The Seattle Studs captured the GFI championship on Sunday afternoon with an exciting 12-11 win over the Everett Merchants at James Donaldson Park.
The Studs took home $20,000 for capturing the crown. Everett picked up $12,000 for second, while Burnaby and West Coast each received $5,000. The quarter-sfinal (money round) losers, Kamloops, North Sound, Thurston County and Northwest, all picked up $3,000.
It was a savage outing for centre fielder Connor Savage, who was named tournament MVP after his strong play all weekend. Savage hit three out of four at bats in the final and knocked in two RBIs.
Savage told the Gazette after the game that the team was very excited to win the GFI after losing last year in the semi-finals.
“It was a huge relief,” he said. “It’s been a long day of baseball and a long week. We didn’t even know if we’d make it to the elimination (money) round after how we played in the round-robin, but it was great to finish like this.”
For Savage, it was his second GFI and he was glad his team was able to muster a much better result.
“Last year we lost on a heartbreaker to Everett in the round before this so it was cool to come away with the win this year,” he said. “They’re in our league so we play them six or seven times a year. We have a great rivalry. They always give us good competition and today was no different.”
After the Studs went up 1-0 early, it was all Merchants as they went off for six runs on five hits in the third inning to take a 6-1 lead. Merchants then pushed out to an 8-1 lead after adding another two runs in the fourth inning.
Seattle stormed back with a massive 10-run fifth inning that saw eight hits. Everett scored once in the sixth to cut the Stud lead to 11-9. Studs then responded with a run of their own an inning later to go up 12-9.
After a scoreless eight inning, the teams headed into the ninth inning with Seattle leading 12-9. Everett didn’t go away though as they scored two runs to come within one, but after Jake Levin struck out for the Merchants that was it and the Studs took the crown.
“We had two rough innings but we were able to rally,” said Savage, “but we knew we had a chance against their pitcher (Braulio Torrez-Perez) and that it was just a matter of time before we started to get runners on base. We just wanted to get one guy on at a time. Before you knew it we were back in the game.”
Savage said it was a benefit having played Everett several times before in the league (Pacific International League) they both play in. He said the team really had to bear down in the final inning to hold off the late Merchants’ rally.
“We kind of let them back in the game a little in the ninth inning just to make it interesting,” said Savage. “With a game that good, we couldn’t just let it end without being dramatic.”
Savage gave plenty of credit for the win to relief pitcher Taylor Thompson who came in and got the last two outs with a fly out to left field and a strike out after the Merchants had scored twice and had a runner on.
“Tay was clutch as always,” he said. “We were able to get that last out which was huge.”
The winning pitcher for the Studs was Gunnar Swanson, while the losing pitcher was Torrez-Perez of the Merchants. Swanson pitched three innings and gave up four hits and three runs while striking out three.
After a short celebration and the obligatory Gatorade shower of the manager for the champions, the teams lined up for the awards presentation at the closing ceremonies.
In the junior exhibition fundraiser game on Tuesday, the Grand Forks Babe Ruth junior Rangers defeated the Castlegar Warriors 11-7.
Managing the Rangers was 16-year old Noah Makortoff. Makortoff also suited up for all three GFI games with the Grand Forks Blues playing right field. He even got to pitch one inning against the Parkland White Sox.
Makortoff said he was excited to play in the GFI as one of the youngest players ever.
“It was exciting,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous, I was focused. It was awesome to be in front of the big crowd and having my brother (Lee Makortoff) on first base was cool too.”
GFI coordinator Brian McAndrew was pleased with how the 2015 tournament went, his first as chair.
“From the standpoint of a coordinator running an event like this there were no glitches—it seemed to run off just beautifully,” said McAndrew. “The heat was a challenge for us with attendance and stuff like that.”
McAndrew said that the feedback he was received about the event has been very positive.
“The opening ceremonies with the fly-over and Amanda Thate (singing the national anthems) was magical,” he said. “People were saying it was the best opening they’d seen.”
There were several other highlights throughout the week including the junior game, a full Amanda Thate show Saturday night, bingo, kids events, and, of course, the great baseball action.
“I had a number of people come up to me and tell me how they enjoyed themselves,” he said. “People were saying how happy they were that the tournament was happening again.”
McAndrew said the stifling heat kept attendance numbers down.
“The final numbers aren’t in but the heat did affect us,” he said. “People just couldn’t come to those earlier games because it was just too cooking. We had misting tents and people enjoyed them. We also had them set up for the ball players in their dug outs. We did have good attendance Friday night.”
McAndrew said the new, tougher drinking laws in B.C have affected the tournament.
“The revenues from the beer gardens just haven’t been what they used to be,” he said. “We’ll have to look at other different ways of bringing in revenue.”
McAndrew said it was too early to talk about the overall revenue of the GFI. He did say they were able to get more business sponsors, which was very helpful, and they didn’t need to sponsor as many teams.
Although he wasn’t able to catch many games, McAndrew said the ones he did were very competitive.
“I caught quite a bit of the final,” he said. “It was amazing. The Merchants were ahead and then the Studs went way ahead and then the Merchant got within one. It was a 12-11 score at then and looked like it was going to go into extra innings. It was very, very exciting.”
He said teams always bring their top players and even add some talent for the high stakes of the GFI, which always helps bring up the competitive level.
McAndrew said that once again the volunteers in the community stepped up to make this year’s GFI special. “We get about 300 volunteers and we were good this year,” he said. “We had great support. We were pretty much covered everywhere. Our front gate is a tough one because you’re handling money and you have people who are savvy and have different skills. Overall, we had really good volunteer turnout.”
McAndrew said he was pleased with the tournament starting on the Monday and ending on the Sunday. He also said the second year of switching from fall to early summer has been good.
“We’re already thinking about next year,” he said. “We were already discussing it during the tournament this year on how we can improve it. The big thing this year was for me as a new coordinator was pulling off the tournament and have myself run through all the processes so I know what I’m doing. It was an incredible learning curve.”
McAndrew said he knew he would take more than one year to build the GFI. “We’ve turned it around a bit with some exciting things like the fly-over and the entertainment,” he said. “We’ve got good things coming in the future.”
McAndrew said the board will be meeting and decide on how to proceed with the GFI next year.
Catcher – Evan Douglas – Kamloops Sun Devils
First Baseman – Mason Pierzchalski – North Sound Emeralds
Second Baseman – Nick Pribble – Everett Merchants
Third Baseman – Graylin Derke – North Sound Emeralds
Shortstop – Kyle Dhanani – Kamloops Sun Devils
Outfielders: Hunter Bingham – Northwest Honkers
Connor Savage – Seattle Studs
JJ Nazzarro – West Coast Guns
Designated Hitter – Kyle Sutherland – Seattle Studs
Right Handed Pitcher – Cody Culp – Everett Merchants
Left Handed Pitcher – Shawn Schaefer – Burnaby Bulldogs
MOST VALUBALE PLAYER – Connor Savage – Seattle Studs