-ish quality innings in his arm, which might be just enough to help his team to the finish line if he gets an assist from Laird.

Perhaps most importantly, the veteran Yaks have become quite adept at finding ways to sneak into the later rounds of tournaments while still leaving bullets in the chamber for later. The Yaks don’t care how they survive, as long as they do. While other teams in the Championship Tournament might be tempted to shift into high gear in their very first game, the Yaks have demonstrated a willingness and ability to hold back early so that they can still put their best foot forward in elimination games. That experience could prove especially useful under this tournament format.

Why They Won’t:  The absence of Jarod Bull might be too big for the Yaks to overcome. If the Yaks had Bull, it would be relatively easy to chart a path to the finals for the hometown team. Without two top tier pitchers, it is far more difficult to see how Yaks will reach the championship series. Even if Laird gives the Yaks two quality games – which might be asking a lot – the team would still need at least four big performances form Milsted. In addition, the Yaks will be without team captain Nick Shirey, who is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. The absence of Shirey deprives the team of one of their biggest on base threats. All told, there is a good chance the Yaks will run out of pitching at some point during the day and finish short of the finals.

Highlights:

2018 Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament Overview

A memorable and competitive summer of Wiffleball in the Mid Atlantic area comes to a head on Saturday, September 8th at the second annual Mid Atlantic Championship tournament!

The six teams that have earned their way to this point will compete for $2,500 in cash prizes and the title of 2018 Mid Atlantic Champions. The teams competing on September 8th participated in multiple Mid Atlantic regular season tournaments, accrued points based on their finishes in those tournaments, and placed in the top six in the final point standings. The Championship field is a mix of veteran teams and players, several of the best players in the sport, and a plethora of up-and-coming players that – if they aren’t already – will very soon be on radar of every serious wiffler.

For ongoing team-by-team previews, see below and continue reading beyond the jump for a full run down of what you can expect to see on the 8th in York.

Ridley Park Longballs Preview
Barrel Bruisers Preview
Jersey Lemon Heads Preview
York Yaks Preview
Stompers Preview
My Name is ERL Preview

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The 2018 Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament is the culmination of a six-tournament regular season that began on April 14th in York, PA and wrapped up on August 18th in Canonsburg, PA. This is the second year in a row that MAW will host a championship tournament. The Stompers outlasted My Name is ERL, York Yaks, and Barrel Bruisers to win the 2017 Mid Atlantic Championship last October. The Championship Tournament field expanded from four teams to six teams prior to the 2018 season to account for the increased participation in Mid Atlantic tournaments.

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The top six teams in the point standings – as listed in the graphic above – all accepted their bids to the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament and will be in action on the 8th.

As announced prior to the start of the 2018 season, the six-team Championship Tournament format provides byes to the top two teams in the point standings – the Stompers and My Name is ERL. The remaining four teams will compete in a modified double elimination bracket to determine the 3rd and 4th seeds for the Best of 3 semi-finals. This is a double elimination bracket with one exception – the winner of the champion’s bracket and repechage bracket will not face each other. Instead, the team that goes 2-0 will become the #3 seed in the semi-finals and the team that goes 2-1 will become the #4 seed in the semi-finals. The other two teams will be eliminated from the Championship Tournament. The games in this opening round will be four inning regulation games. Home field advantage and the right to choose which field to play on during this round will belong to the highest seed. The Yaks, therefore, will hold home field advantage throughout this round.

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The semi-final round will kick off around noon with the Stompers (#2 seed) facing the team that comes out of the winner’s bracket and My Name is ERL (#1 seed) facing the team that comes out of the repechage bracket. The winners of these two Best of 3 series will meet in a Best of 3 championship series. All semi-final and championship series games will be five inning regulation games. Seeds will re-reset for the semi-finals and finals, with the team that comes out of the winner’s bracket assuming the #3 seed. The higher seeded team in the semi-finals and finals will have home field advantage in games one and three (if necessary), with the lower seeded team being home in the second game of each three game series.

The top four teams will finish in the money, meaning the two teams that survive the double elimination portion of the day will go home with a little cash for their accomplishment. The payout is as follows:

  • 3rd & 4th Place - $150 each
  • 2nd Place - $400
  • 1st Place - $1,800
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Games will start at approximately 9:00 AM ET. For those who want to follow along, MAW will go live on Facebook (www.facebook.com/midatlanticwiffle) at approximately 9:00 AM with the Longballs vs. Yaks game. The broadcast will continue straight on through to the winner’s bracket game, which will decide who will face the Stompers in the semi-finals. The morning broadcast will include commentary. In the afternoon, at least one semi-final game and one game in the finals will be streamed live. Follow the MAW Facebook page and MAW Twitter (@midatlanticwiff) to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the live action.

In addition, the 2018 Mid Atlantic regular season award winners will be announced in between the double elimination round and the semi-finals. Who is this year's Mike Palinczar Most Valuable Player award winner and this year's Joe Nord Rookie of the Year winner? Find out on the 8th!

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: Jersey Lemon Heads

Roster: Tim Beck, Dave Clark, Matt Crispe, Ray Lutick

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Playing Out Of: Jackson, New Jersey

2018 MAW Record: 10-5

Seed: 4th

Signature Wins: vs. Stompers 1-0 (7/14); vs. Yaks TB (8/4); vs. Stompers 1-0 (8/18)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 5-4

First Game: vs. Barrel Bruisers

Why They Will Win It All:  Ray Lutick not only has shutdown stuff, he can carry it deep into a tournament. Just a couple of weeks ago in Canonsburg, Ray threw 15 innings for his team in pool play and then still had enough left in the tank to go pitch-for-pitch over nine innings with a fresh Chris Sarnowski. That combination of stuff and durability is particularly scary in this tournament format. While facing Lutick after he has already thrown two or three games is preferable to facing him completely fresh, the drop off is not that significant. Ray is one of the few pitchers in the field who can throw high pressure innings for his team in the opening round and still have enough left over to be effective in the semi-finals and finals.

Having said that, there is a very real possibility that the Lemon Heads could reach the semi-finals without having to go to Lutick for more than four to six innings. On August 4th, the Lemon Heads got nearly three innings out of Matt Crispe against the same Barrel Bruisers club they will match up against to begin the Championship Tournament. Lutick eventually was forced into the game to close things out, but if the Lemon heads try something similar on the 8th and it works out, that could make them all the more dangerous later on.

Then there are the Lemon Heads’ bats, which are heating up with every tournament. All four members of the team have picked up key hits against quality pitchers in recent weeks. There are no obvious holes in this lineup. With Ray on the rubber, the team only needs a run or two per game to win and they have been able to get that more often than not in three regular season MAW tournaments. The Lemon Heads’ hitters bring both patience and power, which makes their lineup a difficult one to navigate through.

Lastly, while the Lemon Heads have yet to face My Name is ERL this season they did beat ERL’s Blake Hoffman in Canonsburg when he played for the rival Stompers. The team also has a win over the Stompers proper. No other team in the double elimination portion of the field can boast that same level of success against the top two seeds.

Why They Won’t: As impressive as Lutick has been on the carpet, he is – as far as we can tell – still human and this will be a long tournament. While the Championship tournament can be won by a lower seed in a manageable six games, the reality is that it will probably take at least seven games and could take as many as nine. That’s a minimum of 33 innings. If anyone in this field is going to pull a 1999 Billy Owens it is Lutick, but that kind of performance cannot be expected of anyone. Lutick is going to tire at some point and odds are it will happen before the Lemon Heads pick up their sixth win of the tournament.

Highlights:

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: Barrel Bruisers

Roster: Jerry Hill, Tony Manelli, Chris Owen

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Playing Out Of: Alexandria, Virginia

2018 MAW Record: 3-15

Seed: #5

Signature Wins: vs. York Yaks 14-11 (4/14)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 1-10

First Game: vs. Lemon Heads

Why They Will Win It All:  Realistically, the odds are heavily stacked against the Bruisers. Short-handed all season, the club has struggled to put up wins and have limped into the Championship Tournament. Any team in any tournament has a shot at winning it all but the Bruisers chances in this tournament are admittedly rather slim.

But not all is lost! We may not be able to tell you exactly why the Barrel Bruisers will win it all, but we CAN tell you why they will throw a wrench – or even two – into the plans of their competitors.

Let's start with the Bruisers' Chris Owen. One-half of Owen’s eight starts this season have been quality ones against playoff and playoff-caliber teams. In four games spanning 14 innings versus the Cuban Raft Riders, Yaks, ERL, and G€M, Chris pitched to a 2.29 ERA and struck out 46% of the hitters he faced. Clearly Chris can shut down quality teams as long as he is able to command his breaking ball. If Owen has it all working for one game, the Bruisers could pull off an opening round upset.

Tony Manelli has several hits – including a pair of homers – off Championship Tournament pitchers and Jerry Hill is never an easy out. If teams aren’t careful, they could find themselves in the loser’s bracket or out of the tournament at the hands of the Bruisers.

Even in games in which they are ultimately defeated, the Bruisers could still cause trouble for their opening round opponents. The team has several narrow loses to Championship Tournament and playoff caliber teams this season including a total base loss to My Name is ERL and a walk off loss to the Yaks. Any team hoping to casually slip past the Bruisers will likely be forced to rethink that strategy sometime during the game. Although the record might not reflect it, this team is no easy out and will force their opponents to battle, particularly if Chris has command of his pitches.

Why They Won’t:  The Bruisers’ overall lack of offensive production this season and their inconsistent pitching will be their downfall. If Chris is on early and the Bruisers find themselves in the semi-finals, they will likely run out of pitching in short order.

Highlights:

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: Longballs

Roster: Sean Bingnear, Dylan Harshaw, Tyler Nachbar, Colin Pollag

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Playing Out Of: Ridley Park, Pennsylvania

Seed: 6th

2018 MAW Record: 5-5

Signature Wins: vs. Lemon Heads 8-1 (8/4)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 3-4

First Game: vs. York Yaks

Why They Will Win It All: No team in the field can match the Longballs’ pitching depth. At four pitchers deep, the Ridley Park club is well situated for a tournament that could take as many as nine games to win. This is not shallow depth, either. Sean Bingnear established himself this season as one of the game’s brightest young pitchers, if not prone to a bit of bad luck. Sean is tournament tested and gives the Longballs a true late-tournament ace that should match up well with the Robles, Sarnos, Soups, and Luticks of the world. Hard throwing lefty Tyler Nachbar was fabulous at the August 4th tournament and if healthy, forms a potent lefty-righty combo with Bingnear. Pollag has extensive experience on the carpet in RPWL and MAW. If he can harness his command, Pollag will be a weapon in the opening round. And while captain Dylan Harshaw has yet to toe the rubber in MAW, he pitched well for the Ridley Park A’s this year in league action and gives his team yet another pitching option.

If Chris Owen, Adam Milsted or Ray Lutick have an off-day on the 8th, their teams will struggle to keep runs off the board. The Longballs, however, can keep passing the baton until they find a pitcher or pitchers who can get the job done. That advantage is a potentially significant one in a Championship environment.

The Longballs' offense is nearly as deep as their pitching. Nachbar has power to spare and poses a real threat from the left side of the plate. Pollag's .467 OBP in MAW in 2018 ranks 4th among batters with at least 50 plate appearances. Bingnear's .508 OBP ranks 2nd and his .326 batting average is 6th among hitters with a minimum of 50 plate appearances. And while Harshaw might not have the numbers his teammates have, he has had success against several of the MAW playoff teams and was one of the few Ridley Park players to do any damage off Cam Farro in that league's playoffs. As a team, the Longballs gave Connor Young all he could handle in the finals of the August 4th tournament and clearly will not be intimidated by any pitcher they see on the 8th.

Why They Won’t:  A side effect of having such pitching depth is that none of the Longballs have had to throw 15 or 20 innings in a single tournament this year. That’s not to say that none of them can but they are unproven in that regard. Even if the team gets quality innings and wins from the likes of Nachbar, Pollag, and Harshaw early on, eventually they will be tempted to turn to Bingnear to either avoid elimination or to attempt to pick up a first-game win in a Best of 3 series. While we know that pitchers like Soup, Sarno, Robles, and Lutick can be let lose in the semi’s and go the rest of the day, Bingnear is unproven in that regard. Historically speaking, tournaments like this are won by teams who can ride a hot pitcher for three, four, or more games down the stretch. At least on paper, the Longballs lack that type of pitcher and for that reason, their depth maybe rendered moot later in the day.

Highlights:

Canonsburg Classic (August 18, 2018) Tournament Recap

 Gino Joseph (Left) and Austin Berger (Right) shake hands following the 3rd place game.

Gino Joseph (Left) and Austin Berger (Right) shake hands following the 3rd place game.

The hungry and talented 2018 NWLA Tournament Champions on the hunt for another 2018 tournament title. A second-time tournament team seeking marked improvement over their recent debut. One of the most active and best teams in the country over the past thirty-five days. The second-place team in the 2018 MAW point standings joined by – for one day only – a key player on the team they are looking up at in the standings.

This was the eclectic four-team field that assembled in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania for MAW’s final tournament of the 2018 season and the organization’s first regular season tournament away from Shi Wiffleball Park. As different as these four teams are in terms of makeup and motivation, they were nonetheless evenly matched. Of the eight games played on Saturday, all but one was decided by three runs or less and six came down to just a single run. There was little margin of error for any team the entire tournament.

After a disappointing – but not all that atypical – tournament debut on August 4th, the Revolution’s Gino Joseph vowed to one day be among the best in the game. If the improvement Gino showed in the two-weeks between Backyard Brawl and the Canonsburg Classic is indicative of his future learning curve, he will reach his goal sooner than anyone expected.

On the 4th Gino – working mainly with non-scuffed, beat up balls – struggled with his command to the tune of a 58% walk rate. His 3-pitch mix of riser, drop, and screwball was impressive for a rookie, but the strike zone eluded him. On the 18th, Gino showed up in Canonsburg with that same 3-pitch mix, only this time he brought along added velocity and much improved command. The results speak for themselves. Joseph allowed 14 runs while working all 18 innings for the Revolution. His 3.11 ERA (per 4 IP) is a drastic improvement over his 24.00 ERA in five innings two weeks earlier. Aside from an 8-0 loss to the Stompers, Joseph kept opposing hitters in check and gave his offense plenty of chances to pull out a victory. The Revolution once again went winless but if they can find a way to put up a few runs for their ace and perhaps develop another pitcher behind Gino, they will have an opportunity to make some noise in 2019.

Just one month earlier, the Wiff is Life League (“WILL”) sent shockwaves throughout the National Wiffleball League Association (“NWLA”) ranks when their team went 5-0 in the double elimination round of the NWLA Tournament to take home the title. Like many teams over the years, the WILL Waves’ ascension to tournament champions was quick and sudden, prompting some to label them as a Cinderella squad – the beneficiaries of one magical day. For their part, the Waves have brushed off those remarks and plan to prove that what happened in Morenci was no fluke.

 Mike Graziani (Waves) gets ready to deliver a pitch.

Mike Graziani (Waves) gets ready to deliver a pitch.

To their immense credit, the Waves have not rested on their laurels, instead taking on the challenge of competing in a tournament with vastly different rules than the NWLA Tournament. Armed with cut balls and big barrel bats, the Waves made relatively quick work of the Revolution behind Mike Graziani’s arm (5 IP, 0 runs, 14 K’s) and Jake Davey’s bat (3-6, 2B, 3B, 2 R).

