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Minnesota SSUSA Qualifier enjoys record turnout
By Steve Simmons
The eighth annual Minnesota SSUSA Qualifier was held the weekend of June 16-17 in Rochester, Minn., with a record 31 teams in attendance. For the first time in the eight-year history of the event, Minnesota did not have the most teams present. That honor went to Wisconsin with 13 teams, Minnesota had 12, Iowa sent five teams to the tournament and Nebraska had one representative.
There were six Minnesota teams that had planned on attending but withdrew for various reasons. Had those teams also participated, this tournament could have approached 40 teams, a remarkable number considering the most teams a Minnesota SSUSA qualifier had attracted in the past was 23 in each of the last two years. Minnesota played the bad host as eight of their 12 teams won their respective divisions. Wisconsin teams won the other two divisions.
What was encouraging to see was the birth of a couple of new teams in the 50+ division. This is the lifeblood of the senior program as it introduces players to the wonderful world of senior softball when they reach the 50-year-old mark.
Tom Lundinís Minnesota Lumberjacks 50ís squad was one of those new teams. They surprised everybody, including themselves, when they came out of the losers bracket to win the 50 Silver division. They forced the only ďIFĒ game, out of nine possibilities in the tournament, on the way to their victory. The other new team in that same division was Phil Guttermanís Guttyí Buddies (MN).
The 50 Platinum division also had a surprise winner as Paul Coxís DLB/LT Grading (WI) team knocked off the defending champion MN Merchants to take down top honors. DLB/LT Grading beat the MN Merchants twice by scores of 25-20 and 28-22 to claim top honors. The MN Merchants had ended the 2011 season with a No. 3 national ranking in the 50 Major division.
Another nationally ranked Minnesota team, the No. 2 55 Major representative Ancell 55ís, upheld their lofty ranking by sweeping the Milwaukee Merchants in a best-of-three series. Pat Follmerís squad double dipped the Milwaukee Merchants by scores of 22-20 and 20-12.
Ancell 55ís were one of four 55+ divisional champions. The 55+ age group was the only age division to support all four skill levels with a Major Plus, Major, AAA and AA division.
The 55 Major Plus championship went to the MN Grayhounds/Miken/Tasty Pizza/Ancell squad which was directed by Mike Marrinan and Dave Slack over the weekend. They steamrolled Roberts Construction/Pope Transport (WI), the No. 2 ranked 55 Major Plus team in the country. The scores of the championship games were 27-5 and 29-14 in favor of the Grayhounds.
The WI Masters, organized by Roger Tietz and Gary Stene, moved down into the 55 AAA division this year and held off the Oshkosh Ambassadors 55ís (WI) and 1st†Interiors (IA) to claim their title. The MN Prize 55ís, managed by Bruce Torgerson, defeated the Fossils 55ís (IA) by scores of 13-4 and 9-7 to come away with the 55 AA top spot.
Three of the more dramatic divisional wins in the tournament were registered by the MN Masters 60ís-Red, the MN Prize 65ís and the MN Masters 65ís. John Orfís MN Masters 60ís Red team, led by the long ball hitting of Don Hoen and Gary Bennett, played in the six-team 60 Silver division. This division played a round robin championship bracket and the final game between MN Masters 60ís-Red and the Fossils 60ís (IA) was for the divisional championship. MN Masters 60ís-Red won the game 17-13.
The MN Prize 65ís won their second game, in a best-of-three series against Michaels (WI) in the 65 Major division, thanks to a bottom of the eighth monster three-run walk-off homer off the bat of Keith Irlbeck to give his team a 22-21 victory and the divisional championship.
The MN Masters 65ís took a nine-run lead into the bottom of the seventh against the Oshkosh Ambassadors 65ís (WI). Fortuitous hitting, coupled with some MN Masters 65ís fielding woes, brought the Ambassadors within a run of tying the game. They had the bases loaded with two outs when a hard shot was hit at third baseman Bernie Ojeda. The ball took a tough hop but Ojeda blocked it with his body, picked it up and then dove at the runner advancing to third to tag him out and end the game.
The 10th†and final division, the 65/70 Silver division, was dominated by the MN Lumberjacks 65ís. This team, managed by Art Glidden with assistance from Myron Fluegge, blew through all opponents. In succession they beat the Oshkosh Ambassadors 70ís (WI) 24-7, they topped the eventual 65 AAA champion MN Masters 65ís 23-19, and they hammered the Badger Classics 65ís (WI) 21-5.
All 31 teams that took part in this event have qualified for either of the SSUSA national tournaments on July 31-Aug 5 and the world masters championships on Sept. 28-Oct. 7. The SSUSA Eastern Nationals will be played in Raleigh, N.C.; the SSUSA Western Nationals will be played in Aurora, Colo.; and the SSUSA/LVSSA World Masters Championships will take place in Las Vegas.
Historically, Minnesota is the best-represented state at the SSUSA world championships. Hopefully most, if not all, of Minnesotaís 18 senior tournament teams choose to compete in SSUSAís season-ending extravaganza which expects to eclipse 400 teams and set a new record for attendance.