Connor Savage won the National Baseball Congress World Series with the Seattle Studs in 2013, finished second last year, and guess what – the emotions don’t compare.
Each year, though, offered its own lessons for Savage and his similarly experienced teammates, and the Studs entered Saturday’s championship game against Haysville with memories of both.
The level-headedness of veterans such as Savage and starting pitcher Geoff Brown helped the Studs survive the potentially tumultuous early innings and maintain a precarious lead late in their 5-2 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Seattle finished the week 6-0 and became the 15th franchise to win multiple NBC titles in the tournament’s 81 years. Brown, a 26-year-old left-hander with professional experience, pitched into the ninth inning.
“You just didn’t want to count your cards too early this year,” Savage said shortly after being named the tournament MVP. “Last year, we were pretty confident going into that championship game. This year, we tried to keep a narrow focus and get each out as it came rather than looking ahead.”
Brown pitched last season for the advanced Class-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a year after finishing 12-1 with a 2.08 ERA in the Midwest League. He was released by the Dodgers in spring training but found a home with the Studs.
Brown, who won both of his starts in the tournament, went to high school in Mill Creek, Wash., about 20 miles from Seattle, and pitched for the University of Washington. A summer baseball championship was, in many ways, more personally satisfying than a disconnected tenure in pro ball.
“Being able to take a championship home to Seattle again is huge, and the emotions are even a little bit more,” Brown said. “My competitive spirit is a little bit more here, and being able to do it for Seattle and being able to take that home is a big deal. Emotionally, it’s the highest of highs. It’s awesome.”
Brown’s veteran status was most needed – and ultimately utilized – as Haysville threatened often during the first four innings.
The Aviators, playing in their first NBC championship game in their third season, had two hits in the first, third and fourth innings, starting with consecutive baserunners in the second and fourth.
Twice, Haysville lined into double plays. In the second, Jake Lamoreux was tagged out on the back end of a double play following Steve Coe’s groundout when he tried to score on the throw to first.
Brown’s steadiness, combined with Haysville’s shakiness in those game-changing situations, swung momentum toward Seattle, and the Studs grabbed a permanent lead with a run in the third.
“It’s tough,” Haysville manager Gabe Grinder said. “I think our oldest guy is 22. We’ve got a bunch of 21- and 22-year-olds facing a 26-year-old who’s tough as nails, and I thought our guys came after him hard. But he bent and never broke, and that was the biggest thing for him. He just made pitches when he had to.”
Haysville made it 4-2 with a pair of runs in the sixth and may have briefly cracked Brown psychologically when he forced in a run with a balk that also pushed a runner into scoring position.
If Brown was affected, he hid it well. He struck out the following two batters to escape the sixth and Haysville didn’t score again.
“It’s something I’ve always done since I was a kid, being able to keep the composure and never let the emotion get too high,” Brown said. “Being a bulldog. That’s kind of what I’ve been known for since I was a kid.”
Brown exited after hits by the first two Haysville batters in the bottom of the ninth. Taylor Thompson, who surpassed 100 career World Series innings this year, retired the final three hitters, who all represented the tying run.
Seattle’s maturity worked in a macro sense, too. After the Studs lost 7 of 8 games during an Alaska trip in June, they ended the season with two losses in the final six weeks, using the low point as a catalyst. The Studs finished with the tournament’s lowest ERA, holding their final five opponents to nine total runs.
“The veterans mean everything,” Savage said. “It’s a sense of confidence that we’ve been there before and we know how to handle a big situation like that. A lot of times in these games you’ll see a lot of pressure … and with our pitching staff being so unbelievable, we have confidence in every single game.”
5 13 0
2 11 1
W—Brown. L—Selig. S—Thompson.
Seattle batting—Savage 4-4, Jordan 1-5, Holm 1-2, Boe 0-3, Becker 2-5, Backes 1-4, Ruis 1-4, Breda 1-4, LaVelle 2-4.
Haysville batting—Maack 1-4, Tokunaga 1-4, Holst 3-4, Karbowski 1-4, Lamoreux 1-1, Bauer 1-3, Serchay 1-3, Wasinger 1-1, Duplechin 0-3, Coe 0-3, Stoltzfus 0-1, Gregory 1-4.
Seattle pitching—Brown 8 IP-2 ER, Thompson 1-0.
Haysville pitching—Selig 3 IP-2 ER, Harris 1 1/3-0, Berlin 1-2, Ledet 1 2/3-0, Jones 2-0.