by Greg Huchingson, Managing Editor of Big Time Softball
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – NFL Hall of Fame football coach Bum Phillips once complimented fellow coach Bear Bryant by saying, “Bryant can take his’n and beat your’n and then turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.” The same can now be said of Rick Schiffhauer, owner of Smash It Sports. In 2016, as the lead sponsor of the Easton flagship team Smash It Sports/ASP/H.Auto/Easton, his team won first place at the USSSA Men’s Major World Series. Then, after an off-season of musical chairs among several top players, Schiffhauer wound up as the lead sponsor of an entirely different team for 2017, Smash It Sports/Scene/TDB/Miken/Worth.
Schiffhauer did not return a single player from his 2016 team but the end result was still the same, as his new team repeated as champions of the 2017 USSSA Men’s Major World Series. In fact, the majority of the players on the 2016 Smash It Sports team were on the team that the 2017 Smash It Sports defeated in the championship game.
Smash It Sports/Scene/TDB/Miken/Worth based in Rochester, New York capped a magnificent season by going undefeated through five games to win the USSSA Men’s Major World Series.
“Two major World Series titles in a row for Smash It Sports, what an awesome feeling,” said Schiffhauer. “Then when you add in the amazing season that we had, that’s the cherry on top. I appreciate all the hard work that the players and coaches put in to make this happen.”
It was a historic event as it was the 18th and final Major World Series to be played at Champions Stadium, located at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports on the grounds of Disney World in central Florida. The facility is the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves and has dimensions equivalent to a Major League Baseball stadium. Beginning next year, the Men’s Major World Series will move to USSSA’s new home at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida near Cocoa Beach.
“It was a little bit sad (watching the final World Series at Disney) but at the same time it’s exciting because we’re about to embark on a whole new chapter in the history of USSSA,” said CEO and Chairman of the Board Don DeDonatis. “USSSA and Disney made a good run together and it was a win-win situation for both of us. But we fulfilled our obligation and now we’re ready to move on to our own place. The move will allow us to better serve our entire membership.”
The final USSSA Men’s Major World Series at Disney was played September 20-23. It kicked off just 10 days after Hurricane Irma went through Florida and the wet turf on the field got torn up by a concert stage that was removed afterwards. Disney fixed the field with new sod over the majority of the outfield and did an incredible job getting it playable in time.
Smash It Sports entered the final event of the year with a 64-7 record and having won first place in nine of the 12 tournaments they played during the season. SIS opened the World Series on Wednesday night against Class A world champion Steel Sports/Powerhouse/Miken from Corpus Christi, Texas. Earlier in the day, Steel opened the tournament with a win over TDB/TM Sports from Charlotte, North Carolina (14-11) to get a shot at Smash It Sports under the lights in front of a big crowd.
Smash It Sports came out in their bright yellow shirts and pants with purple lettering.
SIS took a 6-0 lead when Andrew Collins and Brandon Dillon hit two-run homers. Then Collins gunned down Steel runner Pat Burton trying to stretch a single into a double in the third inning. Smash It’s Andy Purcell hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Lee Payne a three-runner to go up 14-4. Steel responded when Matt Vasquez, the recent A World MVP, hit a two-run homer. But Ryan Harvey hit one 460 feet for Smash It in the bottom of the sixth, followed by a Nic Santana homer and a Lee Payne inside-the-park grand slam to go up 22-9. Ryan Harvey ended the game by the run-rule with another two-run homer, making the final score 24-9.
On Thursday night, Smash It Sports faced class AA Nightmare/Miken, who had won their World Series opener over Precision/3rd Street/Easton from Chicago (17-10). The game was filled with great defensive plays by both teams. Nightmare was shut down the entire game by the SIS defense and scored just two runs. But Nightmare got a nice catch on the fence by right-fielder Kevin Bryant in the second inning, a diving catch from left-fielder Mike Williams in the third, and Williams robbed Andy Purcell of a homer on the fence in the fourth to make the game go six innings. For Smash It Sports, they got a base hit from Dennis Rulli in the second inning, which was the 300th hit of his illustrious World Series career and he received a well-earned ovation from the crowd of 3,000. SIS also had some defense of their own, as shortstop Don DeDonatis III had the best diving play of the tournament that was actually hit passed him towards the third base side when he snared it. And Luis Reyna made an incredible play on a hard grounder up the middle, and then with the stick Reyna hit a three-run homer to end the game with a 17-2 run-rule win.