Steven Keelon – who held a lean and locked in My Name is ERL offense of Connor Young, Gerard Fitzgerald, and Dan Whitener to two runs over three innings back at MAW’s June event – took the ball against the Lemon Heads in game two. Keelon immediately walked the first three batters, which threatened to place his team in an insurmountable hole. That’s when Davey and the Waves’ experience with larger rosters – common at the NWLA tournament – came into play. The Waves went with a 3-man lineup this game to give their better hitters as many reps as possible. With Keelon unable to find the zone, Davey summoned ace Austin Berger off the bench to put the fire out. Berger nearly did that as he struck out the side but not before allowing a pair of runs on two wild pitches. The Waves immediately fought back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring one run and stranding a couple more. Berger kept the Lemon Heads in check the rest of the way, striking out 15 batters and allowing just a single hit. Davey went to his bench once again in the bottom of the 5th – subbing Graziani in for Berger as a pinch hitter with the idea that Mike would stay in as the pitcher should the Waves tie the game – but Graziani went down swinging to finish off a 2-1 defeat.

[WATCH: Lemon Heads vs. Waves Full Game]

Berger got right back at it against the Stompers, racking up an additional nine K’s thanks to a plus screwball that he was able to locate on both sides of the zone. Unfortunately, one pitch told the story of this game for Berger and the Waves and they fell to the Stompers 1-0. The Waves finished strong, defeating the Revolution in the third-place game behind a tag team effort on the carpet from Graziani and Davey. While they certainly hoped to reach the title game, the Waves’ proved that no matter the rules, they can compete with top-level teams. Their +4-run differential was the second best of the tournament. Keep an eye out for the Waves in MAW and elsewhere next year – these guys are gamers no matter the style of play.

The Lemon Heads made the long trek from New Jersey to western Pennsylvania in search of their first tournament title. The Lemon Heads made their first appearance of 2018 back at MAW’s Backyard Brawl on July 14th. Heading into Canonsburg, the team had played in three competitive fast pitch tournaments in just over a month, compiling an impressive record of 13-4 along the way. Over the past month and change, there haven’t been many teams better anywhere in the country than the Lemon Heads.

Despite those quality results, the Lemon Heads arrived in Canonsburg still in search of their first tournament title. For much of the day, it looked like they were going to get what they came for. The group picked up a huge early win when they knocked off the Stompers 1-0 thanks to triples from Tim Beck and Dave Clark. The team’s ace, Ray Lutick, took over from that point, pitching his squad past the Waves and Revolution in a pair of low scoring contests. The Lemon Heads had strong at bats all tournament long and their offense continues to improve every time out. They found ways to score just enough runs to make Lutick’s strong pitching performances stand up.

 Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads) went 3-1 on the carpet and within run of pitching his team to their first tournament championship.

Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads) went 3-1 on the carpet and within run of pitching his team to their first tournament championship.

At 3-0, the team seemed well-positioned to win that elusive championship. For nine innings, Lutick – working his fourth game of the day – went toe-to-toe with his much fresher opponent, the Stompers’ Chris Sarno. Unfortunately, it was heartbreak yet again for the Jersey boys. In the top of the 9th, Sarno hit a solo home run to give his team the lead and then shut the door in the bottom half of the inning on the carpet. Nonetheless, the second-place finish is the Lemon Heads’ highest finish in a tournament this season and it moved them ahead of the Barrel Bruisers for the fourth spot in the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament.

As for the Stompers, the 2017 Mid Atlantic champs came to Canonsburg with a somewhat surprising addition in the person of ERL’s Blake Hoffman. ERL pulled out of the tournament the week of, leaving the Ohio native without a team to play on. Hoffman hooked on with the rival Stompers, who forewent a chance at earning crucial playoff points by making the move. The addition allowed the Stompers to save Chris Sarno for the finals while Hoffman handled all the pool play pitching duties. Hoffman was on his game, allowing only a single run over 14 innings of work as he pitched his temporary team into the finals. For good measure, the 2018 MAW Rookie of the Year candidate hit a homerun versus the Revolution and appears to be peaking at the right time both at the plate and on the carpet.

Not to be outdone, however, was Hoffman’s teammate for the day, Chris Sarno. Chris was the star of the tournament thanks to two game winning home runs and an excellent nine inning title game pitching performance. In earning his second tournament MVP honor of the season, Sarno has placed himself near the top of the shortlist of season MVP candidates. Perhaps more importantly, after a slightly down – by his own lofty standards – pitching display in July and after sitting out the August 4th tournament, Sarno showed he is locked in and ready to go on in three weeks at the Championship Tournament.

Here and There

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When the Waves defeated the Revolution in their first game of the tournament, they joked about finally winning a pool play game this season. While the Waves did have a pool play win already – at MAW Wiffle Wars this June – they went 0-2-1 in pool play at the NWLA tournament before rattling off five straight to win the title . . . In that regard at least, the Lemon Heads are the polar opposite of the Waves. The Jersey quartet is now an unbelievable 16-1 in non-elimination games and 0-4 in elimination games on the year . . . Sarno’s MVP performance was extra special as it came in front of family members, including his new fiancé. Sarno – who is used to traveling upwards of five hours to play in tournaments – lives just miles away from the Canonsburg tourney site . . . MAW debuted new logo target strike zones at the tournament . . . When asked by a teammate if he was aware of the wild pitch rule that allowed two runs to score against the Lemon Heads, Berger said that he was but temporarily forgot. “If I remembered, I wouldn’t have thrown the riser,” Berger added . . . The 9-inning championship game between the Stompers and Lemon Heads marked the fourth time this season that a game has gone beyond six innings. At least one of the Stompers or ERL have competed in each of the four games . . . MAW tournaments have been blessed with great weather during the organization’s two-year existence. Rain was forecasted for Saturday, but the weather largely held up, save for a few sun showers during the 3rd place game and championship game . . . MAW officials would like to thank Jake Davey and WILL for their hospitality all weekend.

Championship Tournament Point Standing Update

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When it comes to post-season positioning, the Lemon Heads were the big winners in Canonsburg, leap frogging over the Barrel Bruisers into fourth place in the playoff point standings. While that outcome does not alter the first round Championship Tournament match ups, the Lemon Heads do pick up home field advantage in the opening round. With the Stompers ineligible to earn points in Canonsburg, the top two spots remained the same even though ERL was inactive. Although they were also inactive, the Longballs secured the sixth and final spot in the Championship Tournament as a result of neither the Waves nor Revolution winning the auto bid.

With that, we now know the identities of the six squads that earned their way to the no entry fee, invitation only Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament. Which one will emerge as the 2018 Mid Atlantic champions?

Up Next

 Chris Sarno (Stompers) won his second tournament MVP award of the 2018 season by hitting two game winning home runs and shutting out the Lemon Heads in the championship game.

Chris Sarno (Stompers) won his second tournament MVP award of the 2018 season by hitting two game winning home runs and shutting out the Lemon Heads in the championship game.

To paraphrase the Stompers’ Jordan Robles, it’s championship season! We have reached the end of August, which means several major titles will be decided over the next six weeks.

Chief among those events is the second Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament, which emanates from Shi Wiffleball Park in York, PA on Saturday September 8th.  This unique six-team tournament – comprised of the top six team in the year-end playoff point standings – will kick off with a modified double elimination round with the 3rd – 6th seeds to decide which teams will join ERL and the Stompers in the semi-finals. The semi-finals and finals will both be Best of 3 series. The cash purse for this invitation only tournament is $2,500 and the final four teams will all finish in the money.

Stay tuned to midatlanticwiffle.com and the MAW social media accounts over the next two weeks for MUCH more on this major tournament!

Backyard Brawl (August 4, 2018) Tournament Recap

 Joe Schlindwein (left) and Connor Young (right) celebrate their tournament win at  Backyard Brawl  seconds after the final out was recorded.

Joe Schlindwein (left) and Connor Young (right) celebrate their tournament win at Backyard Brawl seconds after the final out was recorded.

No more than sixty seconds after striking out the Longball’s Dylan Harshaw to win MAW’s Backyard Brawl tournament, Connor Young fell to the ground next to Sheff Field and lied there for a moment, exhausted.

The four-game pool play schedule and hot and humid conditions enervated almost every player, but it was an especially taxing day for ERL’s captain. Young threw all twenty-six innings for his two-man squad, came up with big hit after big hit, made several key defensive plays, and did not allow a single run along the way. On top of all of that, Connor had to twice navigate his way through a hungry and relentless Longballs lineup. That type of workload will sap the strength out of even the best conditioned athletes.

“That was certainly the most exhausted I’ve ever been after a tournament. I was drained,” Young told The Drop via text message. “I was honestly running on fumes those last three innings of the championship.”

The tournament had a throwback feel to it for ERL. Young took the ball from the first pitch to the last out with only Joe Schlindwein by his side, just as he did most of last summer. The Connor Young we saw on Saturday, however, was not the same player from 2017 who burned himself out by going a mile-a-minute each game of every tournament. This was not even the same player we saw earlier this season – a player who at times pressed too hard at the plate and who on several occasions allowed a single mistake pitch to turn into a hard luck loss.

At Backyard Brawl, Connor avoided the pitfalls that occasionally plagued him in the past. He judiciously navigated his way through opposing lineups. He added and subtracted as necessary to ensure that his arm would hold up through the long and humid day. Connor took care of business at the plate and saw to it that games would not be lost on one pitch. His pitch selection was – at times – impeccable. The result was arguably Young’s best all-around tournament in Mid Atlantic and ERL’s first MAW tournament title since the team’s MAW debut last June.

 Connor Young ran away with tournament MVP honors, getting it done for ERL both on the carpet and at the dish.

Connor Young ran away with tournament MVP honors, getting it done for ERL both on the carpet and at the dish.

The path to ERL’s second MAW championship was a tough one, beginning with their first game of the day versus the Longballs from Ridley Park, PA. After competing in tournaments in May and June with suboptimal rosters, the Longballs arrived at Backyard Brawl with a foursome (Dylan Harshaw, Sean Bingnear, Tyler Nachbar, and Colin Pollag) that can match talent with any team in most any field. The Longballs’ roster on Saturday was at least three pitchers deep, which allowed them to throw their top starter – Bingnear – against ERL without having to worry about how that might impact their ability to compete later in the day.

As expected, a classic pitcher’s duel ensued between Young and Bingnear. The game breezed through the first three frames. Several half innings were over in a blink of an eye as the pitchers pounded the zone with strike after strike. Young did so with his full assortment of pitches while Bingnear relied mainly on a screwball-fastball-side arm drop combination. In the 4th, the Longball hitters got a read on Young and strung together some quality at bats that resulted in a pair of base runners. Armed with a 3-1 total base lead, the Longballs headed to the 5th inning with a chance to score a signature win.

For the second time in as many tournaments – the first coming in June against Cloud9 – Bingnear entered the 5th inning with a chance to pick up a major upset against a top team. Unfortunately for him and the Longballs, it was once again not meant to be. Joe led off the inning with a big walk. The base on balls allowed the ridiculously clutch Young an opportunity to deliver, which he did by smacking a double into the right field corner. The hit – which came with nobody out in the inning – gave ERL a one base lead and a big scoring opportunity. To Bingnear’s credit, he hit right back at ERL and set the next three batters down in order. The damage had been done, however, and in the bottom half of the inning Soup went into lockdown mode. He retired the Longballs in order to pick up the big early pool play win.

With one major challenge out of the way, Young settled into a groove for the rest of the round. He maneuvered his way through the offenses of the Barrel Bruisers and Revolution and used the extra at bats that come with playing as a two-man team to get into a routine at the plate. That routine, as usual, consisted of a lot of free swinging. Perhaps even more so than usual, Young was aggressive at the plate chasing – and often hitting – pitches six inches outside the zone. To round out pool play, ERL downed the Yaks to improve to a perfect 4-0.

Elsewhere, the Jersey Lemon Heads - led by another excellent pitching performance from ace Ray Lutick - also swept through pool play at a perfect 4-0 with victories over the Bruisers, Shortballs, Revolution, and Yaks. Both Jersey teams had one total base win to their names, so the top seed came down to run differential which ERL took by several runs. The 3-1 Longballs picked up the third seed while the 2-2 Yaks were given an immediate rematch against ERL.

A fresh – as fresh as one can be after playing six hours in the sticky late summer heat – Jarod Bull took the mound for the Yaks. The Yaks’ game plan of holding back Bull and sneaking into the elimination round anyway possible played out to near perfection. They entered the semi-finals with the no pitches thrown by their ace, something no other team in the field could boast.

The matchup between Bull and Young is one of the great pitcher-batter rivalries in MAW’s brief history. Bull and the Yaks got the better of it last August and September with wins over ERL in the finals and semi-finals, respectively. Connor got his payback in last October’s Championship Tournament and has carried that momentum into this season. Young continued to be a thorn in Bull’s side on Saturday, hitting two more home runs off him. It would have been three, if not for a sensational catch by the newest Yak, Jordan Reichard, who tumbled over the center field fence on Buffalo while holding onto the ball. The offensive explosion gave Connor some breathing room on the carpet and he made relatively easy work out of the Yaks to the reach the finals.

ERL’s win set up a re-match with the Longballs in the tournament championship and like the first encounter between these two teams, this one did not disappoint.

 The Longballs' Colin Pollag, Dylan Harshaw, and Tyler Nachbar (left to right) discuss strategy during the tournament championship.

The Longballs' Colin Pollag, Dylan Harshaw, and Tyler Nachbar (left to right) discuss strategy during the tournament championship.

Armed with the valuable information on Young’s pitching style that they picked up six hours earlier, the Longballs launched a consistent, patient, and relentless offensive attack. When Young was over the plate, the Longball hitters were ready to pounce. They picked up five hits and only some quality defensive plays by ERL’s defense kept them from more. The Longballs loaded the bases in the fourth with only one out and had runners on in three out of five innings. Perhaps even more impressively, the Longball batters refused to offer at almost any pitcher’s pitches off the plate. All four members of the team had a tremendous read on Young and they forced him to beat them with strikes.

To Young’s credit, that is exactly what he did. Connor and Joe pounced on any balls put in play. As the Ridley Park batters fouled off pitch after pitch, Young continued to mix it up until he was able to sneak one by them. Due to the consistently tough at bats put together by the Longballs – even when the end result was not in their favor – this was the type of game that played out far more impressively in actuality than it does in the box score.

“The Ridley Park crew made me work harder than anyone all day, in both games. All of them are experienced Wiffle Ball hitters and were making adjustments throughout the game,” Young remarked about his title game opponents. “I tip my hat to those guys. They’re very, very good Wiffle Ball players and anyone who doesn’t know that is in for a rude awakening.”

Bingnear once again toed the rubber for the Longballs and – once again – was on the receiving end of a tough loss. ERL used the same combination they used in the first game – a walk from Joe and an extra base hit by Soup – to score the game’s only run. That combination of clutch-hitting and shutdown pitching gave ERL its first title in over a year.

“We were fully determined to win this tourney,” Young stated matter-of-factly the Monday after the tournament.

On an individual level, Connor’s single-day performance moved him ahead of the Stompers’ Chis Sarno in most Mid Atlantic pitching categories for the season, including innings pitched, strikeouts, and ERA (min. 20 innings pitched/avg. one game per tournament). He once again proved why he is among the very best players in the game right now. Perhaps more importantly, the tournament win moved ERL six points ahead of the Stompers in the season point standings. With only one tournament to go, ERL now has a tight grip on the top spot in September’s Championship Tournament.

Ridley Park Talent On Display

 The Longballs and Shortballs - both out of the Ridley Park Wiffleball League - pose for a picture together after the tournament. Combined, the teams allowed just five runs in 46 innings on the day.

The Longballs and Shortballs - both out of the Ridley Park Wiffleball League - pose for a picture together after the tournament. Combined, the teams allowed just five runs in 46 innings on the day.

It took a couple of tournaments to get there, but the Ridley Park Longballs broke through at Backyard Brawl by not just advancing the semi-finals for the first time, but also by coming within one run of their first tournament title. The most impressive aspect of the Longballs tournament was their balance. The team got quality innings and two wins out of Pollag and Nachbar, while Bingnear did the heavy lifting against ERL.

