By Anthony Jones
This summer’s MERBL World Series played out over the course of last week, where Troy’s Red Rockets and Yankees were pitted against each other in a three game series to determine the league champions.
The first two games of the series were held on July 31 at Belleville’s Whitey Herzog Field. Both teams tallied a victory on the first day of the three-game slate.
Playing the role of the visitor, the Red Rockets found themselves ahead 1-0 after the top of the first. Landon Zawodniak provided the lead taking run after producing a single and later being driven in by a McGrady Noyes groundout.
AJ Mills kept their early advantage intact in the bottom of half of the first after retiring the first three Yankee batters. In the top of the second, Bobby Patterson held the Red Rockets scoreless from the mound.
The first Yankee batter to reach base was Ethan McQuiggan, who doubled in the bottom of the second. He subsequently stole third and was driven in by a Koen Riney single to knot the score at 1-1.
In the next half inning, the Red Rockets looked to extend their lead as Lane Mahnesmith and Zawodniak both put themselves in scoring position. Owen Twyman seized on the opportunity and drove in both runners for a 3-1 lead.
A string of singles from Nic Funk, Noyes, Jake Stewart and Mills in the top of the fourth further extended their advantage to 5-1. This later grew to 6-1 in the top of the fifth after Zawodniak produced his third single of the game to drive in Mahnesmith.
After turning to Twyman for pitching duties in the bottom of the fifth, the visitors would not surrender another run. A run scored by Dillon Henderson proved to be the game’s final tally, securing a 7-1 win for the Red Rockets.
The Yankees set the tone early for a vastly different game two, starting with a five run top of the first.
Dane Henderson drove in the first run of the rally, with an RBI single to drive Bobby Patterson in. Their lead was extended to 2-0 after McQuiggan delivered a sacrifice fly. An error in the outfield later led to three runs scoring to give the Yankees a 5-0 start.
Four of the first five Yankee batters in the second reached base, including a bases-loaded walk from Henderson that extended their lead to 6-0. Zawodniak then entered in relief for the Red Rockets, who walked his first batter but escaped within 7-0.
The top of third featured eight runners being awarded first base and eight runs for the Yankees, pushing them ahead 15-0. This score held until the bottom of the fourth frame.
Showing their first signs of life offensively, the Red Rockets loaded the bases with walks from Zawodniak, Twyman and Funk in the latter half of the fourth. Noyes hit into a fielder’s choice at third, but drove in the team’s first run to pull within 15-1. This was the end of the line for their rally however, with the Yankees winning game two of the series by mercy rule.
With the series being split at 1-1, a game three was forced for Aug. 3. O’Fallon’s Blazier Field hosted the championship deciding bout.
Funk began the game on the mound for the Red Rockets, retiring the first three Yankees in the top of the first.
The bottom of the first provided more offensive fireworks, starting with a walk from Zawodniak and a double from Twyman. A subsequent sacrifice fly from Funk and a Noyes triple pushed the Red Rockets ahead 2-0.
Jake Stewart extended the gap to 4-0 with a single, prompting the Yankees to turn to Patterson in relief. The next batter, Tanner Massie, drew a walk to load the bases before Lane Mahnesmith put his team ahead 6-0 with a double.
An RBI single from Henderson in the second pulled the Yankees with 6-1. This score held until the top of the fifth, when the Yankees drove in another run to trail 6-2.
In the bottom half of the fifth, the Red Rockets responded with runs of their own, starting with an RBI single from Twyman. Funk later drove two runners in with a double to reinstate their advantage at 9-2.
The final runs of the season for the Red Rockets came in the bottom of the sixth, the first coming as Mills drove Jarrett Del Rosario in with a single. Mills later scored off a Stewart double to give his team an 11-2 lead.
In their last chance at the plate, the Yankees would only produce one run. This left the final score at 11-3.
“Three years of this all paid off. We were ready and we showed it. We came out and we started hitting, that’s what we did,” Zawodniak spoke of the Red Rocket’s World Series victory.
The Red Rockets finished their World Series winning campaign with a 15-4 overall record, the best mark in the league. They also finished the regular season with the best record in the National League at 11-3.
In the American League, the Yankees finished the regular season with the best record at 11-3. The American League champions finished 14-5 overall.