As is the case with many, many of the truly great teams in any sport, there's usually one game along the playoff path - some people might refer to it as a 'trap' game, others as a 'survival' game - that tests the merit of a group's otherwise season-long success.
Yesterday afternoon, our baseball team got first-hand experience in that dreaded quasi-truism.
The Hawks, cruising into the state playoffs as the top seed (17-1) and with home-field advantage all the way through to McCarthy Field as long as they continue to win, welcomed the Middletown Islanders - a team that most likely no one in the state would have tabbed as a threat to our guys and their two-time state title - to Pepin Field for first-round playoff action. What transpired over the course of two-plus hours was, at times, frustrating, bewildering, maddening, and some weird combination of all three. Toss in the fact that the game time temperature was about 50 degrees (in nearly June!), raw, overcast, and with a wind chill that made it feel closer to the low-to-mid-40's, and the entire scene was, indeed, somewhat surreal.
Let's also not forget this one important point: The Islanders came to play, and play they did, Hendricken or no Hendricken. Playing largely solid and mistake-free baseball, they nearly pulled off what probably would have been the upset of the season. They deserve a lot of credit. In the end, the Hawks' three-peat hopes hinged on a poor throw off a Dante Baldelli bunt that resulted in the Hawks' narrow, nearly desperate escape.
As far as The Network's coverage goes, we didn't have our cameras available, so Cam Brennan, Bobby Bordieri, and Dylan "DT" Barron did a live audio stream of the game - and did a first-rate job. It was kinda like the old days of listening to the ballgame on the AM radio. It was rather cool.
One of the factors in the game was undoubtedly the weather. In conditions such as the players experienced yesterday, the advantage almost always goes to the pitcher, and yesterday's lack of offense on both sides would seem to have borne that out. Of the few mildly exciting plays, two can be seen here:
One of the bigger turning points in the game came in the sixth inning, when the Hawks managed to take a 2-1 lead. The play that most directly led to what seemed at the time to be the all-important run came on a misplayed, routine flyball to left-center field. That play can be seen right here:
The Islanders managed to tie the game in the top of the seventh on a perfectly-executed suicide squeeze, but the Hawks were able to walk off with the win in the bottom of the final frame on the aforementioned Baldelli bunt play.
Offensively, in a game such as this one, there wasn't a whole lot to mention, which has typically not been the case for a Hawks' team that has been largely putting up gaudy numbers all season. Our guys only managed four singles yesterday, but on the mound Mike McCaffrey was his usual steady self - three hits and two runs allowed over six solid innings of work.
The Hawks will be matched up next against the Lincoln Lions, tomorrow afternoon at 4pm at Pepin Field. The Network will carry the game live, beginning at approximately 3:50 pm.