Bingnear entered the tournament as the most ballyhooed of the current Longballs thanks to his strong starts against tough teams like Cloud9, In the Box, and New School Risers. His 1-5 record in MAW competition is very deceptive. A look below the surface reveals a pitcher on the verge of a major breakout. MAW Tournament Director Tim Cooke – drawing from his first-hand experience with Stomper lefty Dan Isenberg a decade and a half ago – is fond of pointing out how a string of one-run losses to quality teams by a young pitcher is often a sign that success is just around the corner. Bingnear’s five losses include a 1-0 extra inning loss to the reigning Fast Plastic champions Cloud9, a total base loss to ERL, an extra-inning walk off loss to Dave Capobianco and the New School Risers, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Tom LoCascio of In the Box, and a 1-0 loss to ERL in Saturday’s championship game. If Tim’s theory is correct, Sean is in store for big things very soon.

At the plate, Dylan Harshaw picked up right where he left off at the NWLA Tournament with another above average offensive display. All four Longballs showed off average to above average patience and contact hitting, with flashes of power. That trifecta is rare in a single player, nonetheless on an entire team. The Longballs did not blow a routine play the entire tournament in easily a dozen chances. At Backyard Brawl, the Longballs proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can and will contend on a regular basis in MAW.

As impressive as the Longballs performance was, it was the play of Ridley Park Wiffleball League’s second team – the Shortballs – that hammered home just how talented of a league it is. This young team – all of their players are still in high school – went 1-3 but lost in six innings to the Yaks on total bases, came up just short against the Longballs, and hung in there against the Lemon Heads. Frankie Campanile, Ryan Drecher, and Nate Smith all impressed on the carpet, Vinny Albanese displayed plus power potential, and Joey Van Houten was a tough out the entire tournament. If we see more of the Shortballs next season, it stands to reason that they will follow a similar path to the Longballs and be contending by mid-year. The Shortballs have the pitching to compete now and their bats should only improve with additional reps.

Here and There

 The Lemon Heads' Matt Cripse gets ready to deliver a pitch while teammate Tim Beck looks on.

The Lemon Heads' Matt Cripse gets ready to deliver a pitch while teammate Tim Beck looks on.

As is the case for many first-time tournament players, Gino Joseph’s control issues spoiled his debut but he has no intentions of letting that slow him down. Already ahead of the curve with a nice 3-pitch mix, Gino wrote Tuesday on Instagram: “First time ever . . . went 0-4 on the mound but it was one hell of an experience. Canonsburg in 12 days, then it takes off from there. Can’t wait to be one of the best” . . . The Jersey Lemon Heads are 7-1 in pool play in two MAW tournaments this year, but 0-2 in semi-final games. Including other organizations, they are 13-1 before the semi-finals this year and 0-3 with a chance at the championship game on the line. It is a question of when – not if – they will get over that hump . . . Consider this – just how scary might the Longballs be next year if they add a healthy Tommy Loftus to their lineup? . . . Last year, the Yaks’ Jarod Bull allowed one home run in 37 innings of work and that lone homer came in the Yaks’ last game of the year in the Championship Tournament. This year in 34 innings of work, the tall righty has already surrendered six home runs . . . Another Yak, Adam Milsted, flew under the radar on Saturday but was arguably the second most valuable player of the tournament. Milsted threw 15 innings for the Yaks, won two games, and lost a third on total bases to pitch his team into the playoffs . . . Best wishes to Milsted and Connor Young who celebrated birthdays this past week . . . How did Soup follow up his 26 innings of shutout ball on Saturday? By pitching 6 more against ERL teammate Dan Whitener in Palisades on Sunday . . .  The Barrel Bruisers' season long struggle to pick up victories continued on Saturday but there are some continuing positive signs. Chris Owen continued to be difficult to hit when he was over the plate, Jerry Hill looks better on the rubber every single tournament, and Tony Manelli continues to collect his hits no matter the pitcher . . .  The Lemon Heads used all four of their players on the flat hill this past weekend. If he can cut down the walks, Matt Cripse looks like a viable option for the Lemon Heads for pool play duty in a less competitive field. Also rumor has it that the team is already looking outside MAW to shore up their 2019 roster . . . It appears as if the Yaks will be without their captain, Nick Shirey, for the remainder of the season. Shirey is expected to undergo surgery later this month to repair a torn labrum he suffered at the Fast Plastic NCT nearly a decade and a half ago . . .Their two meetings on Saturday were not the first times members of the Longballs got an up close look at Soup's stuff. Young recently stopped by the Lot in Ridley Park to play a pick up game with some of the league's players.

Championship Tournament Update

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With one regular season tournament remaining, the Championship Tournament field is nearly in place. Three teams – ERL, Stompers, and Yaks – have clinched a spot with four other teams vying for the final three spots. That is without mentioning the potential shakeup that could occur should a team outside of that group win in Canonsburg. For a more thorough account of where things stand going into the last tournament of the season, click here.

Up Next

 Members of the NWLA Tournament champion WILL Waves will compete in MAW's next tournament in Canonsburg, PA on the 18th. Pictured here are Waves players Jake Davey (foreground) and Mike Graziani.

Members of the NWLA Tournament champion WILL Waves will compete in MAW's next tournament in Canonsburg, PA on the 18th. Pictured here are Waves players Jake Davey (foreground) and Mike Graziani.

The season is down to its final tournament! MAW debuts in the Pittsburgh area next Saturday with the Canonsburg Classic. A competitive field is expected, including several teams hoping to improve or solidify a playoff spot. There are still slots available and registration will remain open to the end of the week. Don’t miss out on the last to compete in an open entry MAW tournament this summer!

After Canonsburg, all attention will turn towards the Championship Tournament on September 8th back in York. Not only will the second Mid Atlantic Champion being crowned on the day, the six teams involved will all vie for $2,500 in cash prizes! More information on this major tournament and how you can follow along from home in the coming weeks.

Quick Championship Tournament Update

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The final tournament of the season is just two weeks away and the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament picture is coming in to focus. However, there are still plenty of moving pieces and potential spots up for grabs in Canonsburg, not to mention the Auto Bid that goes to the winning team of that tournament.

To recap, the top two teams in the point standings after the 18th will receive a bye to the semi-finals of the Championship Tournament. Seeds #3 through #6 will compete in a modified double elimination tournament (i.e. no final game between the winner’s bracket champion and the loser’s bracket champion) for the other two semi-final spots. The semi-finals and finals will then be best two-out-of-three series. Click here for an example of the Championship Tournament format.

After Backyard Brawl, there is a new name atop the leader board. For the first time this season, a team other than the Stompers occupies the top position. My Name is ERL made up a 10-point difference in one tournament by finishing first while the Stompers sat inactive. Both the Stompers and ERL have clinched a spot in the Championship tournament but both teams will be on action on August 18th. The Stompers have a lot of work to do – and will need some help – to regain the top position.

Mathematically, the Yaks could still overtake the Stompers for the coveted second spot but as of this date are not expected in Canonsburg. The Yaks have clinched the third seed in the Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament. None of the other teams currently in the top six – the Barrel Bruisers, Longballs, G€M or the Lemon Heads – have clinched a spot.

The biggest shake up to the Championship Tournament could occur if the winning team in Canonsburg is a team other than one of the seven listed above and that team accepts their auto bid. Under that scenario, the Lemon Heads and/or G€M would find themselves on the outside looking in if they are inactive on the 18th. Similarly, there could be some movement among the final four seeds depending on what happens on the 18th.

The season is going to go right down to the wire. Which teams will be tempt fate and which ones will try to take matters into their own hands in Canonsburg? We will find out in two weeks!

Backyard Brawl (August 4, 2018) Tournament Preview

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Backyard Brawl – the last 2018 regular season tournament at Shi Wiffleball Park – is this Saturday. This seven-team field is wide open and has been difficult to predict as any MAW tournament this year. What does each team look like? What are some keys to success for each squad? What’s at stake? We go team-by-team later in this preview to attempt to answer those questions and more.

If you are not in York on Saturday, make sure to follow along on our social media accounts. In addition, we will stream several games on Facebook Live during the tournament (the games will include commentary). As always, game times are subject to change.

10:45 AM ET - My Name is ERL vs. Longballs
1:45 PM ET - Jersey Lemon Heads vs. York Yaks
5:00 PM ET - Semi-Finals
6:00 PM ET - Championship Game

Like our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/midatlanticwiffle) to be alerted the moment we go live.


Barrel Bruisers

2018 MAW Record: 3-11 (1 TB loss)

Projected Roster: Jerry Hill (L), Chris Owen, Tony Manelli

Pitchers: (1) Chris Owen (R); (2) Jerry Hill (R)

2018 vs. Rest of the field: 0-1 vs. Lemon Heads; 0-1 vs. Longballs; 0-3 vs. My Name is ERL (1 TB loss); 1-1 vs. Yaks

Keys to Success:

* Bats Coming Alive? – The Bruisers’ bats have been on life support for most of the season – excluding games against the InHumans – but have shown signs of life recently. Hill has reached based in 11 of his last 30 non-InHumans plate appearances dating back to the June tournament. Manelli had one of the better days of any hitter against the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick at Wiffle Bash as he hit a solo home run and drew a pair of walks. Owen reached base in all four of his team’s games in July. It was a step in the right direction and one the Bruisers will need to build on this Saturday.

* A Big Day from Chris Owen – After an impressive two-game pitching performance in June, Owen seemingly took a step back in July. He struggled mightily against My Name is ERL and allowed twelve walks in just two innings of work. Owen rebounded somewhat against GCM. He couldn’t solve Ben Stant – although nobody could on that day – but he struck out seven over three innings while allowing four runs. Perhaps Owen was just shaking off some rust after missing the June tournament. Chris regaining his command of the strike zone would be huge for the Bruisers on the 4th. When he throws the ball over, he has been able to limit the damage and keep his team in games.

What’s at stake:

If the Championship Tournament were today the Barrel Bruisers would be in but they have yet to clinch. A top four finish at Backyard Brawl would all-but-ensure that they will still be playing come September.

Prediction:

Owen pitches the Bruisers to one win upset win but with easily the most difficult schedule in the field, the team fails to advance to the elimination round.

Jersey Lemon Heads

2018 MAW Record: 3-2 (1 TB loss)

Projected Roster: Matt Crispe, Ray Lutick, Tim Beck

Pitchers: (1) Ray Lutick (R); (2) Tim Beck (R)

2018 vs. Rest of the field: 1-0 vs. Barrel Bruisers

Keys to Success:

* Relief for Lutick – The Lemon Heads rode Lutick hard at Wiffle Bash and again a week later in Tennessee. The hard throwing righty pitched every game for his team at Wiffle Bash and six out of seven in Tennessee. Thus far, Ray’s arm has held up just fine, although he did understandably seem to tire late in last month’s tournament. Rumor has it that Beck will get the ball for at least a game in pool play this time around. The Lemon Heads seem confident that Tim can relieve some of the pressure from their ace. A fresh(er) Lutick late in the tournament could spell trouble for the opposition.

* Consistent Offense – It was an uneven day at the plate in July for this Jersey squad. The Lemon Heads offense handled the Barrel Bruisers and Wyld Stallyns with ease while struggling to push runs across against the Stompers and Giants. They hit well in Tennessee and will try to carry that over in the return to the Mid Atlantic. With a three-man squad this time around, each Lemon Head will have plenty of opportunities at the plate. We know Lutick can shut down opposing line ups so if the Lemon Heads can find a way to score runs off the Soups, Bulls, and Bingnears of the world, they will be in excellent shape.

What’s at stake:

Could the Lemon Heads make a late charge at the Championship Tournament? A fourth-place finish would place them on a bubble while a tournament title could have them sitting pretty heading into the final tournament of the regular season.

Prediction:

Beck gives the Lemon Heads one game, but otherwise they ride their ace hard yet again. Lutick is up to the task and the Lemon Heads make it to the final four and – perhaps – even farther than that.

Longballs

2018 MAW Record: 2-3 (1 extra inning, play-in game loss)

Projected Roster: Dylan Harshaw, Sean Bingnear, Colin Pollag, Tyler Nachbar

Pitchers: (1) Sean Bingnear (R); (2) Colin Pollag (R); (3) Dylan Harshaw (R); (4) Tyler Nachbar (L)

2018 vs. Rest of the field: 1-0 vs. Barrel Bruisers

Keys to Success:

* Getting the most from their pitching depth – The Longballs boast the most pitching depth of any team in the field. The key will be how they use it. Bingnear is their clear ace and in an ideal world, he would be kept relatively fresh for the elimination round. Of course, the Longballs need to get their first. For that to happen, they will need to get the most they can out of the other three arms. Pollag has the most MAW experience and has pitched moderately well against tough competition (two games versus the Stompers and one versus the Yaks). When he is over the plate enough to tempt hitters into swinging, his two different risers make him difficult to square up on. One would assume that the Longballs will try to get at least one start from Colin. Harshaw has pitched well in the RPWL this year, but only one has started a game once. Including that start – coming in his latest appearance - Dylan has not allowed a single run over his last 12 2/3 innings. In Harshaw, the Longballs may have something not often seen in tournament wiffleball – a late inning relief weapon. Both Pollag and Nachbar are prone to losing command for long stretches of time. The option of using Harshaw for an inning or two in those scenarios might be an appealing one for the guys from Ridley Park.

* Use the Long Ball – The Longballs – and their splinter teams – have struggled to consistently score in MAW competition. That has resulted in narrow 1-0 losses with their ace on the mound to teams like In the Box, Cloud9, and New School Risers. The members of this Longballs squad have done well reaching base but the big hit has been elusive when they have needed it the most. If they make a deep run on Saturday, a timely home run or two will help. They certainly have the players to make that happen. Nachbar has legitimate home run power from the left side of the plate with three home runs in MAW this season. Harshaw hit a couple out at the NWLA Tournament and Bingnear has arguably been the most consistent hitter for the Longballs in MAW competition. A timely long ball could turn one of those frustrating shutout losses into a big win.

What’s at stake:

The Longballs have had a disappointing season from a results standpoint and would love nothing more than to erase that with a tournament victory at Backyard Brawl. A strong tournament on Saturday would make a big statement about the future of this talented group and set them up for a spot in the MAW Championship Tournament.

Prediction:

The Longballs navigate their way through pool play in solid but not eyepopping fashion to reach the elimination round. Once there, they pick up their biggest MAW win to date and make it to their first tournament title game.

My Name is ERL

2018 MAW Record: 12-6 (1 TB win, 1 TB loss)

Projected Roster: Connor Young, Joe Schlindwein

Pitchers: (1) Connor Young (R); (2) Joe Schlindwein (L)

2018 vs. Rest of the field: 3-0 vs. Barrel Bruisers; 4-0 vs. Yaks

Keys to Success:

* Soup’s Rubber Arm – It has been a while – almost a year in fact – since we last saw Connor throw all day at a tournament. After essentially pitching every inning for ERL last year, Soup has gotten some much appreciated help from Blake Hoffman and Dan Whitener this summer. With those two unavailable on Saturday, word has it that Connor is planning to go take the ball all day at Backyard Brawl. Between his knowledge of the competition, pitching acumen, and rubber arm, Soup is well-suited to throw all day at this tournament.

* Joe’s Bat – Joe is having a solid season at the plate, reaching base 28 times in 64 attempts with a pair of home runs to go along with it. Playing as a two-man, he will have a lot of opportunities to add to those numbers. Connor has spoken at length that Joe could stand to be more aggressive in the box. This tournament – where he is sure to receive a lot of chances – might be the perfect place to let it fly a little more. If Joe and Connor have a couple of games where they are simultaneously in a groove at the plate, ERL has a chance to put up some crooked numbers and take some of the pressure off Soup’s right arm.

What’s at stake:

First place heading into the final tournament of the year is what’s at stake for ERL. With the Stompers inactive and only ten points separating the two teams in the standings, ERL can force a two-way tie with a fourth-place finish or take sole possession of first with a third place or higher finish.

