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!