Team Canada held off a last inning rally by the USA Softball Men’s Slow Pitch National Team to escape with a 30-29 win in the second Border Battle of slow pitch softball at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday, July 24.
The USA, which led only once in the game at 16-15, trailed 30-25 entering the bottom of the seventh inning and USA fans were anticipating another come-from-behind USA victory after last year’s inaugural Border Battle where the USA rallied after trailing early for a 30-23 victory.
But the USA came up short in the inning after scoring four runs on six consecutive hits to close the gap to the game’s final margin.
Johnny McCraw’s (Lake Wylie, S.C.) two-run homer brought across the third and fourth runs in the seventh, with no outs. That, however, changed in a hurry because the USA was out of homers, limit of 10, and any ball hit out of the ballpark after that would result in an out.
After Rick Baker (West Harrison, Ind.) singled, putting runners at first and second, Scott Kirby (Destin, Fla.) sent the ball over the fence, resulting in the first USA out. Then, losing pitcher Scott Brown (Andover, Minn.) hit the ball over the fence for the second out. Down to its last out, the USA’s Ryan Robbins (Columbus, Ind.) hit the ball back to the mound to Canada pitcher Brian Higginbotham, who ran to second base for the force and the third out to end the game.
Higginbotham, who was the losing pitcher in last year’s Border Battle, contributed four hits to the 32 hit Canadian offense. He drove in six runs on three homers and a double before hitting another homer in the sixth inning, which was past the homer limit. Higginbotham is one of the 10 players back from last year who joined six newcomers on this year’s team.
Team Canada Head Coach Jeff Long is hoping the two teams will play next year. “We would love to play another,” said Long, as he accepted congratulations from his players and fans. “We just wanted to stay close with them and see what we could do. Everybody was on the same page and pulled for each other.”
The loss was the first for the USA after four exhibition games, including two in Cincinnati last weekend. As expected, USA Head Coach Steve Shortland was disappointed, but he didn’t make any excuses either.
“They (Canada) came ready to play. We just didn’t respond,” said Shortland.
If there was a key inning in the ball game it was the fourth inning when the USA made two crucial errors to keep alive the Canadian offense. Instead of getting out of the inning with only two runs, the USA errors kept the door open as Canada scored 10 times on eight hits.
In the fourth, third baseman James Kelly (Amherstburg, Ont.) homered after an out. Then, Ryan Caley (London, On.) hit a grounder to USA shortstop Jeff McGavin (Macomb, Mich.) who couldn’t come with the ball cleanly. Mike Hook (Milton, ON) doubled before Jason Gallichen (Langley, B.C.) hit a routine grounder to USA second baseman Jeremy Isenhower (Olathe, Kan.). He came up with ball but his throw was wide to first baseman Rusty Bumgardner (Gastonia, N.C.). USA middle infielder Brian Wegman (Hamilton, Ohio) got the second out on a tremendous throw from deep shot for the second out, but Canada added six more runs on six hits before the USA retired the side. The inning featured three home runs, including two run blasts by Jeff Gare (London, ON) and Jeff Falardeau (Welland, ON). Gare drove in four runs and finished with a five-for-six performance and was one of the most consistent Canadian hitters throughout the weekend.
The USA out-hit Canada, 35-32, with McCraw perfect in six at-bats and six runs batted in while Bumgardner, Brett Helmer (Newport, N.Y.), J.D. Genter (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.) and Wegman each collecting four hits a piece.