Prediction:

ERL gets their final four finish to overtake the Stompers in the season standings. However, Soup’s arm tires late and ERL falls short of the tournament title.

The Revolution

2018 MAW Record: N/A

Projected Roster: Tony Joseph, Tony Joseph, Gino Joseph, Alan Andrews, Jim Miller, Tim Maine, BJ Patterson

Pitchers: Unknown

2018 vs. Rest of the field: N/A

Keys to Success:

* Understand the Competition Level – Nobody really knows what to expect at their first wiffs tournament – and what should be expected of course varies tournament to tournament – but it always helps to have a sense of the skills needed to compete going in. We saw earlier this year how a team new to the scene like The Naturals can make an immediate impact when the team has prepared themselves for the competition they are about to face. That includes – among other facets – coming prepared with tournament caliber pitching. I have been told The Revolution have done their research into the organization. Having an idea of what it takes to compete from before the first pitch is thrown is always a good first step for a new team.

* Use their opponent’s unfamiliarity to their advantage – While it behooves The Revolution to have a sense of how good their competitors might be, their opponents not knowing their strengths and weaknesses can also be a significant advantage. Nobody knows the makeup of this team which makes it difficult – if not impossible – to game plan for them. Even after the first game is played, its tough to get a read on a team that is still learning as they go. That mystery component will often yield better-than-anticipated results, assuming the team has the on-field skills necessary to take advantage of it.

What’s at stake:

The Revolution have signed up for the Canonsburg tournament later this month. They would like to get off to a good start in their tournament debut, follow it up with another strong tournament on the 18th, and perhaps position themselves for a run in 2019.

Prediction:

Your guess is as good as mine. Based on no actual information, The Revolution bats show potential, but their pitching lags a bit behind, causing them to finish outside the top four.

Shortballs

2018 MAW Record: N/A

Projected Roster: Joey Van Houten, Ryan Drecher, Frankie Campanile, Nate Smith, Vinny Albanese

Pitchers: (1) Ryan Dresher (R); (2) Nate Smith (R); (3) Frankie Campanile

2018 vs. Rest of the field: N/A

Keys to Success:

* Get off to a quick start – The Shortballs roster is – well – short on proven, veteran players. An early win would be a huge momentum booster for this young but talented squad. It won’t be easy – not with the Yaks and Longballs on their schedule to open the day. If the Shortballs can come away with a win in one of those two games, they have a shot at a 2-2 record and possibly advancing onto the final four.

* Win the winnable games – That sounds like common sense advice – and it is to an extent – but it is doubly important for a bubble team like the Shortballs. If or when the Shortballs find themselves with a competitive advantage on Saturday, it will be important for them to take advantage of it. For example, if they face a second or third pitcher on the opposing team, trying to go for the win with their best pitcher – Ryan Drecher – on the mound is a reasonable strategy. In a very even field, the Shortballs could be on the nice side of some pitching match ups and taking advantage of those opportunities is key for them.

What’s at stake:

The Ridley Park Wiffleball League is deep on talent. A good showing by their secondary squad at Backyard Brawl will further drive home that point.

Prediction:

The Shortballs play well, losing one close game and winning another, but falling short of the final four.

York Yaks

2018 MAW Record: 6-11 (1 TB loss)

Projected Roster: Dan Potter, Jarod Bull, Nick Shirey, Jordan Reichard

Pitchers: (1) Jarod Bull; (2) Dan Potter; (3) Nick Shirey

2018 vs. Rest of the field: 1-1 vs. Barrel Bruisers; 1-0 vs. Longballs; 0-4 vs. My Name is ERL

Keys to Success:

* No Mercy – Down a couple of arms, the Yaks could use a ten-run route – or two – during pool play. Bull has averaged a tick over two games per tournament this season and while he can handle more than that should the Yaks reach the elimination round, they would not doubt like to limit his innings early in the day. One way to do that is to end games early via the ten-run mercy rule. The Yaks’ lineup can put up some runs. Any line up that has Potter in it is a dangerous one. The Yaks don’t have any obvious mercy rule opponents on their pool play schedule – for that matter, there are not necessarily any of those teams in the field – but should the opportunity arise, they’d benefit greatly by winning a game or two after a couple of innings. The more bullets Bull has in his arm later in the day, the better off the Yaks will be.

* Can Potter Find the Zone? – Another way the Yaks can accomplish that same goal is to steal a win with someone other than Bull on the mound. With Shirey’s arm in even worse shape than usual, that onus will likely fall on Potter. The strike zone has been a mystery to the veteran this season. Almost 48% of the batters Potter faced this spring and summer have reached via walk. When he throws the ball over, he at least gives himself a chance to wiggle his way through a line up. If Potter – just for a game – can regain some semblance of control and maneuver his way through a lineup, that will give the Yaks a huge leg up.

What’s at stake:

Realistically, the Yaks are not going to be able to improve their Championship Tournament position no matter what they do here. The good news is they are also unlikely to drop a spot, barring the Lemon Heads, Longballs or GCM showing up in Canonsburg.

Prediction:

The strike zone continues to elude Potter, but he eats some innings and Bull picks up a pair of pool play wins to give the Yaks a play-in-game’s chance of reaching the elimination round.

2018 NWLA Tournament Coverage

NWLA Tournament official Carl Coffee shares his takeaways from this year's tournament, several players and observers share their thoughts on the tournament action, and The Drop's Paul Cooke breaks down the strategy and skills behind winning the tournament by examining this year's champions the Wiff is Life League Waves.

YEAR 7

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By: Carl Coffee

Carl is a longtime member of the NWLA Tournament Organizing Committee and one of the founders of the tournament.

The NWLA Tournament has an interesting history.

The first five years Chris Gallaway ran the tournament and outdid himself each year. Year 6 was not a failure, but it sure was not a success. Wifflers care deeply about stats and videos and we got both wrong. Year 7 to me was a do-or-die year for this tournament. If we once again failed to give wifflers basic stats and video, I am not 100% certain there would be enough interest for a Year 8.

Running a tournament takes a lot of work, but there is no tournament without the players. You get thanked a lot from gracious wifflers who appreciate the hard work you put in to make this tournament run. However, wifflers also need to be thanked. Thank you for driving to a town of 2,200 people with one stop light and crappy cell phone coverage. Thank you for cheering on your All-Star teammates on Friday Night when you probably would rather be in your hotel getting ready for the many games you are about to play. Thank you for embracing the ball boys who look up to so many of you and can’t wait to see you next year. This tournament is nothing without the players and I am not sure I have thanked you all before.

As a tournament organizer, this was my favorite year.

The NWLA Tournament has been very predictable. For six years, it was constantly the same teams in the top four. I would not say it had gotten boring, but we needed a shakeup. Wiff is Life League (WILL) came in last year very confident, only to go 0-2 in Double Elimination and sent to the Dangerfield Bracket, which is for the four 0-2 teams. They won that last year and then a year later they win the entire thing. From Dangerfield to NWLA Tournament Champs. That is the definition of a shakeup and it opens a door that has never been opened before.

WILL did it with team play. You can look at the past champions and if you took out their best player, there would be a lot of doubt that they still could have won. WILL is deep with talent, but I truly believe if you took out one of their impact guys, they would still make that run.

WILL did it at the plate. The NWLA tournament has been a pitcher’s tournament, until this year. The scoring this year was up. Are we finally seeing the hitters catch up to the pitching? Is it down because so many big pitchers (Farkas, Loftus, Butrym, Flakne, Harley) were out this year? Was the extreme heat and humidity too much for the pitchers? That is all up for debate, but it is clear WILL won because of their hitting.

What kind of door does this open? Other teams that have had a mediocre tournament history can ask themselves, “why not us?” WILL is a young team, with their oldest player this year only 21 years old. It also opens the door to bring in new, young leagues. There are a lot of young leagues out there who may have been worried about competing in years past. Seeing WILL shock the NWLA world could give them hope and finally be the persuading factor that gets them to the tournament.

I am very gracious that the Cooke brothers reached out to me to put this on “The Drop”. MAW and the NWLA Tournament are complete opposite styles, but we both play wiffleball. Yes, there are some players who only like one style, or one bat. I do believe however, that there are many others who just want to play in a well-run league, organization or tournament. They will adjust to any style of play. They simply want to play in something that is worth their time, money and effort.

The NWLA Tournament works because it is unique. Most competitive wifflers can trace their wiffle history to a league. We have pride in those leagues, and we want to show the country what our league can do. The league vs. league tournament format is something special. So special, that people will pay to come to Morenci, MI, in 92-degree weather, and play for nothing but a Cup and bragging rights.

I think Year 7 was a success.


QUOTABLE

I like the structure and how well organized the tournament is ran. Secondary would be how difficult and grueling the tournament actually is, having to play nine games in two days, my entire body was locking up. Not to mention we would have had to play two more games to win it all if we didn’t lose in the semifinals. Crazy.
— Nate Cruz, AWAA Outfielder & Palisades player-for-rent
This year’s tournament was special for many reasons. I think it cemented a few thigs. First was that we are part of a community that is special. We are spoiled to be able to play this game at a competitive level with so many quality guys. Second is that the tournament committee without Gallaway is continuing to work hard and improve the tournament. It’s awesome to see so much hard work pay off in a successful event. Third and on a personal level, it was special to spend the weekend with a great group of guys. We blew expectations out of the water and we have a lot to be proud of. As long as those three continue to happen, I will continue to attend this tournament.
— Caleb Jonkman, Griffle Ball League P/OF
The NWLA definitely has some talent that could develop into some powerhouse teams in the next couple years. 3 years ago TWBL played no scuff and Louisville slugger bats and we were quite similar in level of competition and style of play. Since we have learned about scuffed balls and gone and traveled to play in tournaments all around the country we have improved significantly. If you gave some of the power arms in NWLA a scuff ball they would pick it up very quickly and could definitely compete with some of the Texas teams.
— Will Marshall, Texas Wiffle Ball League Commissioner
Mike [Graziani] was huge for us all tournament. Last year he was just a pitcher and he worked hard this off season to hit for us and he did . . . Steve [Keelon] pitched well, this was his first time in the NWLA stage so nerves could have gotten to him a little, but when we needed him he locked in and stepped up . . . Jordan [Castelli] was a horse. He came back from last year fired up and ready to show people that he could play. Last year he struggled throwing strikes and was hitless all tourney. This year he is the tournament MVP! What a turnaround, props to him for his hard work and ambition to be the best player he can be . . . Tim [Marra] was a good kid to have on the team. He never gave up on the team and was a great teammate . . . Austin [Berger] was a horse on the mound. He threw 17 innings and went 2-0 in bracket play. He was our guy on the rubber . . . Nate got signed to the team hours before the deadline and we couldn’t be happier to have him on the squad. I’m so proud of Nate [Morris] and all I can say is one word about him - clutch . . . When Rob [Licht] is in there focused on Wiffle Ball and just that he’s one of the best players there. His contributions were huge on Sunday, including a big game vs. Griffleball in the winners bracket final, where he went 3 for 6 with 4 RBIs and a homer.
— Jake Davey, WILL Waves captain, on his team's performance

MAW Invades Canonsburg - Home of the 2018 NWLA Tournament Champion WILL WAVES

August is almost here which means the final two open tournaments of the 2018 MAW season! The last opportunity to play on our signature fields in York is on 8/4 with "Backyard Brawl". The "Canonsburg Classic" on 8/18 outside of Pittsburgh is a unique chance to compete alongside players from the NWLA Tournament winning Wiff is Life League Waves! Don't miss out!


THE ANATOMY OF A NWLA CHAMPION

 A combination of strike-throwing, athleticism, and team chemistry led the Wiff is Life League Waves to the title.

A combination of strike-throwing, athleticism, and team chemistry led the Wiff is Life League Waves to the title.

By: Paul Cooke

In any game or sport, the rules dictate the strategy.

An understanding of that axiom is especially important in competitive Wiffle Ball. Rules among different Wiffle Ball organizations are so divergent that success in one variation of the game can require a completely different set of skills, strategy, and roster construction than what is required in another variation.

Regular readers of this site are likely familiar enough with the cut ball, non-base running, big barrel bat version of fast pitch Wiffle Ball to have a sense of the strategies and skills that foster success in that version of the game. But what about the clean ball, base running, yellow bat version of fast pitch Wiffle Ball played at the National Wiffle Ball League Association (“NWLA”) tournament? What does it take to succeed in that environment? Which attributes are unique to the NWLA Tournament rules and which universal winning attributes are necessary for success in Morenci?

As an outside, casual observer of the NWLA Tournament who is partial to the MAW, Fast Plastic or Palisades style of game, I honestly had no idea what it takes. To get a little closer to the answers, I set out to watch as many of the streamed games from the two-day tournament as I could, dive deep into the statistics post-tournament, and seek out the opinions of those that had different – and perhaps more relevant – views of the action in Morenci, Michigan than I did.

The best place to start is with the impact that clean balls have on NWLA Tournament games. By their very nature, clean balls are more difficult to control than a scuffed, bounced, or cut ball. That is why Wiffle Balls are altered or prepared in the first place. Logically then, a clean ball environment would lead to more balls thrown and more walks, unless the tournament pitchers as a group have mastered the art of throwing unscuffed.

Indeed, pitchers generally struggled to throw the ball over the plate at the NWLA Tournament. Over the course of the two-day event, 647 walks were issued in 2,679 plate appearances for a 24.1% tournament-wide walk rate. To provide some context, the walk rate in Palisades WBL – where the 5-3 ball-strike count is the same as the NWLA tournament – through the end of June was 15.8%. In MAW – with a 4-2 count – the organization-wide walk rate was 19.5% through the June tournament. The numbers don’t lie – relative to other fast pitch environments, the NWLA Tournament was heavy on free passes.

Without a more in-depth study – and a broader sample size – it cannot be definitively stated whether there is a significant correlation between clean balls and number of walks in the NWLA Tournament. There is, however, enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is at least a significant contributing factor. A single person and single tournament sample are never definitive proof of anything, but what if we were to compare Kyle Von Schleusingen’s walk rate in Palisades to his walk rate in the NWLA tournament where the same 5-3 count is used? Through the weekend of June 22nd, “K-Von” had an 11% walk rate in Palisades. At the NWLA Tournament, he walked 29% of the batters he faced. While still allowing for the possibility of other contributing factors – a random off day, a minor difference in the size of the strike zone between organizations – the main difference between those two organizations that would impact an individual pitcher’s walk rate is legal ball prep. It seems likely that K-Von was impacted by having to throw exclusively clean balls and if he was, it is safe to assume others are as well.

The Texas Wiffle Ball League’s Will Marshall was in attendance in Morenci as a spectator. In reflecting on the tournament at the request of The Drop, Marshall spoke to how clean balls can impact the competition.

“I forgot how hard it was to control the ball when it’s clean,” Marshall– whose league changed to cut balls a few years back – wrote when reached for comment. “I was surprised to see many pitchers who were supposed to be dominant that couldn’t throw strikes or would walk five to six guys in a row before figuring it out.”

Naturally then, team(s) or pitcher(s) that can limit the number of walks allowed hold a strategic advantage in the NWLA Tournament.

“You can't beat yourselves,” Jake Davey, the captain of the tournament winning WILL Waves, told The Drop, when asked how his team dealt with the high volume of walks. “If you pound the zone and make every team earn each run against you, you'll be in a good position to win every game. Austin Berger really showed that in the championship. He did not walk a guy and gave up two homers, but his consistent strikes only let both those be solo shots.”

Those that have seen the Waves in action can attest to the fact that by-and-large their pitchers lack the awesome stuff of a K-Von. The Waves pitchers – with the exception of Jordan Castelli and his power baseball-like curve – come right at hitters with relatively straight fast stuff.

“I think their [the Waves] pitching was decent but it was not lights out,” Marshall told The Drop when asked for an assessment of the tournament champions.