In the semi-finals of the winner’s bracket on Friday night, Smash It Sports faced fellow Major team Dan Smith/Menosse from San Jose, California. Dan Smith was one of only four opponents to defeat Smash It Sports during the regular season. The Smith team came out of the gate focused and line-drive hitting, as they scored five runs without a homer in the top of the first inning. In the bottom half of the frame, Dan Smith used some nice plays by middle-infielder Chad Durick and third-baseman John Williams to hold Smash It Sports to just one run. In the top of the second, DeDonatis threw out Colby Hughes at the plate on a heads-up fielder’s choice and Dan Smith’s Brian Zirkle bounced one off of pitcher Andy Purcell. Dan Smith scored five more in the inning without a homer and led 10-1 as they held SIS scoreless In the top of the third, Dan Smith pitcher L.C. Watson pulled a hamstring running the bases and had to come out of the game. At that point the momentum shifted and it was all Smash It for the remainder of the game. They got a two-run double by Cory Briggs, a three-run homer by Andrew Collins, a bases-loaded walk, a Purcell two-run single, another Collins homer, a Jason Branch two-run double, and a Brandon Dillon grand slam to go up 27-15 at the end of six innings. In the top of the seventh, Dan Smith’s dormant offense briefly came back to life as they scored nine runs but came up short in the loss (27-24).
That set up the Saturday afternoon heavyweight battle everybody was waiting to see, number one Smash It Sports versus number two Resmondo. In the Smash It Sports dugout were several players who had won multiple world championships playing for Resmondo, such as Andy Purcell, Don DeDonatis, Dennis Rulli, Nic Santana, Andrew Collins and Lee Payne. In the Resmondo dugout was former teammates Greg Connell, B.J. Fulk and Dan “Dirty” Sanchez along with the majority of the 2016 Smash It Sports team.
Resmondo failed to score in the first two innings, even though in the first SIS pitcher Andy Purcell walked the bases loaded. Smash It Sports got on the board in those first two innings on solo homers by Ryan Harvey and Andrew Collins and RBI hits by Don DeDonatis and Jason Branch and led 4-0. In the third inning, Resmondo got going and grabbed an 8-4 lead as Bryson Baker, Greg Connell, Travis Clark, and Buddy Wolf all homered. SIS right-fielder Andrew Collins made a nice catch to end the inning. In the bottom of the third, Smash It Sports answered Resmondo’s eight-run top with 11 runs of their own, as Nic Santana tripled, Cory Briggs hit a two-out RBI single to tie the game, and Jason Branch, Andy Purcell, Collins, and Brandon Dillon all had two-out hits to give them a 15-8 lead. In the top of the fourth, Resmondo’s Bubba Mack hit a two-out two-run single and they pulled to within two runs. But in the bottom of the inning, Ryan Harvey hit a three-run homer and Collins and Santana homered to give SIS a 23-13 lead, as they knocked out pitcher Travis Clark who was replaced by former teammate Dan Sanchez.
The two teams battled through some rain and Resmondo’s Travis Clark hit a two-run single in the top of the fifth to pull them to within five runs (23-18) and Resmondo blanked SIS in the bottom of the fifth. Sponsor Travis Resmondo was ejected for some chirping he was doing from the Resmondo bench. In the top of the sixth, Smash It Sports got Resmondo to hit into a 10-6-3 double-play with the bases loaded, but Resmondo again held SIS to zero runs in the bottom of the sixth as relief pitcher Dan Sanchez got some big outs for his second scoreless inning. In the top of the seventh, needing three runs to tie, Resmondo just could not string the hits together as Collins made another incredible catch towards the foul line, then trapped a hard line drive single and somehow threw the ball to the cut-off who got the runner at second base on a force out. Resmondo had squandered multiple opportunities and left a small village on the bases and Smash It Sports advanced undefeated to the championship game with the 23-20 win.
The loser’s bracket finals began early Saturday evening between Dan Smith and Resmondo. In all of the games the home team was decided by who was the higher seed based on Nationwide Conference USSSA points. Dan Smith’s Chris Greinert and Kyle Pearson got the scoring started with home runs in the top of the first and Resmondo answered with a barrage of homer’s in the bottom of the first by Bryson Baker, Kyle Pearson, Buddy Wolf, Scott Kirby, Mike Umschied, and Kevin Bazat, which was more homers (6) than they had the entire seven innings of the winner’s bracket finals (4). In the second, Greinert hit a two-run single for Dan Smith but Resmondo piled-on again in the bottom of the second with doubles by Mack and Kirby, a two-run homer by Bazat, back-to-back solos by Pearson and Connell, and a final two-run homer by Scott Kirby, which made it 24-9 at the end of two innings.
