OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. --- When’s slow pitch softball's version of the Dream Team—the USA Men's Slow Pitch National Team—is losing 16-8 going into the bottom of the fourth inning, some people might have wondered what was going that Saturday in July 2009 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., in the inaugural Border Battle, a game televised by ESPN. Head Coach of USA Men's National Slow Pitch Team Steve Shortland (Overland, Kan.) was not one of them, however.
"But I was a little bit concerned," Shortland said after watching his team, comprised of the best players in the USA, rally from eight runs down to defeat Canada 30-23 in a game that took only one hour and 36 minutes. Shortland figured his team needed to get in the "groove, relax and play" the game they are capable of. But that didn’t happen until the fourth inning.
By that time Canada, which jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, continued to add to its margin and by the bottom of the fourth had built its margin to eight runs, 16-8. Then the USA, which had used the big inning in winning three exhibition games, scored 17 runs on 17 hits in the bottom of the fourth to turn the game around and move into a comfortable 25-16 lead.
If Canada, which collected 27 hits to 37 for the USA, was to stay in contention it needed to come right back and score some runs in the top of the fifth. Canada went scoreless, however, against USA winning pitcher Andy Purcell (Naples, Fla.) and never recovered from the USA onslaught. Losson White (Omaha. Neb.) pitched the final two innings for the USA to earn a save.
For the USA, which finished undefeated in the Border Battle series of games, Brett Helmer (Cicero, N.Y.) had six RBIs on three homers. JD Genter (Chickamauga, Ga.), Rusty Bumgardner, (Gastonia, N.C.) and Dennis Rulli (Moorpark, Calif.) all had four hits a piece for the USA. Rick Baker (West Harrison, Ind.), who had a three-run shot in the fourth, finished with five RBIs. All of the USA starters had at least two or more hits.
Although the USA was expected to beat Canada to take the Border Battle, the game was indeed competitive. It also helped sell the abilities of the athletes who enjoy playing slow pitch softball at the top level.
"We knew we would have to play a perfect game to beat them," said Canada's coach Jeff (Bug) Seguin (Windsor, Ontario). "The fourth inning was the difference. If we had held them to only seven or eight runs in that inning, it might have been a different game. And we didn’t make an error in that inning. The game showed people that we (Canada) play a pretty good game of slow pitch. We aren’t there yet with the USA, but we can play a good game.
"The ASA (Amateur Softball Association) and Softball Canada did a fabulous job in putting this (Border Battle) together," continued Seguin. "We hope everyone enjoyed it. And I hope ESPN enjoyed it also. Hope we can do it again."
The Border Battle recorded a 0.7 as a standalone game reaching over 650,000 households on ESPN. In 2010, the ASA hopes to hold the second annual event in Oklahoma City in July. Details will be announced when available.
"The opportunity to wear the USA uniform and be on ESPN showcasing the sport of slow pitch was simply just a dream come true," said Team USA Border Battle first baseman Rusty Bumgardner. "It was such a thrill and the television presenceand ratings has really given our sport a strong push of momentum. And tomake theSportsCenter highlight reel wasreally a thrill. It was such a great game and I am looking forward to future opportunities and hopefully to see the Border Battle expand.”