By contrast, Will singled out Kyle as a player that impressed him due to his ability “to make the ball move in all four planes.” Few would disagree that Kyle has better stuff than the Waves’ pitching staff but in that environment – at least on that day – the Waves’ ability to throw strikes regardless of stuff won out. It is true that in any form of Wiffle Ball, a pitcher – no matter how impressive his stuff is – cannot win consistently if he doesn’t throw strikes. In the clean ball, yellow bat, walk-heavy environment of the NWLA Tournament, however, the ability to throw the ball over the plate with decent velocity is perhaps more at a premium than it would be in other environments.

If you followed the scores as they came in over Twitter on Saturday and Sunday, you were probably struck as I was by the sheer volume of runs scored. For example, the 10:00 AM Saturday round yielded the following final scores: 27-0, 13-0, 18-3, and 23-0. While that group of games was on one extreme end of the spectrum, high scoring games were the rule – not the exception – at the NWLA Tournament. 54 games were played over the course of the two-day tournament. 629 runs scored during those 54 games, which averages out to 11.6 runs scored per game. For the sake of comparison, through three Mid Atlantic Wiffle tournament in 2018, 284 runs were scored in 51 games, which averages out to 5.6 runs per game. Through 66 games in the 2018 Palisades season (through the end of June), 292 runs were scored which averages out to 4.4 runs per game. Relative to those organizations, the NWLA tournament was contested in a very high run scoring environment.

The high volume of walks – which as discussed are a possible byproduct of clean balls – certainly contributed to the relatively high number of runs. However, the NWLA Tournament batting average of .282 is significantly higher than the batting averages through the end of June in MAW (.215) and Palisades (.195). By no means does this indicate that the hitters at the NWLA Tournament are more skilled, but simply that the high run environment was not influenced solely by the large number of walks. There was hitting to be found – including a homerun about every four at bats – in Morenci.

Will Marshall took note of the power output that came despite the use of the thin bats.

“I think what impressed me the most was the amount of homeruns hit even though it was yellow stick. Not all of the pitching was great, most pitchers can only rise or slide the ball with no scuff, but nonetheless there was a lot more offense than I had anticipated.”

Certainly, as Will alluded to, factors like the level of pitching talent – whether influenced by the clean balls or not – could and very likely did mitigate some of the offensive suppression expected in a yellow bat-only tournament.

For their part, the tournament champions hit well but did not outhit the rest of the field in any significant manner. Their team batting average of .299 was above tournament average while their home run rate of 7% was well below average.

The Barrel Bruisers' Jerry Hill participated in the NWLA qualifying tournament in Indianapolis and offered up that athleticism is a key difference maker in this particular environment.

"In NWLA, your athleticism can really shine. The ability to run the bases and make fast plays in the field is huge! That same skill set is a plus in MAW - just look at the "Wiffle Ninja", Dan Potter - however the game is a lot faster in the NWLA," Jerry explained. "You've got to make the play and beat the runner . . . Making contact is huge as you always have the ability to out-hustle the play and throw."

As a group, the Waves are both young and athletic which are helpful attributes in a base running tournament. While the Waves trailed behind their competition from a power perspective, they made up for it with their ability to beat out ground balls, take extra bases, and force their opponents into making defensive blunders. The base running element is perhaps the most significant difference between the NWLA Tournament style of play and the style of play found in MAW or elsewhere because of the way it impacts pitching, defense, and offense. When a ball is put into play in an NWLA Tournament game, a scramble – by the fielders and by the hitter – ensues in a way that is foreign to non-base running variations. The ability to field a team of all young, quality athletes undoubtedly plays up in that environment.

With the Waves’ success in the 2018 NWLA Tournament as a template, it seems reasonable to conclude that the ability to throw quality strikes – even if that means sacrificing movement – with a clean ball, the ability to take advantage of the large number of walks, the ability to hit for average with the yellow bat, and the athleticism necessary to gain an edge on the base paths, are keys to success in the NWLA Tournament. 

The tricky aspect of scouting a style of Wiffle Ball that is not your own is that we often filter performances through the lens of what we are most accustomed to. To discredit the Waves’ win – not that anyone is necessarily doing it – because their style may not or would not play in another form of the game is to miss the point. The team was built for this version of the game and executed their plan brilliantly. Likewise, I think it is safe to say that most would have done exactly as Jimmy Cole did and put K-Von on their team had the opportunity presented itself. He is far too talented of a pitcher not to. Yet while K-Von is an excellent pitcher in Palisades, he struggled with his command at the NWLA Tournament likely due to the clean ball rules. There were other players and teams at this year’s NWLA tournament that devotees of MAW and other organizations know perform better in other environments. It goes both ways, even it may lean heavily in one direction or the other. Talent evaluators who are able to watch different styles of Wiffle Ball and make the distinction between a general lack of skills and style-specific skills are ahead of the curve.

However, there are some elements of winning Wiffle Ball that are universal, particularly intangibles like competitive spirit, calmness under pressure, and team chemistry. It is hard to find anyone that didn't attribute at least some of the Waves’ success to their possession of these qualities.

“The key for me was that they [the Waves] always had good energy and were never “out” of a game. Even when they got down they fought back and came up with a clutch hit,” Marshall – who was absent for the Waves’ final games but watch them earlier in the tournament – remarked. “I did not get to know the players individually, but I did meet the whole squad at one point and got to chat with them. Very nice fellas who love Wiffle and I hope to see them continue to excel and grow as a league and as players!!”

In reflecting on his team’s championship run, Jake Davey also singled out the importance of battling and playing as a team.

“I just want to say how proud I am of the team,” Davey told The Drop. “Everyone did their part and had situations where if we didn't have them we couldn't have won. Jordan [Castelli] had a great tournament and nothing to take away from him, but everyone on our team could have earned the MVP award. Each person was valuable in their own way to the team’s success. Everyone was committed to the team, came to practice, and had that one goal in mind of winning it all. We all truly bought in and we did it.”

Wiffle Bash (July 14, 2018) Tournament Recap

By: Paul Cooke

A Giant Statement

 The Giants (Ryan & Tim McElrath) went a perfect 6-0 at  Wiffle Bash  to win the tournament title.

The Giants (Ryan & Tim McElrath) went a perfect 6-0 at Wiffle Bash to win the tournament title.

At 3:00 AM early Saturday morning – a time and day when most are either fast asleep or still going strong from the night before – Tim and Ryan McElrath woke up and hit the road on a 250-mile trek from their home in Kingston, New York to York, Pennsylvania. Their destination? Shi Wiffleball Park, the site of Mid Atlantic Wiffle’s Wiffle Bash tournament.

For the brothers, the cost of enduring a long car ride at such an ungodly hour was worth it for the opportunity that lay ahead. Competing almost exclusively in Palisades WBL for much of this decade, Tim and Ryan have established themselves as two of the premiere players in what is currently the country’s premiere league. Despite their significant accomplishments in Palisades, the McElraths have felt overlooked in discussions of the game’s best teams and players. Competing at Wiffle Bash provided an opportunity to prove themselves against high calibre competition in a tournament setting outside of their home base.

We kinda had to make a statement,” Tim wrote on Sunday, addressing his team’s motivation after the fact.

Statement made. Emphatically.

Saddled with one of the more difficult pool play schedules in the field, the Giants went a perfect 4-0 during that portion of the schedule. It was far from a cake walk, however. The Giants were tested early and often throughout pool play. In what is becoming somewhat of a trend in MAW tournaments, the first game of the day – when players on both sides are completely fresh – nearly became a trap game for one of the tournament favorites. In this situation it was the upstart Jersey Lemon Heads who threatened to throw a wrench into the Giants’ tournaments plans. The Lemon Heads picked up a couple of early opposite field hits against Tim McElrath while the Lemon Heads’ ace, Ray Lutick, kept the Giants’ bats in check. The game made it through five innings with no score and a total base deadlock. In the 6th, the Giants broke the total base stalemate to squeak by with a narrow but important early tournament win.

The Giants were still trying to find their groove – or perhaps were still feeling the effects of their early wake up call – when they met G€M on Buffalo field for their second game of the day. Ben Stant sawed through his former Palisades teammates in the early going, striking out nine of the first ten batters he faced with a one out walk to Tim in the third blemishing an otherwise perfect record. In the bottom half of the third Stant hit a solo home run off Tim, who was already on his ninth inning of work before 11:00 AM. Having failed to score a single run all morning and now with a one run deficit to make up, things looked grim for the McElrath brothers. Like many great teams, however, the Giants do some their best work with their backs against the wall. Ryan led off the top of the fourth inning with a single and Tim immediately cashed in with a two-run bomb to left field. Following back-to-back strikeouts that got Stant within one out of escaping with limited damage, the McElrath’s went on one of their patented hitting tears. The brothers used four straight singles and one walk to get across two huge insurance runs. In the bottom of the fourth, G€M threatened when John Magee and Stant reached to start the inning. This forced the Giants to summon Ryan into the game to close things out. The 2017 Palisades MVP and Cy Young award winner quickly shut the door to end the game and propel his team to a 2-0 start.

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The fourth inning of the G€M game seemed to jumpstart the Giants for the remainder of pool play. They made quick work of Nick Shirey’s Wyld Stallyns team and then jumped over Jarod Bull early and often on their way to a 6-0 victory over the Yaks. The way the Giants made relatively easy work of the Yaks sent a clear message that they were going to be difficult to stop. As the Stompers’ Nick Schaefer mentioned on commentary for the Facebook Live stream of the game, Bull pitched a far better game then his lopsided line would indicate. The McElrath’s bats, however, were just too much to handle. It wouldn’t be the last time in the tournament that the brothers blindsided a top tier pitcher with their relentless offensive attack.

At 4-0, the Giants locked up the top seed in the four-team single elimination round. The Giants were joined by – in order – the Lemon Heads, Stompers, and My Name is ERL, making the fourth seeded ERL their first-round opponent.

In a stark contrast from what we are used to seeing from ERL, Connor Young made it through pool play with an [almost] fresh arm. ERL – one of the few regular teams out there that can boast having two left-handed pitchers – got two games apiece out of their southpaws on Saturday. Joe Schlindwein picked up his first MAW win while Blake Hoffman carried the heavier load against the Yaks and Stompers, winning one and taking a hard luck loss in the other. With his arm rested and ready to go for the semi’s, Young rolled the dice with a two-man, Giants-inspired lineup consisting of Joe and himself. The potential benefit to that configuration – which the McElraths enjoyed all tournament long – is getting to see the pitcher more often and quickly learn his tendencies. The downside was the loss of extra fielders on defense, but Soup felt confident that he could limit the number of balls the Giants put into play to mitigate the absence of a third defender.

For the first few innings, Young’s plan looked genius. Coming up to the plate for the third time in just 1 1/3 innings, Soup deposited a ball over the 105-foot mark in straight away center on Sheff. The solo shot gave ERL an early advantage that looked as if it was going to stand up. Young kept the first ten batters he faced off the bases while recording eight of his first ten outs on strikeouts. Of course, nothing is ever over with the Giants, who are always just one plate appearance away from flipping any game on its head. In the semi-finals that moment came with one out in the 4th inning. Ryan McElrath – seeing Connor for the sixth time in about twenty minutes – returned the favor from earlier with a solo shot of his own. To his credit, Soup did not allow the Giants to go on an immediate charge right after the big hit. Young escaped of the inning with two straight K’s to limit the damage.

Sitting in on commentary for the finals later in the day, Connor spoke to feeling that he  only delayed the inevitable by working out of the fourth inning. It was a feeling that only grew stronger when Joe booted a ground ball with one out in the 5th. Sure enough, that error opened the floodgates and the McElraths belted out four straight singles to end the game and ERL’s tournament.

Awaiting the Giants in the finals were the familiar faces of the Stompers. For the third time in four tournaments, the Stompers found themselves in the tournament title game. They handed the ball to Jordan Robles, who was coming off an all strike out perfect game against the Lemon Heads in the semi-finals. Robles entered the tournament with a rare several-week break from fast pitch competition and the benefit of his rested arm had been evident all tournament long. His stuff was sharp and he maintained his effectiveness late into the day despite being forced into action earlier in the tournament than anticipated. The on-field familiarity between Robles and the McElraths only added to the intrigue of the day’s final game.

The game was scoreless through the first 1 ½ innings, but it was evident that would not last long. The Stompers picked up one double in each of the first two frames courtesy of Sarno and Robles, respectively. For their part, the Giants took strong cuts against Jordan in the first. Based on the early quality at bats from players on both sides, it was only a matter of time before someone broke through. That breakthrough came in the second inning, in a major way.

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All day long it seemed that once the Giants picked up one hit, a half dozen more followed. When Ryan opened the second inning with a single and Tim followed up with one of his own, you could already sense that Robles and the Stompers were in trouble. Like clockwork, Ryan homered in his next at bat – a prodigious shot that landed well into the trees overlooking Sheff field – putting the Giants ahead 3-0. The McElraths were not done yet – not by a long shot. Tim got his team started all over again with a single, Ryan added a double, and then Tim clobbered a pitch for the Giants’ second 3-run blast of the inning. In total, the Giants pounded out six straight hits – including a pair of home runs – before a single out was recorded in the second inning. The offensive fireworks seemed to stun all the players still in attendance, who are not used to seeing Robles hit around in such a manner.

Jordan – in a testament to his own abilities and makeup – found a way to keep the Giants off the scoreboard the rest of the tournament, largely by serving the McElraths a healthy dose of change ups. Unfortunately for the Stompers, the damage had already been done. Jordan – who had as much success as anyone against Ryan on the day (3 walks, triple, home run) – broke up the shutout with a one out home run in the fifth. The Stompers picked up another run later in the inning thanks to a Sarno double and a Nick Schaefer RBI single, but Ryan snuffed out the attempted comeback by striking out the next batter to end the game.

The Giants grew stronger and stronger as the day went on and finished with a perfect 6-0 record. For their efforts, they took home the $540 first place cash prize. Even more importantly, the brothers left York having made the statement they set out to make. There is no doubt – not as if there should have been before – that the McElraths are two of the best players in the entire game and a force to be reckon with whenever and wherever they step on the field.

No Shame About Ray

 Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads) worked every inning for his and allowed just two runs at  Wiffle Bash .

Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads) worked every inning for his and allowed just two runs at Wiffle Bash.

It would have been nearly impossible for any player to outdo the individual performances of Ryan and Tim McElrath at Wiffle Bash, but the Jersey Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick came awfully close. The power right-hander mowed down opposing hitters all-tournament long, starting with six scoreless innings against the Giants in his team’s first game. Lutick allowed just two runs the entire day – solo shots to the Stompers’ Sarno and the Barrel Bruisers’ Tony Manelli – while pitching every inning for this team.

Ray showed plus velocity and was able to maintain it throughout the tournament. His already strong velocity played up a little bit more thanks to a compact overhand delivery. He relied heavily on a hard overhand drop pitch that resembled a power baseball sinker more than a traditional Wiffle Ball dropper. Only occasionally did Lutick break out the side arm riser that he used liberally in his first MAW tournament last summer. If he can find a complimentary pitch and keep his arm in one piece, Lutick has the chance to be a special pitcher.

Behind Ray, the other Lemon Heads fielded well and had strong at bats throughout the tournament. The Lemon Heads’ offense should improve rapidly with additional tournament experience. On the carpet, they already have a bona fide ace in Lutick but the addition of another pitcher might become a necessity at some point. A 3-2 record against the calibre of competition the Lemon Heads faced at Wiffle Bash is incredibly impressive. Perhaps even more indicative of this team’s bright future is that they were in no way satisfied with their fourth-place finish. These guys are hungry for success and have the talent necessary to get where they ultimately want to be.

Pool Play Classic

 Jordan Robles (Stompers) entered in relief against My Name is ERL in the 7th inning and finally closed out the marathon game in the 8th.

Jordan Robles (Stompers) entered in relief against My Name is ERL in the 7th inning and finally closed out the marathon game in the 8th.