In the third, Dan Smith scored on a Brian Zirkle two-run homer and then Resmondo’s Travis Clark hit a two-run homer to match. In the fourth, Dan Smith’s Chris Greinert hit a two-run homer and Resmondo answered with a Bazat three-run homer and a Kyle Pearson over-the-scoreboard bomb. Resmondo led 30-14 after four innings and began to put in substitutes in order to rest their starters. In the fifth, Dan Sanchez made a great line-drive stab up the middle but Dan Smith closed the gap to 10 runs on an RBI double to keep the game alive. In the sixth inning, Dan Smith’s Chris Greinert became the third player of the tournament to hit one over the giant five-story high scoreboard in center-field and they also got a two-run homer from their Kyle Pearson in the seventh but lost (37-27) to Resmondo. Dan Smith catcher Chris Greinert had five hits, three home runs and 10 RBIs in the game.
The much-awaited championship game between Smash It Sports and Resmondo began Saturday night with Resmondo needing to win two games in a row. In the top of the first, Resmondo’s Kyle Pearson hit a two-run homer and Smash It’s Ryan Harvey answered with a three-run bomb to put SIS up 4-2 after one inning. In the second inning, Resmondo’s Scott Kirby hit a two-run homer and they blanked Smash It and went up 6-4. In the third, Resmondo put up a zero and SIS went down in order 1-2-3 as Kyle Pearson at first base and Travis Clark at pitcher made nice plays on hard shots. It looked like Smash It, who’s pitcher Andy Purcell had been drilled by Wegman in the second inning, was trying to go up the middle as they hit two hard shots back at Clark who made nice plays on both.
Resmondo put up another zero in the top of the fourth inning and in the bottom of the fourth, SIS got two-run homers from Cory Briggs and Andy Purcell and they led 10-6. In the top of the fifth, Resmondo marked with solo homers by Wegman and Clark but an RBI triple by Don DeDonatis and another homer by Purcell gave Smash It a 14-8 lead. In the sixth, Resmondo got a solo from Kirby, a huge pinch-hit two-run homer from B.J. Fulk, and solos from Baker and Pearson to close the lead to 14-13. In the bottom of the sixth, Resmondo center-fielder Mike Umschied made a great catch on a long dead run straight back over his head at the 390-foot mark, but Smash It Sports managed to score four on homers by Brandon Dillon and a line-shot home run down the right-field line by Don DeDonatis that energized his entire team.
In the seventh, Resmondo needed five to extend the game and got solo homers from Buddy Wolf and Bubba Mack, then a hustle slide by Scott Kirby into first base on a high throw and clutch RBI singles by Baker, Pearson, and Connell to close the gap to just one (18-17). Then with the bases loaded, Brian Wegman hit a ball high and deep to right field as the collective Resmondo fans and teammates held their breath, right-fielder Andrew Collins moved to the fence to make a play but it was just a little too far and Wegman had a go-ahead grand slam. The crowd cheered and Resmondo grabbed the momentum. But they failed to score any more runs and went to the bottom of the seventh with just a 21-18 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Resmondo got an out to start off, then Andy Purcell doubled, Ryan Harvey walked, and Andrew Collins hit a ball similar to Wegman’s only to straight away center-field. Again the crowd held its collective breath as center-fielder Mike Umschied leaped to rob the home run but it went out by a few feet over the wall around the 400-foot mark and Smash It Sports had tied the game at 21-21. So with one out in the bottom of the seventh and the game tied, Resmondo decided to intentionally walk Nic Santana. Then, Luis Reyna laced a line drive single to right-center sending Santana to third, and Brandon Dillon was walked to load the bases. Then Dennis Rulli stepped in and ended the game with a walk-off walk on three pitches and Smash It Sports had won the Major World Series (22-21).
Smash It Sports/Scene/TDB/Miken/Worth finished the tournament with a perfect 5-0 record. They outscored their opponents 113-76 for an average of 22.6 to 15.2 per game. They finished 69-7 on the year which is the second best record for a Nationwide Conference USSSA team of all-time.
