Heading into Saturday’s night’s Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Championship game against the Kutztown Rockies, the Hampton Whalers knew that they were going against a team that had won the ACBL crown the past two years.
But for a team that overcame an 0-6 start to the season and came out of nowhere to win the Kaiser Division crown, nothing has fazed the Whalers during the past month.
The Rockies, however, put an end to the Whalers’ optimism when they showed why they deserved to be champions by defeating the Whalers 8-2 at Timothy M. Breidegam Field in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, to win their third straight championship. The last team to win three straight titles in the ACBL was the Allentown Wings, which accomplished the feat from 1978 to 1980. Allentown is no longer in the ACBL.
The Whalers got off to a blazing start against Kutztown starting pitcher Casey Lawrence. Karl Derbacher, Alan Parks and Chris Walker all singled to start the game, with Walker’s single bringing home Derbacher with the first run. An RBI ground out by Mark Houck Jr. sent Parks home for the second run. But that would be all the offense the Whalers would be able to muster, as Lawrence pitched six innings and gave up just three hits and no runs after the first inning for the win.
Kutztown scored single runs in the first, second, third and fifth innings and then broke out for four runs in the eighth inning to round out their offense.
Errors in the first and eighth innings led to unearned runs but it was poor defense and untimely hitting that led to the Whalers’ demise.
“I think we played our worst defensive game of the season,” Whalers head coach Julio Vega said. “The Rockies took a 4-2 lead that they shouldn’t have had.”
Whalers starting pitcher Andrew Guarrasi took the loss as he went five innings and gave up five runs on 10 hits. Derbacher, the lead-off hitter for the Whalers, went 2 for 5 with two singles as Parks, the number-two batter in the lineup, went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a run scored.
“We had plenty of chances early to knock in some runs,” Vega said. “We had runners on in the first, a couple of guys later on in the game and we couldn’t get them home. We struck out about 10 times, and I think that’s the most we struck out in a long time. The guys were just trying to do too much.”
“It was a thrill in the beginning of the game,” Houck said, “and then it died down. We missed a few plays, we couldn’t get a timely hit. Some of the guys, even me, we couldn’t get the runners in that were in scoring position.”
All of the Rockies starters had at least one hit. Matt Cottelese was 3 for 5 with one RBI and two runs scored, while Chris Sedon was 2 for 5 with two singles. Adam Maini recorded his second save for Kutztown.
The Whalers have to think of this season as a success even with the tough loss. The beginning of the season showed many that it could ?have been a typical first-year franchise season when the only thing ?to look forward to is the last game ?of the season. From July 16 on, ?however, the Whalers went on a tear going 9-2 to get themselves in the ACBL Championship. They ended the season with a 22-22 record, the Kaiser Division pennant and an appearance in the league championship game.
“The season was amazing,” Houck said. “It really was like a Cinderella story. When we couldn’t hit we pitched. When we couldn’t pitch we hit.”