As the NLB Challengers prepared to take the field on Sunday, coach Rob Sedin gathered his team together for a quick word: â€œWeâ€™re playing ok, but weâ€™re still not getting it doneâ€ he said. â€œI think whatâ€™s missing is energy. We gotta have that energy every at bat the whole game. So we can either go out there with energy or we can lose another two games.â€ Taking Sedinâ€™s words to heart, the Challengers opted to â€œgo out there with energyâ€ and snapped a 4-game losing streak with two convincing victories over the Sissach Frogs.
In the first game, the Challengers jumped out to an early lead as the top of the order got things moving in the top of the third. Lead-off man Thomas Burger was hit by a pitch, stole second, and then scored on a single by Adderly Sarmiento. Eidrys Reyes scored Sarmiento with a ground-rule double to right, and then later scored himself on a wild pitch and an error.
Challengers' starter Dean Scherbaum went 6 strong innings, allowing just 1 earned run and stranding a total of 12 Sissach baserunners. Scherbaum bailed out his defense in the second - when Rightfielder Gordon, still clearly suffering the effects of taking a ball to the face the previous Friday, inexplicably blurted out "I got it!" despite being nowhere near the ball, earning himself a "death stare" from Sarmiento who otherwise would have caught the ball - and the sixth, when the normally smooth-fielding Reyes committed back-to-back errors. The Frogs' only legitimate run against Scherbaum came on a solo homer to left in the 5th inning, which came immediately following Scherbaum picking a runner off first.
NLB added a run in the 4th - as Gordon reached on an error, stole second, and eventually scored on a wild pitch - and then two more in the top of the 7th, on a Sac Fly by Oliver Bernet and an RBI groundout by Carols Nepomuceno. Oli Christen, still either channeling 2004 era Roy Halladay or abusing performance enhancing drugs (it's still not clear which) set the side down in order in the bottom of the 7th, as the Challengers won 6-3.
After enjoying some delicious hamburgers, the Challengers got off to a quick start in the second game. In the first inning, Sarmiento singled, stole second, and scored on a titanic double by Reyes. In the second, Bernet led off with a single and moved to second when Gordon followed with a single of his own. A walk to Daiki Sato loaded the bases for Renzo Falcone, who managed to push a slow roller far enough down the first base line to allow Bernet to score and the other runners to advance to second and third. Burger followed with an RBI ground-out to score Gordon, making it 3-0. In the meantime, Christen, starting the second game, cruised through the first 3 innings without allowing a run.
In the top of the third, the Challengers loaded the bases with no outs, but Bernet hit a comebacker to the pitcher that resulted in a double play, with Reyes being forced out at home. That brought Gordon to the plate with two outs, and runners on second and third. After his last at bat in the first game, in which he'd popped weakly to second, Sedin and Reyes both told Gordon to relax more at the plate and just focus on getting prepared to hit. The advice clearly worked as "A-God" drilled a two-RBI single to center, scoring Kurt Kovac and Nepomuceno. After stealing second, Gordon came around to score on an RBI single by Sato to make it 6-0 Challengers.
The Challengers ran into a bit of trouble in the bottom of the 4th, as pitcher Wascar de Leon Garcia was once again wild in relief. After two walks and a hit-batsman, Garcia was pulled for Kovac, who came into a bases-loaded, no outs jam. Two batters later, the inning was over: Kovac induced a double play ball from the first batter he faced (the Challengers happily traded one run for two outs), and then retired the next batter on a weak grounder to second.
From that point on, it was all Challengers. NLB scored one in the fourth, as Bernet was plunked in the earflap with the bases loaded, scoring Sarmiento (Bernet appeared to be ok), and a total of 10 in the fifth, sixth and seventh, as the Frogs opted to give one of their younger pitchers a chance for some game experience. Just about every batter in the Challengers' lineup had either an RBI or a run, as NLB turned in its most dominating performance of the young season.
The games against Sissach were also notable for the following three reasons: 1) They marked the end of NLB eligibility for Reyes, whose fielding, hitting, and pitching were a tremendous benefit to the team. Despite my best efforts to turn NLA coach Chris Palatinus against him, it appears that Reyes will be playing out the rest of the season with NLA - where he admittedly belongs; 2) They represented the second straight solid pitching performance from Scherbaum and Christen. The emergence of Christen as a reliable arm will be key for the Challengers as the season moves along, particularly with Scherbaum likely to be leaving Switzerland in August; 3) Finally, the games solidified Yasuke Azuma's (not sure about the spelling, I apologize!) status as the team's top catcher, filling what had been an enormous void in the Challengers' defense (despite heroic efforts by Sato, Sarmiento, and Hendrix, who were each playing out of position).
NLB will have the next two weekends off before facing the Unicorns on 1 June.