Mid Atlantic has not lacked for memorable championship games during its limited existence. From Nick Schaefer outdueling Ryan Doeppel in the very first MAW tournament last April to the 10-inning classic between ERL and Cloud9 this June, the final game of the tournament is often also the best of the tournament. At Wiffle Bash, however, the tournament’s best game occurred much earlier in the day.

For the third time this season and the sixth time overall, the Stompers and My Name is ERL met in an MAW tournament. The Stompers entered the day leading the all time series 3-2, but both clubs have undergone drastic changes since their three 2017 meetings. A better gauge of the current rivalry would be the games ERL and the Stompers played in April and May of this year. The former saw the Stompers eek out a 1-0 victory behind their newest addition, Chris Sarno, while the latter game was taken 1-0 by ERL thanks to a dominant pitching effort from the debuting Dan Whitener. The talent gap between the teams is razor thin which almost guarantees a nail-bitter every time out.

The game – as expected – was a scoreless pitching duel through the first three frames. Blake Hoffman – facing the Stompers for the first time – pitched a perfect top half of the fourth while Sarno stumbled some in the bottom half for the Stompers. The Stompers’ hard throwing right-hander walked Young to open the inning and allowed an unlucky one out single on a playable groundball to Tim Cooke. Although Sarno got out of the inning without allowing either runner to score, the base runners were significant because they put ERL ahead on total bases by a count of four to three. The Stompers needed a base runner to stay alive, which they got right off the bat thanks to a Robles’ walk. Cooke then redeemed himself with a double off Jim Linhart’s hands to give his team a two base advantage.

Thus began a four inning stretch where the Stompers got at least one runner on base every single inning only for ERL to answer right back in innings five, six, and seven. After Paul Cooke walked in the 7th to put the Stompers up by one base, Jordan Robles asked for – or perhaps more accurately, took – the ball from Sarno to try to close out the game. He almost did just that, until Young – one of the more clutch hitters in all of Wiffle Ball – delivered with a two out single right back up the middle. In the 8th, Sarno delivered a double off of Hoffman to put the Stompers ahead by two bases. The second time was the charm for Robles, who worked around a two out walk in the bottom of the 8th inning to put the Stompers in the win column.

It is not often that a 0-0 game could be described as exciting or epic, but this one might just fit the bill. The total base lead changed hands six times and was tied four different times. There was no room for error on either side – which first became apparent in the third inning – and that lent even more importance to every hit, ground ball, and taken pitch. Look for a full, edited version of the game to hit the Video on Demand section of the MAW website in the near future.

Here and There

 Bent Stant (G€M) delivers a pitch as teammate Marcus Lee looks on.

Bent Stant (G€M) delivers a pitch as teammate Marcus Lee looks on.

The Stompers championship game loss to the Giants was their first loss of the season on Sheff Field. The team’s prior three defeats this year all occurred on Buffalo . . . Where’s the run support? ERL’s Blake Hoffman threw 13 innings over two games, struck out 32 batters, allowed no runs, and served up just three hits but came away with only one total base win to go with one total base loss . . . Last summer, Connor Young became the first MAW pitcher to strikeout 200 batters in a season (including the Championship Tournament) when he set the single season record at 213. After Saturday, Chris Sarno is sitting on 142 strikeouts for the season. Red is not expected to be in action on August 4th, which may hurt his pursuit of both the 200 K mark and Soup’s record . . . The closer role has not taken hold in competitive Wiffle Ball the same way it has in baseball. At Wiffle Bash, however, there were two instances of teams turning to their ace to finish off games. Both the Stompers (Robles against ERL) and the Giants (Ryan McElrath against G€M) switched pitchers late in games to close the door on a victory . . . When asked if he ever remembers throwing that many change ups in a game as he did against the Giants, Robles shook his head 'no'. "I had to try something to get them out," the 2017 MAW post-season MVP conceded . . . Has a new player entered the Mid Atlantic MVP conversation? Bent Stant has played in just two of the four tournaments so far this season but is nonetheless among the leaders in most hitting and pitching categories. Will the voters overlook his relatively minimal playing time to reward him for what have been clear MVP-level performances when he's been on the field? . . . 500 miles away from Wiffle Bash, a pair of leagues with MAW ties fared well at the NWLA Tournament. Ridley Park stumbled going 0-2 in the elimination round but rebounded to win the weekend’s consolation tournament while also representing well in Friday night’s All-Star game and home run derby. Wiff is Life League started the weekend strong with Jordan Castelli winning All-Star game MVP honors and finished even stronger, outlasting the 16-team field on their way to capturing the tournament championship. Congratulations to both leagues on their achievements and we look forward to seeing both groups very soon . . . The Jersey Lemon Heads hope to continue the “trend” of MAW affiliated teams faring well in outside tournaments when they travel to Tennessee to play in an eight-team tournament this weekend. Based on what we saw at Wiffle Bash, it would not surprise anyone to see the Lemon Heads make a deep run . . . MAW officials continued the slow process of integrating an interview area and process into the York tournament experience. Look for some of the pre-tournament interviews recorded at Wiffle Bash on the website . . . Adding to the great tournament experience this past Saturday was the Barrel Bruisers kind generosity in supplying and grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for every player. Thanks Jerry, Chris and Tony!

Championship tournament Update

 The York Yaks - currently third in the standings -  have a spot in the Championship Tournament all but locked down (L:R Jared Laird, Adam Milsted).

The York Yaks - currently third in the standings -  have a spot in the Championship Tournament all but locked down (L:R Jared Laird, Adam Milsted).

With just two tournaments left to be played, the Championship Tournament race is heating up. The top three spots are set in stone, although ERL is well within striking distance of the Stompers for the top seed. G€M and the Barrel Bruisers have a strong grip on two of the final three sports, although there are several teams that could still overtake them. The auto qualifier spot for the Canonsburg Classic looms as a complete wild card at this point. There is no guarantee that a team outside the top six will win the tournament - or that the winners will be able to accept the bid - which means that six spots based on total points could still potentialy be up for grabs. For teams like the Lemon Heads or Longballs Red, a Championship Tournament spot could very well be in their sights with one more strong finish, regardless of the outcome in Canonsburg.

MAW officials have passed along the latest payout projections for the Championship Tournament. Based on current projections, the first place grand prize is estimated to be $2,000 with an anticipated purse of $500 to be split among the top three runners up.* If your team is on the bubble, now is the chance to make a move and ensure your chance to play for big money on September 8th!

  1. Stompers (MD)                   56 pts.
  2. My Name is ERL (NJ)        46 pts.
  3. York Yaks (PA)                    32 pts.
  4. G€M (DE)                             20 pts.
  5. Barrel Bruisers (VA)           18 pts.
  6. Giants (NY)                          16 pts.

Teams in Contention: Naturals (14), New School Risers (14), Jersey Lemon Heads (10), Cuban Raft Riders (10), Longballs Red (7), In the Box (7) **

* Assuming a six team Championship Tournament field.

** Cloud9 (16) and Ridley Park Longballs (8) are currently ineligible for the Championship Tournament as members of these played for points on different teams in subsequent tournaments (Giants and Longballs Red, respectively).

Up Next

It is hard to believe, but we are already on the home stretch of the 2018 summer season!

There are just TWO open entry tournaments left to go, beginning with Backyard Brawl on August 4th at Shi Wiffleball Park in York. This tournament is shaping up to be wide open with some MAW regulars either not expected to compete or expected to compete with short-handed rosters. There are a couple of spots still open and with Championship Tournament slots still up for grabs, this is an excellent opportunity for several teams to make a late run at the post-season.

Two weeks later, MAW rolls into Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, home of the NWLA Tournament champions Wiff is Life League! In partnership with WILL, the Canonsburg Classic will be an MAW style tournament complete with a first place cash prize. In addition, participating teams will receive points towards the Championship Tournament and the winning team will receive an automatic bid to the MAW Championship Tournament on September 8th. The Canonsburg Classic is expected to include a mix of MAW regulars, WILL regulars, newcomers, and more! Register today to take advantage of what promises to be a unique and exciting tournament.

Wiffle Bash (July 14, 2018) Tournament Preview

 The Yaks' Adam Milsted (left) and Jarod Bull (right) will be on the field together for the first time this season at   Wiffle Bash  .

The Yaks' Adam Milsted (left) and Jarod Bull (right) will be on the field together for the first time this season at Wiffle Bash.

When the York Yaks added veteran Adam Milsted to their roster over the winter, they envisioned a one-two punch of Milsted and Jarod Bull pitching them deep into the day tournament after tournament. And perhaps that is exactly what would have happened, if only the Yaks could get their top two starters out on the field at the same time. In April at Opening Day, Milsted played with his non-MAW team – Way Too Beautiful – while Bull was available to the Yaks for only 1 ½ games due to prior commitments. In May, Milsted made his long awaited Yaks’ debut while Bull sat out to nurse a sore shoulder. Bull was back on the mound for the June tournament but this time it was Milsted who was absent thanks to an outside commitment. Now at long last, both Milsted and Bull are expected to toe the rubber for the Yaks in the same tournament at MAW Wiffle Bash.

Just how significant is it for the Yaks to have their top two pitchers available in the same tournament? MIlsted and Bull have combined for a 1.66 ERA in 29 innings pitched for the Yaks this year while all other Yaks pitchers have pitched to a 9.77 ERA in 17 2/3 IP. If that duo puts up similar numbers on the 14th, the Yaks have an inside track to the final four.

Another team thrilled to be back at (near) full strength is the Barrel Bruisers. Jerry Hill was left to go at it (almost) alone back in June and performed admirably, winning one game and dropping a close one to the WILL Waves by a score of 2-1. Jerry won’t have to shoulder nearly as much of the workload this Saturday as the Bruisers will have team ace Chris Owen back in the fold. Last time we saw Chris, he turned in his best single tournament in Mid Atlantic by holding the Yaks and My Name is ERL to two runs over eight innings at Torneo de Wiffs in May. The Bruisers are on a mission for playoff points as they look to solidify a spot in September’s Championship Tournament.  A .500 pool play record will be a big step in the right direction. To get there, the Bruisers must find a way to pick up a one win in one of their three non-InHumans games.

Like Owen, ERL’s Blake Hoffman is making his return to action after missing Wiffle Wars in June. Blake is itching to get back on the carpet and continue his rookie campaign after taking a month off. The question is, how much will we see of him on the rubber this weekend? For a variety of reasons, the left-hander has been used sparingly thus far. In April, Blake worked one round robin game after ERL had already been eliminated from contention and in May his only start was a loss in the semi-finals. For those two tournaments, ERL captain Connor Young chose to hold his rookie pitcher back for the games later in the day. Soup might not have the same luxury this time around, not with Dan Whitener reportedly done for the rest of the summer due to collegiate baseball commitments. Is this the tournament where we finally see what one of the game’s most promising young hurlers can do over multiple appearances? After using a stripped down three-man lineup in June, ERL will be carrying five on Saturday. Young and Gerard Fitzgerald form a potent combination in the middle of ERL’s lineup.

While Owen and Hoffman are making their returns after a one-tournament layoff, it has been even longer since we last saw Ben Stant and the boys from G€M. On Opening Day back in April, Stant guided his inexperienced but talented squad to a final four appearance. G€M ended their impressive debut tournament with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to The Naturals in the semi’s. The team was led by their talented captain – Stant - who picked up wins against the Yaks and Cuban Raft Riders in pool play while also hitting three home runs. G€M has drawn arguably the toughest pool play schedule in the field with games versus the Giants, Yaks, Stompers, and Barrel Bruisers. To compound matters, Ben is scheduled to pitch in GSWL Yard League the very next day and may want to control his innings on Saturday. Look for G€M to try and steal a win early in the day against the Giants or Yaks, turn to another pitcher to try to get past the Bruisers (as they did with John Magee back in April) and see if they can’t work themselves into the elimination round without overtaxing their captain’s talented right arm.

G€M’s early day meeting with The Giants promises to be one of the highlights of the morning from a pure competition standpoint. The matchup also comes with a little bit of history. Stant was briefly part of the 2017 Giants squad that won the Palisades WBL championship. In one weekend worth of action for the Giants, Stant fared well. He reached base in 4 out of 11 plate appearances and struck out 14 batters during a 5-inning 1-0 loss. Stant suited up for the Giants again, but did not see any additional game time for the eventual Palisades champs. This winter, the Giants unloaded him in a trade with the Expos. While there are not necessarily any hard feelings, Ben will nonetheless have an opportunity this Saturday to show the Giants what they missed out on.

For their part, Tim and Ryan McElrath are coming to York to further prove what many already know to be true – that the Giants are one of the best teams in the sport and that Ryan is among the best players in the game. Ryan had arguably one of the top regular and post-seasons in Palisades league history last year, the Giants won the MAW Winter Classic back in February (albeit, with Jordan Robles as their third) and we all saw first hand how good of a hitter Tim can be last month when he played with Cloud9 at MAW Wiffle Wars. Despite all of that, the McElraths feel they don’t always garner the level of respect that they certainly deserve. With that ever-present chip on their shoulder, the brothers are looking to make a statement this Saturday at Wiffle Bash. It won’t be easy, as rumor as it they might have to go at it without a third player. The key will be how many innings they can squeeze out of Tim’s banged up right arm in pool play. If the answer is “eight” – and at least four of those come in a win – the Giants are almost certain to be factor late into the day

 Left to Right: Ryan and Tim McElrath after winning the 2018 MAW Winter Classic in February.

Left to Right: Ryan and Tim McElrath after winning the 2018 MAW Winter Classic in February.

Among teams looking to play spoiler are a pair of local squads– the Wyld Stallyns and those loveable underdogs, the InHumans. The InHumans are still in search of that allusive first win. Their best chance to do so on Saturday would appear to be against the Stallyns in a late pool play meeting, although even that won’t be easy. The Stallyns are captained by Nick Shirey who – as he is want to do – will temporarily split from the Yaks for a chance to pitch. Shirey will be joined by J.R. from Bacchus and a third player making his MAW debut.

While the realistic best-case scenario for the InHumans and Stallyns is to play the role of spoiler on Saturday, this next team is staring at a higher ceiling. Last August, an unknown team from the Jackson Wiffleball League arrived in York for the fourth tournament of the season. In their first game the newcomers upset an undermanned Stompers squad and then dropped a pair of close games to My Name is ERL on the way to a top four finish. Sporting a new team name – Jersey Lemon Heads – the guys are back and looking to build off of their sold debut of a year ago. These Jersey boys have a manageable schedule and a real chance to be alive late in the day. If you want a player from Lemon Heads to watch, keep an eye on Ray Lutick. The pitcher impressed fellow players last August with a side arm riser that – when he keeps it out of the middle of the plate – rates as an above average offering.

Finally, there's the Stompers. The team’s impressive streak of tournament titles – four straight – came to an end in June at Wiffle Wars. While a semi-final loss to one of the game’s best pitchers hardly qualifies as disappointing, there is a sense that the club is eager to “bounce back” after missing out on the finals in June. The Stompers will have all three of their pitchers – Jordan Robles, Chris Sarno, and Nick Schaefer – available once again, although it will likely be the last time that happens this (regular) season. As usual, that wealth of pitching depth gives team captain Tim Cooke much to ponder. The Stompers’ pool play matchup with My Name is ERL will be another chapter in a classic MAW on-field rivalry. The Stompers lead the all-time series three games to two.

The Mid Atlantic Wiffle Facebook page (www.facebook.com/midatlanticwiffle) will once again stream several games throughout the tournament. All game times are subject to change, so we suggest checking in twenty minutes or so early to make sure you don’t miss any of the action. Live commentary from a rotating cast of players will be provided when possible.

