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Minnesota teams fare well at SSUSA Midwest Championship
By Scott Sanford
The 8th annual Midwest Championship SSUSA Qualifier Tournament was held on July 16-21 in Shawnee, Kan. Fifty-six teams came from across the Midwest to compete at Mid-American Sports Complex, a beautiful facility with eight softball fields. Temperatures were hot, in the upper 90s all week, and so was the competition!
Five Minnesota teams traveled to Kansas to play in this year’s Midwest Championship: Minnesota Prize 65’s Major, Jimmy’s/Ancell 55 Major, Minnesota Merchants 50 Major, Minnesota Blizzard 60 AA and Minnesota Prize 55’s AA. Filling out the rest of the tournament field were teams from Missouri (15), Kansas (8), Iowa (7), Illinois (5), Colorado (4), Nebraska (4), Arkansas (3), Wisconsin (3) and Oklahoma (2). All of the Minnesota teams fared well within their respective classifications, none of them finishing any lower than third place. This was quite an accomplishment considering the tough competition the teams were playing, and also speaks volumes for the talent that Minnesota teams possess.
The Minnesota Prize 65’s Major went 6-1 to win the 65 Major Championship and qualify for the Tournament of Champions in Florida. Their only loss was to Bale Chevrolet (Okla.) 15-10 in the seeding round games. The Prize avenged that loss with two victories over Bale Chevrolet in the double elimination bracket play 12-10 and 16-10 in the championship game. The Prize’s other victories were over Midwest Express (Neb.), Car City (Iowa), Scrap Iron (Colo.), and Kansas City Fire (Kan.).
The Prize team placed five players on the All Tournament Team: pitcher Ken Young, team leader, won all three games pitching in bracket play and batted .708; third baseman Bob Goldstrand played stellar defense and led the team in hitting .750; outfielder Bob Hagen, who is recognized as an “impact player” by national senior softball organization SPA, made several phenomenal catches and hit .588; outfielder Curt Callstrom, the fastest 69-year-old in senior softball, ran countless times in the near 100-degree heat, made great catches and hit .500; and outfielder Tom Balcom had his best tournament ever batting .579, also making the play of the tournament with an inning-ending diving catch in the left center field alley with the bases loaded.
The Minnesota Merchants 50 Major team batted .750, scored 121 runs and came from behind in two games to go undefeated 6-0 for the tournament to win the 50 Major Championship and qualify for their first Tournament of Champions berth in Florida. Their victories were over KC Xtreme Sports 55 (Kan.), a team that last year placed second in the SSUSA World Championship, Coors Light (Ill.), 50 Caliber St. Louis and Still Young/DLB (Wis.).
The Merchant team placed five players on the All Tournament Team: outfielder Mark Malde was on fire batting .914; first baseman Bill Goetz slugged out a .765 average; outfielder Brett Baumbach hit .750 and had a walk-off home run to win a come-from-behind game; catcher Jessie Adamez batted .722; and second baseman Garrett Kramer also batted .722.
The Minnesota Blizzard 60 AA team finished in second place in the 60 AA Championship. They were 1-2 in their seeding games and were seeded fourth for the double elimination bracket play. In their first game, they faced the top seeded team of Scrap Iron Diamonds (Colo.). Team Scrap Iron won 19-13, sending the Blizzard to the loser’s bracket. The Blizzard battled back, winning games against Blue Chips (Ill.) 16-10 and Silver Clout Hitmen (Ill.) 19-18 to earn another shot at the Scrap Iron team for the championship. The Blizzard team ran out of gas, losing again to Scrap Iron 19-8 and finishing second.
The Blizzard team placed three players on the All Tournament Team: pitcher Rick Schafer who carried a .700 average; outfielder John Hovde batted .516; and second/third baseman Bernie Ojeda hit .516.
The Minnesota Prize 55’s team finished in third place in the 55 AA Division. They were 1-2 in the seeding games with a 21-13 victory over The Fossils (Iowa) and losses to Antiques of Iowa City 26-20 and 1St Interiors (Iowa) 19-8. The Prize 55’s were seeded as the No. 3 team in double elimination bracket play. The Prize 55’s suffered a first-round loss to 1st Interiors in a close game that forced them into the loser’s bracket. The Prize then beat The Fossils advancing to a game against Antiques of Iowa City. The Antiques of Iowa City were on their “A” game and handed the Prize 55’s their second loss to knock them out of the tournament to finish in third place.
The Prize 55’s placed two players on the All Tournament Team: shortstop Mike Madsen who batted .833 and played flawlessly in the field; and infielder Mike Schmidt who hit .714 and was instrumental at second base, catcher and pitcher.
Jimmy’s/Ancell 55 Major team went 4-2 to finish in third place in the 55 Major Division. Jimmy’s/Ancell went undefeated in the seeding games and were seeded as the No. 1 team in the double elimination bracket play. Jimmy”s/Ancell won their first game against Midwest Cardinals (Kan.) 19-10 to advance and play against Pope Transport (Wis.). Jimmy’s/Ancell and Pope battled back and forth until Pope finally prevailed in the seventh inning, winning 17-12 and knocking Jimmy’s/Ancell to the loser’s bracket. Next up for the team was a game against 50 Caliber Plus (Mo.). Both teams knocked each other around until the game was settled in the bottom of the seventh inning with a walk-off home run by the 50 Caliber team that finished Jimmy’s/Ancell chances of a rematch against Pope Transport.
Jimmy’s/Ancell placed two players on the All Tournament Team: infielder Doug Heck who carried an .833 batting average and was solid defensively on the field; and pitcher Mark “Dino” Ales who hit .647 and made several stellar defensive plays.
Playing at the Midwest Championship qualified all five Minnesota teams to play at the upcoming LVSSA/SSUSA World Masters Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sept. 26-Oct 7. There is expected to be a record number of teams at this year’s event that should exceed 500 teams. In the past years, Minnesota has always had an exceptional amount of teams travel to Las Vegas for this event, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any different this year! Both the Minnesota Merchants and Minnesota Prize 65’s, by winning their classification championships, have both qualified for the Tournament of Champions that will be held in Polk County, Florida on Feb. 5-9, 2014.
If your team hasn’t played in a SSUSA qualifying event yet this year, there is still time to qualify for the World Masters Championship. Visit www.seniorsoftball.com and go to the tournaments page to see what events are left on the schedule. Then get your team out to play!