DON’T LET THE flash of the camera fool you; the Highlife and Slappers shook hands at the end of an epic semifinal series in near total darkness at Moulton Park last night. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — Everybody knows, in the Twi League, the action doesn’t really start until the sun goes down.
For five innings of last night’s deciding Game 3 semifinal series the Slappers and Highlife were involved in a tense, well-lit, tug-of-war for the right to make the Twi Finals.
Both teams combined to score just one run to that point, a Derek Dettorre RBI single to plate Cliff Silva in the 4th.
Dettorre (6IP, 5H, 2BB, 7K, 3ER) and Slapper starter Jack Ryan (7IP, 5H, 6BB, 10K, 2ER) were putting on their own unique postseason pitching clinics complete with a mix of quick innings and gutsy outs.
Then the sun left the yard.
Both teams combined for four runs in a wild 6th inning that saw the Slap take a 3-2 lead thanks to RBI knocks from James Lamphier and Paul McGunigle along with a Ryan sac fly.
After some debate about starting the 7th with darkness now in complete control in one of the more interesting Twi playoff disagreements in recent memory (more on that later), Ryan, a Twi League rookie who has embraced a role as one of the Slap’s top pitchers and a leadoff hitter, trotted out to the hill, somehow found the rubber and sat the Life down in order to send the Slap back to the Finals for the first time since their 2020 championship season.
“It was a great team win,” said Ryan. “We fought back in the 6th inning and with the whole team cheering me on it was hard not to give a good fight at the end, so just happy we could do it.”
Ryan battled all night for his squad, using a dominant fastball to get out of trouble in multiple innings and limit damage in others, most notably in the 5th as the Life threatened with the bases loaded and two down when Eric DiTonno ripped one to second which McGunigle snagged on a slide from short and carried into the base for a force to end it.
That performance from Ryan and the defense gave the Slappers a puncher’s chance although they couldn’t connect on a jab let alone a haymaker against Dettorre through five, collecting just one hit while failing to get a runner past first base.
That all changed in the bottom of the 6th with the Slap facing imminent elimination, especially with the darkness making a 7th inning unlikely.
Andrew Patti led off with a single to left and Lamphier got the Slapper bench to their feet with a bomb to the maple trees, an RBI double that got the Slap on the board and within one.
After Dettorre responded with a nasty curveball to strike out Brian Tartarini, Anthony Funchiella singled to center and took second on the throw home that kept “Lamps” at third.
That brought up Ryan who helped himself by lifting a fly ball to the outfield, plenty deep enough to bring Lamphier home.
After falling behind in the count to Benny Tomsyck, Dettorre intentionally put him on first, bringing up McGunigle with two down and runners at the corners in a 2-2 game. A sharp, line drive base hit later, and the Slap were suddenly in front, with Mother Nature now on their side.
After walking Nick Porter to load the bags, Dettorre kept his team in range by striking out Dave Papagni with the bases loaded to end the threat.
Now, the fun stuff.
The two teams met at the plate, thinking about forming a handshake line as the umpire explained that starting a 7th wouldn’t be possible. The Highlife could maybe hit in the top, but if they tied or went ahead, there certainly wouldn’t be enough light to let the Slappers respond.
Life leaders DiTonno and Mark DiNocco stood ready to shake hands and move on. The longtime Twi regulars knew the general rule of thumb: anytime after 7:45 p.m. the game could be called. It was 8 p.m.
But some Lifers weren’t having it, claiming the Slappers weren’t ready to go exactly at 5:45 p.m. As is the case with most Twi disagreements, there were fair points on both sides.
After some heated debate, the Slappers eventually adopted a “bring it on,” mentality and took the field to play some nighttime defense.
Jack Ryan was ready to bring it too.
Ryan got Silva to ground out before freezing Dettorre on a strikeout and getting DiTonno to fly out, sealing a complete game, 3-2 victory and 2-1 series win.
The Slap will now await their opponents as the Brewers and Unknowns will play their own do-or-die Game 3 tonight, 5:45 p.m. at Moulton.
The Brewers will be looking to make the championship series for the third year in a row. The Slappers beat the Brewers in the 2020 Finals before the Brew Crew topped the Unknowns last season.