There wasn’t enough time to think for Ronnie Romo, with a baseball sizzling toward him through the muggy air at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Wichita Elite Slugger first baseman had to rely solely on instincts. It was impulse for him to raise his glove, catch the ball, tag first base and throw to
“All of that was just reaction,” Romo said. “I didn’t really know what happened until I was running in to the dugout and I was like, ‘Hey, that was three outs.’ ”
Romo started a triple play in the third inning of the opening-round game at the National Baseball Congress World Series game that seemed to leave the Kenai (Alaska) Peninsula Oilers astonished for the rest of the Sluggers’ 6-3 victory.
When the play occurred, the Oilers were in a middle of a promising rally with runners on first and second and a 3-0 lead.
“It was empowering,”
Romo said. “It felt so huge. They had a rally going and after that, they just shut down.”
The played spurred one of the first big upsets of the tournament. The Sluggers were a last-minute fill-in after Kenai’s Alaska League mates, the Fairbanks Goldpanners, withdrew from the tournament on Sunday.
Sluggers manager Steve Jansen received a call that his team was in on Sunday afternoon. He then tried to pull together players who hadn’t left town — 18 members of the original team were in uniform Wednesday.
“I was pretty much ready to hang it up for the summer,” Sluggers second baseman Nic Cole said. “I was actually on the golf course 10 hours away when I got the call. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll play. I’ve wanted to play in this thing all summer long.’ ”
The Oilers lived up to their strong Alaska League reputation early, taking a 3-0 lead after Garrett Wittles drove in two runs with a single.
But momentum swung after the triple play. The Oilers were passive in their movements, while Wichita took on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude as Jansen liked to call it.
“It just looked like they didn’t have the energy we had out there,” said Brandon Hoefler, the Sluggers center fielder.
Hector Acosta started the fourth inning with a lead-off triple and scored on a Romo single. The next inning the Sluggers tied the score on two hits, a hit by pitch and a wild pitch.
The pressure never stopped coming from Wichita after that. A crucial Kenai error extended the sixth inning and the Sluggers capitalized when Hoefler singled in a run, and then they executed a double steal of second base and home to take a 5-3 lead.
Kenai didn’t threaten the rest of the game.
“A lot of people didn’t think we belonged here,” Jansen said. “I think we proved otherwise today.”
Jansen said he doesn’t mind if the Sluggers take on the underdog role for the rest of the tournament. In fact, he openly embraces it.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “These guys are feeing off it. They see the big names on the other roster and they don’t care. These guys don’t care.”