  • 10:00 AM – Giants vs. G€M
  • 2:00 PM – Giants vs. York Yaks
  • 4:00 PM – My Name is ERL vs. York Yaks OR Barrel Bruisers vs. Lemon Heads
  • 5:30 PM – Finals (TBD)

As always, follow MAW on Twitter (@midatlanticwiff) and on Instagram (midatlanticwiffle) for updates throughout the tournament. Check back next week after the tournament for full coverage including the tournament recap, video highlights, and much more.

Mid-Year in Review: Twenty Prominent Players from the First Half of 2018

By: Paul Cooke

At the midway mark of the 2018 Wiffle Ball calendar, The Drop takes a look at the players that caught our attention over the first half of the season. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the best players in the game but rather a collection of players and stories that stood out over the past six months. This article covers players that have played in an unrestricted pitch speed environment in 2018.

Iron Man

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Jimmy Cole entered 2018 with an ambitious goal in mind – play in 175 games over the course of the calendar year. So how is it going? By my own unofficial count, Cole has made it north of 50 games but a little short of the 87 games representing the halfway mark of his ambitious goal. Cole has been all over place the first six months of the year, competing in three winter indoor tournaments, playing regularly in at least two leagues in upstate New York, competing in the Skibee Wiffleball League in St. Louis, traveling to a pair of tournaments in Pennsylvania, and suiting up for two of games in the Palisades. Whether or not he reaches his stated goal, Jimmy is well on his way to being Wiffle Ball’s 2018 Iron Man. [HIGHLIGHT: Cole's Grandslam at the MAW Winter Classic]

Tough Outs

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For an eight-day stretch in April, Cole’s Palisades Cardinals teammate and fellow New Yorker, Kris Morse, was an unstoppable force at the plate. It started on April 22nd at AWAA’s Opening Day tournament when Morse pounded out an insane thirteen homeruns for the tournament champion River Monsters. One week later in Palisades, Morse had a game for the ages. Playing for the Cardinals, Kris went six for eight with three homeruns, three walks and a whopping sixteen RBI in a route of the White Sox. Morse has since cooled off a bit – how could he not? – but the eight days in April when he suddenly became the wiffle equivalent of 2001 Barry Bonds is one of the more fascinating statistical feats so far in 2018.

The one-pitch rule in the Washington based JAL league was the subject of some debate earlier this year. What seems undeniable is that making good on one pitch isn’t easy even if you are getting nothing but fastballs straight over the plate (which – to be clear – is not the case in JAL). That is what makes Matthew Morton’s JAL XVII output so impressive. Morton saw 95 pitches during the winter/spring season. He let 30 go by for walks and picked up hits on 23 of them for an impressive .558 on base percentage. Even more impressive was that 13 of his 23 hits (57%) went for extra bases. To make extra base contact on 14% of the pitches you see over the course of a long season is impressive in any fast pitch environment. Due to his relentless offensive output, Morton was named MVP of the JAL XVII season.

Dan Potter YAKS concept.png

Way back in February at Mid Atlantic’s Winter Classic, Dan Potter deposited the first pitch he saw in 2018 over the left-center wall for a solo home run. That proved to be a harbinger of his season – in more ways then one. The leadoff home run was the first of three game opening shots Potter has hit this season, with the other two coming on April 14th against Ben Stant and June 16th against Tom LoCascio. Since the start of the calendar year, Potter has done nothing but rake against quality competition. The longtime York Yak leads MAW in almost every major offensive category through three tournaments. One of the best athletes in the sport for the better part of two decades, the “Wiffle Ninja” – as he is known – is finally get his due. [HIGHLIGHT: Potter goes deep twice off of Cole]

Veteran Presence

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Saturday May 5th was supposed to be a fun day of bonding between a veteran competitive wiffler and his two kids. And it was, but for Dave Capobianco, Mid Atlantic’s Torneo de Wiffs ended up being so much more. The longtime Wiffle Up player and former Fast Plastic NCT participant – serving as his team’s only pitcher and on a bad leg to boot – held down quality hitters like Dan Potter and Connor Young as he guided his New School Risers team to a 2-2 round robin record. Capobainco hit a walk off homerun in a play-in game to put his team into the semi-finals against heavily favorited My Name is ERL. That’s when Dave saw his two teenage children – who were growing more comfortable with each at bat – mount a rally on a walk and a triple which gave them the momentarily lead. In extra-innings, Dave took care of the rest by hitting his second game winning homerun in as many opportunities. Although the Risers came up short in the finals, their unlikely run to the championship game is one of the best stories of the half-year. [HIGHLIGHT: Dave Capobianco May 5th tournament Pitching Reel]

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Tom LoCascio – a first ballot Wiffle Ball Hall of Famer if there ever was one – received a heck of a Father’s Day gift this year. The captain of In the Box spent the day before Father’s Day back on the Wiffle Ball field flanked by his 15-year old son, Gianni. For one afternoon at least, the 51-year old turned back the clock and even better, got a chance to introduce his son to a sport he had previously only heard about. As everyone expected, Tom played well and left everything he had on the field while pitching all three games for his team. Among Tom’s highlights were a 1-0 victory in their second game of the day and seeing Gianni pick up the nuances of wiffle ball hitting, culminating in several well struck balls against a couple of high quality pitchers. More than a few fellow players remarked that Tom could still make a major contribution on a lot of teams, should he choose to play more than once a season. [HIGHLIGHT: Tom LoCascio June 16th MAW tournament Pitching Reel ]

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Being underestimated and proving his doubters wrong is nothing new to the Stompers’ Nick Schaefer. By way of example, in 2001 as a member of In the Box, Nick was benched during a pivotal USPPBA East regional finals game against the Lakeside Kings because of the misconception that Nick is a weak hitter. Eight months later, Nick hit a walk-off 3-run home run against that same Kings’ squad to capture a tournament title for his new team, the Stompers. Thirteen years later – after being written off as a player on more than one occasion –Schaefer is still competing at a high level both on the mound and on the plate. His velocity is down a notch or two and his barely scuffed balls look like an ancient artifact to some younger players, but Nick continues to produce at high level. Although his pitching workload has been limited in 2018 – the days of 25+ inning tournaments are in the rearview for Nick– he is nonetheless highly effective both on the hill and at the plate. Nick is 2-0 on the carpet this season in MAW against quality competition and he has hit the game winning homerun in both of those outings. Showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, Nick has been one of the game’s best full-time veteran players this season. [HIGHLIGHT: Nick Schaefer helps himself with a Grand Slam]

Two Way Stars

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At 21-years old, Connor Young is what you might call a “young veteran”. Connor first played in competitive tournaments when he was just twelve years old and has been a mainstay in the sport ever since. 2018 might just be his finest season to date. The man they call Soup has a good shot of winning back-to-back MVP awards in Mid Atlantic and he steadied a Palisades Brewers team that was going nowhere fast before his arrival. After pitching nearly every single inning for My Name is ERL in 2017, Young relieved some of the pressure with several clever additions to round out the roster. That has allowed Soup to be at the top of his pitching game more often than not, even though he still racking up the innings. Young logged 70 innings between MAW and Palisades in the first half of the year, allowing a meager 16 runs in the process. The extra assistance from his teammates has also positively impacted Connor’s offense. Young is a true two-way threat now, just as capable of taking a top ranked pitcher deep as he is to strike out a big time power hitter. [HIGHLIGHT: Young Takes Matters into His Own Hands]

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In 2017, Ryan McElrath put together one of the most impressive individual seasons in Palisades WBL history. Ryan took home the MVP and Cy Young honors to go along with a league championship, becoming only the second player in that league’s history to earn both MVP and Cy Young honors in the same season. So far in 2018, Ryan has picked up right where he left off. His hitting line through twelve games (.250/.407/.597) is nearly identical to last season but with a little more power. On the mound he has already racked up 36 innings for the Giants. While opposing batters have gotten to him more frequently in 2018 than 2017, a 1.25 ERA (per 5 IP) still ranks high up the leaderboard, particularly for pitchers who have thrown thirty or more innings. Ryan’s ability to pick up big hits and shoulder the bulk of the pitching load for his team make him one of the most valuable players anywhere. An impressive eight-inning victory in the finals of the Mid Atlantic Winter Classic this February only adds to his already impressive Palisades resume. [HIGHLIGHT: Ryan McElrath Winter Classic Pitching Reel]

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You know that a player is truly special is when he is among the top all around players on the year and nobody makes a fuss over it simply because it is expected of him. Such is the case for Jordan Robles. Robles is having one of his typically great seasons but because we have seen this level of performance and winning from him time and time again, it may not register to the same way it has with players in the midst of breakout or career years. Jordan started 2018 in impressive fashion by winning three unrestricted pitch speed tournaments in a row – the MAW Winter Classic, MAW Opening Day, and AWAA Opening Day. He is on pace to record anywhere from his second to fourth best pitching season in his illustrious Palisades career. It is easy to take Robles’ talent for granted, which itself is a testament to his immense skill. [HIGHLIGHT: Robles April 14 MAW tournament championship game pitching reel]

Chris Sarnowski was bred to be a championship level wiffler. The son and namesake of the former State of Mind and Hitsom great, Sarno has been around the game almost his entire life and has played competitively for much of this past decade. 2018, however, has been a revelation. While it was abundantly clear from his past successes in GSWL Yard and elsewhere that Sarno had a bigtime bat, he’s shown this year that he has the arm to go along with it. Through three MAW regular season tournaments, Sarno has allowed just four runs in 43 innings of work. His resume includes wins over top-flight teams like My Name is ERL and Cloud9. Sarno is a hard thrower with a typical mix of pitches and has seemingly put his control issues behind him. [HIGHLIGHT: Sarno May 5th MAW Tournament pitching reel]

Another name that might fit that taken-for-granted mold is Tim Trenary of the Palisades Dodgers. Since 2012, Trenary has been one of the best and most consistent players in the Palisades, particularly on the mound where he has averaged 13 strikeouts per games over his eight Palisades’ seasons. This year he is putting up his typical strong pitching numbers with a 0.71 ERA and a tick over 12 strikeouts per game over 27 1/3 innings. While Tim’s offensive output is usually safely above average, he has really taken it to another level this season. In 51 at bats through the end of June, he has slugged nine extra base hits including six homeruns, which is good enough for a .725 slugging percentage. Combined with his solid .410 OBP, Trenary currently has a 1.135 OPS which if he can maintain would be the best of his career.

As a first-time player in Palisades WBL last year, Ty Wegerzn ran away with the league’s Rookie of the Year award. This year, his brother Dave is attempting to make it back-to-back ROTY awards for the Wegerzn clan. Dave Wegerzn – like Ty was in 2017 when he won Rookie of the Year honors – is by no means a newbie to fast pitch Wiffle Ball and that prior experience has allowed him to hit the ground running. Midway through the year, Dave is dominating the action on both sides of the ball with a 1.213 OPS and 0.67 ERA. If Dave can finish the season the way he has started it, he seems poised be the second Wegerzn in a row to finish as a season as Palisades’ top “rookie” player.

Flame Throwers

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48 IP, 4 R, 134 K’s. That is Dan Whitener’s combined Mid Atlantic and Palisades pitching line through the first three months of the spring/summer season. Whitener – who also pitches at Chowan University in North Carolina – poses one of the most electric arms in our sport. He’s put his abilities to fine use this year, retiring quality hitters at a rate unmatched by any of his peers. Whitener has gone through a murder’s row in those two organizations and handled them with relative ease. If Whitener has a shortcoming it is that he is prone to the occasional lapse of command but his stuff and velocity is so good that he is often able to work around any walks. With his pedigree and stuff, the sky is the limit. [HIGHLIGHT: Whitener May 5th MAW tournament pitching reel]

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It is rare to strike out 27 batters over one 10-innning game and lose, as Whitener did back on June 16th in Mid Atlantic. A lot of things need to occur for that to happen, chief among them an opposing pitcher that is up to the challenge. In this particular game that was Cloud9’s Sean Steffy, who kept ERL off the scoreboard by scattering five hits, walking one, and striking out twenty over those same ten innings. Sean’s first tournament appearance of 2018 was a doozy, as he showed off the overpowering stuff that helped propel his team to victory in the 2017 Texas Open. Sean is 5-0 in his last five starts dating back to last October. The matchup with Whitener and ERL in June was easily his biggest test in those handful of games – ERL collectively picked up five hits and made ten outs on balls in play – but as big game pitchers do, Sean found a way to work out of and around jams to get the job done. [HIGHLIGHT: Sean Steffy MAW June tournament pitching highlights]

Two-Sport Stars

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Texas Wiffleball League head honcho and talented pitcher, Will Marshall, is spending a plastic free summer while playing for the Utica Unicorns of the United Professional Shore Baseball League. The UPSBL – an independent league in the Detroit metro area – began its season in mid-May and runs through early September. Working in relief, Marshall has held opponents scoreless in 7 of 12 outings and has a 4.12 ERA through games on June 23rd. Will has been on his game more often-than-not, with seven of his nine earned runs coming in just two outings. Will poses one of competitive Wiffle Ball’s most electric arms and this summer he is proving he can still get it done on the diamond as well. [HIGHLIGHT: Will Marshall FP Texas Open pitching clips]

Georgia's Village Idiots won an eight team tournament in Tennessee in 2017 but have yet to play in 2018. There’s a good reason for their absence, however. One of the Idiot’s key players – Justin Jones – is currently playing professional baseball in the Los Angeles Angels organization. Jones – a four year starting shortstop at Georgia state – signed with the Angels as an undrafted free agent this summer and is currently assigned to their rookie-level team Arizona. 

Next Generation

What do you get when you take the overwhelming arsenal and velocity of Sean Steffy and put it on a nineteen-year old southpaw? You get My Name is ERL’s Blake Hoffman. It is unfair to burden Blake with such high expectations so early in his career, but there is no denying he has the stuff and ability to eventually justify that comparison. Blake has shown off his considerable talent over three MAW tournaments in 2018 but also struggled on occasion, as can be expected of any young pitcher. A longtime student of the game – Hoffman spent the prior five years uploading his backyard bullpen sessions to YouTube before making his pro debut in ’18 – he has the drive needed to become a top tier pitcher. Blake travels from his home in Marion, Ohio to York, Pennsylvania – a one-way trip of about 6 ½ hours – to compete in MAW tournaments. There’s no question the want-to is there and with his stuff, it is only a matter of time before he puts it all together. [HIGHLIGHT: Hoffman versus Way Too Beautiful]

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Last summer, it was Tommy Loftus who broke out of the pack in the Ridley Park Wiffleball League and established himself as one of the game’s bright young pitchers. This year, it looks like its Sean Bingnear’s turn to do the same. Bingnear followed up on his sparkling 2017 RPWL playoff run (15 innings, 0 runs, 24 K’s) with an excellent start to the 2018 RPWL season (16 innings, 0 runs, 28 K’s) before a nightmarish outing on June 20th where he seemingly couldn’t locate the strike zone. Outside of the Ridley Park league, Bingnear is opening eyes with his work in Mid Atlantic. In two tournaments, Bingenear has tossed 16+ above average innings and was one pitch away from defeating Cloud9 by total bases on June 16th. Relying on a heavy screwball and smooth delivery, Bingnear has shown he can get top tier hitters out and should only get better as he gains more experience. The NWLA recently spotlighted the Longballs’ pitcher as one of their players to watch at this year’s NWLA tournament. Sean will likely do the hefty lifting for the Longballs at that tournament, with Loftus still on the shelf as he rehabs an arm injury. [HIGHLIGHT: Bingnear MAW June tournament pitching reel]

Another young pitcher with a near upset over Cloud9 on his resume is Cooper Ruckel of the Texas Wiffle Ball League’s Cosby Show. Last October, the hard throwing sixteen year old kept the eventual Texas Open champions scoreless in a pool play game, but came up short on total bases. In sixteen innings spanning four games this season in the Texas Wiffle Ball League, Ruckel has struck out 46 batters and allowed only two hits. With an electric arm and a deceivingly simple delivery, Ruckel can throw the ball past opposing hitters in a way very few others can. [HIGHLIGHT: Ruckel strikes out Ed Packer]

The Drop National Player of the Year

Wiffle Ball is ostensibly a team sport but in its current state, the game belongs to the individual player. While I hope that one-day soon we will again have the full-time teams and system necessary to accurately rank and compare squads, that time is not now. It is a player's sport right now and there is no shortage of talented players to be found throughout the United States and beyond.