“They all played their roles and most everyone had a clutch hit or multiple clutch hits,” said softball reporter Dale Weiser. “The defense, which was the best in the league all year long was best again at the Major. Collins and Harvey hit half of their team’s home runs and both are right-handed when many right-handers struggled all week to hit them out. The pitching dominated opponents late in games and having that number-one seed came in handy more than once.”
Weiser continued, “Congratulations again to the sponsorship group, the managers, and the players of one of the best teams of all-time.”
Resmondo/O.A. Apparel/H.Auto/Easton from Winter Haven, Florida took home the second place trophy with a 4-2 record at the Major World Series.
“Resmondo put all of their proverbial eggs in one basket, which was winning the Major and saving what was a disappointing season overall,” said Weiser. “They came so close and even played good enough defense to win, but the offense wasn’t crisp and they never had that big double-figure inning against Smash It that they needed for the knockout blow. Some of the moves made in the winner’s final where nobody pinch hit might be questioned by us Monday morning quarterbacks for weeks to come, but let’s be thankful someone challenged Smash It and gave us some good drama at the end of those two big games.”
Dan Smith/Menosse from San Jose, California finished in third place, also with a 4-2 record. After being away from the game for several years, Dan Smith’s return provided a refreshing boost to the top echelon of Conference USSSA.
The Scene/HDLN/BHR/Easton from Hamilton, Ohio was the number 15-seed for the World Series, after dropping three spots by not attending the Conference USSSA Championships, so they had to play one of the two play-in games. They won against Klutch the military team and then lost to Resmondo as expected (21-9). In the loser’s bracket they began the most unlikely of runs as they scored 18 or more runs in five straight games and beat TDB, Xtreme, Nightmare, major team SIS/Thunder and then Bad Draw, all in seven-inning games, before losing to Dan Smith to finish fourth at 6-2.
Tied for fifth place was Racks/Sonny’s/Athlon/Easton from Casper, Wyoming and Bad Draw/B&B/Broughton/Worth from Greenville, North Carolina.
Tied for seventh place was SIS/Thunder/Miken/Worth/Louisville Slugger from Wading River, New York and Precision/3rd Street/Easton from Chicago, while tied for ninth was Nightmare/Miken from Branson, Missouri; Bay Area Legends/Miken from Castro Valley, California; Worth/Astros/Klutch from Indianapolis, Indiana; and Baugh Ford/Adiktiv/Worth/Miken from Peachtree City, Georgia.
Other teams participating in the Major World Series were AA World champion Xtreme/Miken/ASP/Athlon from Medina, Minnesota; OA Apparel/KBI/Easton from Gladewater, Texas; Newbreed/DeMarini from Tukwila, Washington; Klutch/Bulldawg/Semper from San Antonio, Texas; TDB/TM Sports from Charlotte, North Carolina; and Steel Sports/Powerhouse/Miken from Corpus Christi, Texas.
Smash It Sports right-fielder Andrew Collins was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Collins batted .842 with nine home runs and 20 RBIs, all of which were highs for the team. Collins also played spectacular defense in right-field and clearly established himself as one of the top five all-around players in the game.
The Outstanding Offensive Player Award went to Kyle Pearson of Resmondo, who batted .724 with 12 home runs and 22 RBIs. Pearson’s 12 dingers were enough to win the Home Run Award for the tournament. The big slugger from northern Louisiana left no doubt that he is the top power hitter in the game today, as he also won the bracketed Home Run Derby on Thursday night.
Don DeDonatis III of Smash It Sports won the Outstanding Defensive Player Award, marking the third time for him to win the award in his career. Prior to this year, he also won the award in 2005 and 2012.
The rest of the All-Tournament team featured Nic Santana, Cory Briggs, Ryan Harvey, Dennis Rulli and Andy Purcell, of Smash It Sports; Travis Clark, Kevin Bazat, Bryson Baker, Scott Kirby, Mike Umschied and Brian Wegman, of Resmondo; Brian Zirkle, Chris Greinert and Chad Durick, of Dan Smith; Ryan Disbennet and Cory Boothe, of The Scene/HDLNS; C.J. Jacinto of Bad Draw and Stuart Snell of Racks.
(NOTE: Some of the game accounts for this article were provided by Dale Weiser of Softball Center and The Old Scout.)