By Steve Krause
WILLISTON, N.D. — “There are going to be tears, and this is going to hurt for a while. The only thing that will heal it is time.”
Lynn Babe Ruth manager Leon Elwell couldn’t have asked any more out of his team in this Babe Ruth World Series, and he knows that.
Sure, there were games where errors really hurt. Not every player who came up in clutch situations delivered. If that were the case, Lynn would be playing in today’s championship game. But they bowed out Thursday night with a 7-6 loss to Eau Claire, Wisc., that left a bad taste in the mouths of the players, coaches and parents.
But that shouldn’t, in any way, detract from what the team accomplished, Elwell said.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of them,” said Elwell. “They gave up their whole summer.”
This team began playing tournament baseball the last week in June. School was still in session when its practices began.
“And,” said Kim Wilkins, one of the parents who made the trip to Williston to watch her son, James, “when they come home, it’s going to be right back to school. This was their summer.”
There will be plenty to do once they get back. Many, including David Barnard, Anthony Nikolakakis and Michael Leavitt, will be heading to football practice for Classical, St. Mary’s and Essex Tech respectively. Aedan Leydon will head for the links as part of the St. Mary’s golf team.
Christian Burt will simply rest and heal. He was the victim of an unfortunate play the loss to Eau Claire.
It was in the second inning, and Burt was pitching, protecting a 5-2 lead. It was a 1-2-3 inning, which was exactly what he needed after Eau Claire scored two unearned runs in the first.
But with two out, catcher Colin Lekvin hit a one-hopper back to the mound, and Burt’s momentum in fielding it carried him toward first base. Rather than throw over to Nikolakakis on first, Burt chose to keep going and put the tag on Lekvin himself.
“He did exactly what you’re supposed to do in that situation,” Elwell said. “He held the ball with two hands and was waiting for him.”
Lekvin, however, did not give himself up. Instead, he collided with Burt in an effort to dislodge the ball. He succeeded. But in the estimation of the umpire on the field, he violated the Babe Ruth rule that states, “if a runner attempting to reach home plate or another base intentionally and maliciously runs into a defensive player in the area of home plate or a base, he will be called out and ejected from the game.”
Lekvin was ejected, but the consequences were far worse for Lynn. Burt writhed on the ground, in obvious pain. And despite making his best efforts to go on, he hurt his shoulder and had to depart.
“Not only do we lose our best pitcher, we lose one of our best bats,” said Elwell. “We play the game the right way. They should teach their kids how to play the game the right way.”
Elwell and Eau Claire manager Nathan Kilness would also be ejected as tensions between the two were amped up well into the next inning.
Matt Gisonno was called upon to protect Lynn’s lead and that’s exactly what he did until an unfortunate set of circumstances let to Eau Claire scoring twice in the seventh inning to overcome a 6-5 deficit and win the game.
“Matt was awesome,” Elwell said. “He gave his team a chance to win the game.”
Along the way, A.J. Luciano knocked home four of Lynn’s six runs, including three in a five-run first inning and a critical (at the time) insurance tally in the top of the sixth inning that made the score 6-4.
Eau Claire scored once in the bottom of the sixth, setting the stage for the seventh-inning drama.
It started with back-to-back one-out walks. With two outs, a balk moved both runners into scoring position.
Isaac Pape (pronounced Papi), who had been a tough out for the entire game, hit the first pitch Gisonno threw right on the screws, and it got down to Dayshon Anderson at third in a hurry … too much of a hurry for anyone to be able to field it, according to Elwell, who watched the game from behind the center-field fence.
“He had no chance on that,” Elwell said. “I know he feels badly because he wanted to make the play, but that was definitely a hit.”
One run scored, and even though Anderson tried, vainly, to cut off left fielder Barnard’s throw and relay to the plate, it was too late, and the winning run came across.
The team returns Sunday, and is scheduled to arrive at Breed Middle School around 2:30 p.m., according to league president Jim Beliveau.