PDT Sports Contributor
It is often said that tough competition brings out the best of the best in tournament play.
That statement held true to form throughout the Fifth Annual Gene Bennett Classic as the Midland Redskins walked away with another Gene Bennett Baseball Classic tournament crown as #3-seeded Midland defeated the No. 5-seeded Michigan Bulls by a 7-1 count in the championship game held on Sunday afternoon.
Great action was available during the classic, as 15 of the tournament’s 44 games were decided by two runs or less, with the Redskins and the Bulls combining to deliver six of those 15 contests over the four-day stretch.
However, both teams did not get to the championship game without adversity, as both squads dropped tough losses that put the pair back to the middle of the pool play pack during the first day of the Gene Bennett Classic, with Michigan dropping a tough 3-2 decision to the Kentucky Colonels at Minford High School and Midland falling to the Ohio Warhawks by a 4-1 decision.
Those losses, however, only seemed to fuel each team’s desire to make sure that they weren’t going to lose again as the Bulls and Redskins went undefeated over the remaining games in pool play, with Midland shutting out both the Ohio Yankees and the Ohio RedStorm and Michigan defeating the Huntington Hounds and Reb’s Sports Academy in each of their games during the second and final day of pool play.
As a result of their wins, both teams ended up 3-1 in pool play, with the Redskins receiving a three seed and the Bulls receiving a five seed based on their results (Midland won the tiebreaker for the three seed based on runs allowed over the Colonels and the Bulls).
Both teams easily dispatched their first round opponents as the Redskins defeated Bullett Proof Academy 6-0 in their opening tournament contest while the Bulls defeated the Yankees by a 12-2 tally to allow both teams to advance to the second round of tournament play.
Adversity faced both teams again during the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the tournament as Michigan faced the team who had put the only blemish on their record to this point in the classic – the Kentucky Colonels – in the quarterfinals. However, the Bulls tripled their run output in their second meeting with the Colonels to secure a 6-2 victory.
Midland, however, was locked in a much tighter battle with the Great Lake Canadians, and it seemed like the Redskins were all but out of the tournament as the Canadians held a 1-0 lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning. A two-run double with two outs, however, allowed the Redskins to take a 2-1 walk off victory.
During the semifinal round, the Redskins exacted revenge on a loss to the Huntington Hounds in 2013 by putting up a seven-spot on the Hounds to advance to the finals of the Gene Bennett Classic.
Michigan, however, had its turn to face adversity square in the eyes. As with Midland the round before, it seemed like the Bulls were all but out of the tournament as the Ohio Warhawks held a 3-0 lead on the Novi, Michigan based team after six innings of play in a semifinal matchup at Branch Rickey Park.
In the top of the seventh inning, however, the Bulls managed to rally from behind by scoring all four of its runs in the top half of the seventh (including two runs on wild pitches) to knock the top-seeded Warhawks (who had not lost a game up to that point in the classic) out of the tournament completely.
This set up what looked to be a closely contested matchup between the Bulls and Redskins in the finals of the Gene Bennett Classic Tournament. However, Midland quickly dispatched any notion of a close matchup ensuing as the Redskins put up one or more runs in each of the first four innings en route to 7-1 victory over Michigan to take the aforementioned tournament crown.
Midland’s and Michigan’s tournament runs, however, were far from the only highlights of the tournament as Wade Martin and Pierce Knisley each pitched shutouts at Branch Rickey Park against two quality baseball teams, with the pair giving up a combined nine hits at the historic venue.
Knisley, the SOC II Pitcher of the Year and Waverly standout, started the tournament off right by throwing a six-hit shutout against Bullett Proof Academy (Welland, Ontario), which is run by former Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates player Scott Bullett.
Martin, the Wheelersburg ace who led his squad to a 24-7 record and an OHSAA Division III Final Four appearance in 2014, equaled his counterpart’s effort by throwing a three-hit shutout in a Gene Bennett Classic Tournament quarterfinal against the Midwest Prospects (Cincinnati, Ohio) to lead the Hounds to a 1-0 upset victory.
The Prospects, who went undefeated during pool play along with the Ohio Warhawks, featured current University of Cincinnati pitcher Austin Woodby and 2015 Cincinnati baseball commit Jordan Ramey, along with 2015 Wright State baseball commit Peyton Burdick and a 2015 Morehead State University football commit in Tyler Burdick.
In addition to the exciting action that was showcased on the field, the Gene Bennett Classic took time to honor the memory of fallen United States soldier Justin Helton, a Beaver, Ohio native who lost his life while on active duty in Afghanistan this past week. The American flag at Branch Rickey Park was displayed at half mass in his honor on the opening day of the tournament and a moment of silence was taken to honor his memory.
This year also marked the anniversary of the 1974 Post 23 team, which won the American Legion Championship in the State of Ohio that year. The team’s coach, Bill Newman, was given the Del Rice Leadership Award on Saturday evening in honor of that achievement as well as his service to the community and was recognized along with the rest of the team in a brief ceremony before the start of the quarterfinals.
In addition to the Del Rice Leadership Award, five other players were given various awards at the conclusion of this year’s Gene Bennett Classic. The award winners were as follows:
Gene Tenace Catching Award—Jarett Reindfleisch, Midland Redskins
Larry Hisle Hustle Award—Aiden Cullan, Michigan Bulls
Rocky Nelson Defense Award – Trey Dawson, Huntington Hounds
Don Gullett Pitching Award—Steven Jankowski, Midwest Prospects
Al Oliver Hitter Award—Jack Schaff, Midland Redskins
Jankowski used a perfect game performance against the Prospect Scouts (Toledo, Ohio) to win the Don Gullett Pitching Award. Reindfleisch and Schaff are committed to Ball State and Florida International, respectively. Cullen is a Kalamazoo College commitment while Dawson, a senior, is a native of Hurricane, West Virginia and is an uncommitted prospect in the Class of 2014.