The Drop wishes to recognize the outstanding achievements of the games best, most consistent, and game tested WINNING players. To that end, The Drop will name a 2018 National Player of the Year this fall. In addition to the award, the winning player will receive a cash prize of $500. This is an editor’s choice award, meaning there will not be an open or closed door voting process. The winner will be selected by the The Drop based on the following criteria:

  • Based on a player’s performance in unrestricted pitch speed games* between January 1st and October 15th, 2018.

  • The award will take into account a player’s pitching, hitting, and defensive accomplishments between (and including) January 1, 2018 and October 15, 2018.

  • Among other considerations, the level of competition the player competed against, the player’s statistics, the number of games played at a high level, individual and team accolades earned by the player (i.e. championships), and the variety of competition will be taken into account when selecting the finalists and the award winner.

  • A player’s FULL body of work will be considered for the award. One good tournament is not necessarily enough to make up for a lack of play or performance the rest of the award period nor can will one "poor" tournament performance overshadow an otherwise superb season.

  • The selection will be made based on the hours upon hours of in-person and digital Wiffle Ball watching undertaken on a regular basis here at The Drop, conversations with players and organizers, and 2018 statistics.

* Organizations that meet this criteria include, but are not limited to: Palisades WBL; Mid Atlantic Wiffle; NWLA affiliated leagues that provide an unrestricted speed option (AWAA, Ridley Park Wiffle Ball League, WSEM, etc.); the NWLA national and qualifying tournaments;  the Fast Plastic tournament; JAL; and the Texas Wiffle Ball League.

The finalists will be announced on Monday, October 22nd. The award winner will be announced Friday, November 2nd. The award will be presented to the winner at a yet to be determined date and location.

So keep on playing and GOOD LUCK!

Wiffle Wars (June 16, 2018) Tournament Recap

 Cloud9 defeated My Name is ERL in 10 innings to win MAW Wiffle Wars. (June 16, 2018)

Cloud9 defeated My Name is ERL in 10 innings to win MAW Wiffle Wars. (June 16, 2018)

June 16, 2018 (York, PA) – 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open champions Cloud9 arrived at MAW Wiffle Wars with a different roster than last October, but the result was exactly the same. For the second time in as many tournaments, the boys in blue and white took home a title in a highly competitive, double digit team, fast pitch tournament.

For Cloud9, the road to a second straight tournament title was not without its challenges. The tournament champions were tested all day long, but overcame the rest of the field thanks in no small part to the excellent pitching and clutch hitting of tournament MVP, Sean Steffy.

Cloud9 arrived in York looking different then the last time we saw them and it wasn’t just the new tank top uniforms. Instead of Ty Wegerzn and Kevin Norris, Steffy and Ed Packer were joined by Tim McElrath and Devin Torres. The two longtime Palisades WBL players not only provided Cloud9 with additional offense, they gave the team an additional pair of arms to throw in pool play games. While Torres and McElrath differ from Norris and Wegerzn stylistically, it would be a stretch to argue that there was any substantial drop off in production.

Cloud9’s day began with a near upset. Facing the Ridley Park Longballs Red team and their ace pitcher, Sean Bingnear, Cloud9 failed to score through their first four trips to the plate. Bingnear – who turned heads with a great playoff run in the Ridley Park Wiffle Ball League last season and continued to do so with a stellar MAW debut back in May – kept the Cloud9 offense off balance all game. Through the first four innings, only McElrath (double and fly out) was able to put the ball in play against the impressive young righty. Packer kept the game scoreless, working out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth. With Longballs Red ahead on total bases and two outs already in the inning, Bingnear needed only to avoid an extra base hit from Steffy to end the game. Instead, he left a screwball up in the zone, which Sean pounced on for a solo blast. Just like that, Cloud9 had the lead. Packer held on to it  with a 1-2-3 bottom half to complete the escape act.

 Sean Bingnear (Ridley Park Longballs) goes into his windup. Bingnear continues to impress everywhere he pitches, holding both Cloud9 and In the Box to two runs over nine innings.

Sean Bingnear (Ridley Park Longballs) goes into his windup. Bingnear continues to impress everywhere he pitches, holding both Cloud9 and In the Box to two runs over nine innings.

After making easy work of the InHumans with Tim McElrath on the mound, Cloud9 handed the ball to Devin Torres to face the Stompers. The Stompers came into the game with an identical 2-0 record, thanks to Nick Schaefer and Chris Sarno who picked wins against Longballs Blue and In the Box, respectively. Like their opponents, the 2017 MAW champions chose to hold back their ace (Jordan Robles) for the elimination round and gave the ball to Sarno who was working his second straight game. Cloud9’s Torres worked around a bases loaded threat from the Stompers in the middle innings and the game headed to extras scoreless and tied on total bases. A walk to Sarno in the bottom of the 5th broke the deadlock, however, giving the Stompers the victory on total bases.

For Sarno, the total bases victory was another accolade in an impressive resume he is putting together this season in MAW. Sarno has positioned himself alongside the Yaks’ Dan Potter and ERL’s Connor Young as the early top contenders for regular season MVP.

As it was in Texas when they worked their way through a total base win and a pool play loss on their way to the title, Cloud9’s goal at Wiffle Wars was simply to make it to the elimination round so that they could hand the ball over to Steffy. With the ball in the hand of arguably the best pitcher in the country, none of the hitting struggles and close calls from earlier in the day seemed to matter much.

In an immediate re-match with the Stompers, Steffy went head to head with Robles in a heavyweight pitching matchup. With a spot in the finals on the line, Steffy overpowered the Stompers offense the entire game and did not allow a single hit over five innings of work. Robles was up to the challenge early, but a series of cracked balls wrecked havoc with his rhythm. Usually unflappable on the mound, Robles never seemed completely comfortable, allowing a couple of hits and a walk during the first four innings. In the 5th, he uncharacteristically walked two batters before allowing a backbreaking two run hit to Steffy. The Stompers went quietly in the bottom of the inning and Cloud9 punched its ticket to the title game.

Awaiting Cloud9 was My Name is ERL. ERL came to Wiffle Wars with a streamlined three-man lineup of Connor Young, Dan Whitener, and Gerard Fitzgerald. While both Young and Whitener are perfectly capable of taking the ball at the end of the tournament, the decision to pitch Connor in round robin and Dan in the finals was an obvious one. Few pitchers are as durable as Young and few pitchers in the game have as electric stuff as Whitener. Young more than held up his end of the bargain, winning three pool play games and the semi-final games against the Yaks. In a post-tournament interview on Wifflecast, Whitener remarked that it was the best he has seen his teammate throw.

 My Name is ERL (June 16, 2018)

My Name is ERL (June 16, 2018)

One might expect given the pitching matchup that the championship game was a low offense, high strikeout affair but that is not entirely true. While both Whitener and Steffy racked up their fair share of K’s, there were several game-changing defensive plays and run-scoring opportunities for both sides. In the second inning, Fitzgerald pulled a grounder towards McElrath on the left side of the infield. The ball ate up the usually shore-handed defender, bouncing off his hands and into the air. Torres – who never stopped running towards the ball from his starting point on the right side of the infield – caught the ball in the air about three feet behind the singles line, pivoted, and through a perfect riser into the backstop to record the out (HIGHLIGHT). Later in the game, a hard grounder off the bat of Whitener seemed destined for centerfield when the ball bounded off the pitching rubber and high into the air. The ball held up just long enough for Torres to field it and record the out.

The latter play proved particularly important as it was followed by a Connor Young triple. Young’s hit – which off the bat appeared to have a shot at clearing the short left-field perch – would have scored the go-ahead run had Whitener’s grounder not been corralled. ERL had runners on base and runners in scoring position several times throughout the game, but ultimately failed to convert on any of those opportunities.

The game reached the 10th inning without a score and Whitener in control. The hard throwing right-hander scattered several walks throughout the long game, but otherwise had remained in control and kept Cloud9’s offensive opportunities to a minimum. Just as they did in the tournament opener, Cloud9 changed the narrative in an instant. A seemingly innocent one-out walk brought Ed Packer to the plate. Packer did not hit much all tournament but put a big swing on a Whitener pitch that caught a lot of the plate. Nobody – not even the batter himself – was sure the ball had enough carry to clear the left field fence but it kept on going, eventually landing comfortably several feet behind the fence. (HIGHLIGHT)

 Sean Seffy (Cloud9) readies to deliver a pitch in the Wiffle Wars title game. Sean threw 15, no run innings and had two game winning hits en route to being named tournament MVP (July 16, 2018)

Sean Seffy (Cloud9) readies to deliver a pitch in the Wiffle Wars title game. Sean threw 15, no run innings and had two game winning hits en route to being named tournament MVP (July 16, 2018)

The homerun held up as Steffy put ERL down in order in the bottom of the 10th to seal the victory for his team. It was a tough loss for ERL who played a great tournament and – as some of the dozens of championship game onlookers noted – outplayed their title game foes in several facets of the game. The tournament marked ERL’s first appearance in a regular season tournament championship game since a loss to the Yaks last August. ERL has not won a MAW tournament since their Mid Atlantic debut last June.

Cloud9 pitchers did not allow a single run all tournament long. Sean Steffy – who certainly looked a lot like one of the best players in the country on both sides of the ball – was named the tournament MVP.

No Relief

 Tom LoCascio (In the Box) returned to the mound at Wiffle Wars, winning one game and allowing only two runs over 12+ innings of work. (June 16, 2018)

Tom LoCascio (In the Box) returned to the mound at Wiffle Wars, winning one game and allowing only two runs over 12+ innings of work. (June 16, 2018)

While teams like the Stompers and Cloud9 had plenty of pitching options at their disposal, the same could not be said for two other teams in the tournament field.

The day before Wiffle Wars, the Barrel Bruisers’ Jerry Hill took to Instagram to show off four newly cut Wiffle Balls and to provide an honest assessment – in #hashtag form – of his team’s chances on Saturday.

#betterhit,” Jerry typed,” #causeimpitching”.

Little did Jerry know just how much he would pitch. The Bruisers were already down to a two-man squad thanks to prior commitments and back spasms robbing the team of Chris Owen and Tony Manelli, respectively. With Colin Dimitris a late scratch the morning of the tournament, Jerry was forced to handle the entirety of the pitching duties for his two-man team.  Hill rose to the occasion, picking up one win and suffering a narrow 2-1 defeat to the WILL Waves, in a game that was decided on a couple of close calls. Jerry continues to improve on the rubber every tournament and gave his best pitching performance on Saturday with his back up against the wall.

In his late 90’s heyday, Tom LoCascio of In the Box was known for a left arm that was so durable, it appeared bionic. Playing a tournament nearly every weekend – and often accompanied only by his brother Frank – Tom logged as many miles on his arm as any pitcher in the history of unrestricted pitch speed wiffleball. In May of 1999, Tom became the only known player to finish in the top four of a 16+ team, non-Wiffle Up tournament field by himself.

Now 51-years old and in semi-retirement for the better part of a decade, Tom took to the field on Saturday with only his son Gianni behind him. As mentioned in the tournament preview, anyone that knew Tom knew he was coming to compete and win, which is exactly what he did. Relying on a slider, screwball, and the occasional riser – a drop pitch no longer an option from all the wear and tear put on his arm over the years – LoCascio held the Yaks to two runs and then shutout both Ridley Park Red and the Stompers. Tom pitched 12+ innings for In the Box before letting Gianni get a taste of Wiffle pitching in the 5th inning of the game versus the Stompers. Gianni flipped up an effortless slider to the Stomper batters and with some coaching from his Hall of Fame dad, a new generation of In the Box may not be far away.

Here and There

 Ridley Park's Colin Pollag looks in towards the strike zone during an early pool play game. (June 16, 2018)

Ridley Park's Colin Pollag looks in towards the strike zone during an early pool play game. (June 16, 2018)

With a second inning strikeout on Jesse (Barrel Bruisers), Connor Young became the first player in Mid Atlantic history to reach the 100 innings pitched mark . . . Opening Day set a high bar for competitiveness with 13 out of 15 games decided by three runs or less. Wiffle Wars was not far behind. Nine out of ten teams picked up at least one win, no team went undefeated, and the eventual champions were pushed to extra innings in three of their five games . . . With no disrespect to Sean Steffy, the player that the other players in the tournament were most impressed with was Tom LoCascio. The consensus after the tournament is that after getting a few more reps at the plate, the leader of In the Box could still be a well above average hitter capable of giving a team one excellent game on the rubber per tournament . . . Tom became the second player enshrined on Sheff Field’s “Wall of Wifflers” to play on the field, joining fellow wiffle icon Billy Owens . . . While several teams chose to hold their ace back until late in the day, the Yaks took a decidedly different approach to the tournament. Jarod Bull – who was held out of the May tournament with a shoulder ailment – started the first two games for his team (both wins) as the Yaks sought to reach the elimination round. Bull eventually ran out of steam in the semi-final, but his early-tournament success on the rubber propelled the Yaks to 10 important Championship Tournament points . . . Kudos to Jesse (formerly of Bachus is My Bro) for teaming up with Jerry Hill on the Barrel Bruisers at the last minute. Jesse had a solid tournament, picking up a few hits and making a couple of fine defensive plays . . . Both Ridley Park and the Wiff is Life League are competing in the NWLA Tournament in Michigan on July 14th. Both teams certainly have what it takes to make a deep run in that event . . . Always a true ambassador of the game, Tom LoCascio supplied all ten teams at the tournament with a FREE Loco Bat. Thanks Tom!

Standings Update

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We are officially halfway through the 2018 regular season tournament schedule and the Championship Tournament race is heating up!

The Stompers and My Name is ERL continue to hold onto the top two spots in the table, although the gap between them narrowed significantly with ERL’s second place finish. The Yaks’ third place finish at Wiffle Wars places the veteran squad solidly in third place. The Barrel Bruisers moved into the top six and will look to build on that with the return of Chris Owen in July.

The top six is still somewhat jumbled, thanks to the presence of three teams – New School Risers, Naturals, and Cloud9 – who finished second, second, and first, respectively, in their lone 2018 MAW tournaments. Similarly, the Ben Stant captained G€M is well within striking distance after one tournament played. A respectable finish by any of these teams in an upcoming tournament would position them well for a playoff spot. 

* Standings reflect all teams with more than 10 points towards the Championship Tournament through the June 16, 2018 tournament.

Up Next

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MAW is back in action on July 14th in York for Wiffle Bash!

From 1998 – 2000, the Maryland Wiffleball Association hosted their annual summer, Wiffle Bash, in the DC suburbs. Those tournaments saw 49 teams compete over that three-year period with the Georgia Longshotz winning the inaugural event. Baltimore’s Chilly Willy Blasters went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000, beating the Fluffheads and the dynamic duo of Lou Worthington & Mark DeMasi to win their titles. Now Wiffle Bash is back for the first time as a MAW event! Which team will add their name to the list of former champions?

July 14th is a busy day for different forms of Wiffle Ball, with the World Whiffleball Championship (slow pitch) in Illinois and the NWLA tournament (baserunning) in Michigan both taking place on that day. There is only place on the east coast to find no pitch speed, high quality Wiffle Ball that weekend and that’s MAW!

After July, MAW returns to York on August 4th for Backyard Brawl. This is the last final chance for teams to play at Shi Wiffleball Park during the 2018 regular season! Lastly, MAW debuts in Canonsburg, PA on August 18th with the Canonsburg Classic. This will be the last chance for teams to qualify for the Championship Tournament in September.

Spaces are filling up for all three tournaments, so register your team today at www.midatlanticwiffle.com!