Studs claim third straight GFI title

It’s always our game. It’s always our turn.”

That was Seattle Studs general manager Barry Aden’s message on Sunday, when for the first time in Grand Forks International history, a back-to-back-to-back champion was crowned as the Studs won the 10-inning final 3-2 over the Alaska Goldpanners.

With the win of their third-straight tournament, Seattle entered the GFI history books, completing a feat that even tournament legends like the Lewiston Truckers and Team Japan never accomplished.

The road to the championship was far from easy for the Studs, as they faced some of the best semi-pro baseball teams on the continent en route to their undefeated tournament win.

Their round-robin Division One was stacked with the 2016 GFI runner-up Burnaby Bulldogs, and the West Coast Guns and Westchase Express who finished third and seventh in last year’s tournament, respectively.

Going 3-0 in round-robin, Seattle then matched up with Pacific International League rivals, the Kitsap BlueJackets in the quarterfinals, who they beat 6-0, and the Everett Merchants in the semifinals, where they won 6-5 in 10 innings, before facing the six-time National Baseball Congress World Series champion Goldpanners in the final.

The other teams eliminated in the quarterfinals were the Westchase Express, San Francisco Seals, and Burnaby Bulldogs, while the North Sound Emeralds were eliminated by Alaska in the semifinals.

Much like Seattle’s 2-1 win over Burnaby in the 2016 GFI, the final was an incredibly close, defensive game, with Seattle’s starting pitcher and tournament all-star Donovan Feenstra striking out 12 Goldpanners in his five and two-thirds innings on the mound.

Aden attributed the tournament win to their pitching.

“It was our overwhelming pitching and teams not having the chance to put anything together against us,” Aden said. “The next guy is better than the next guy who is better than the next guy and we just keep rolling them out.”

Seattle’s pitching was notable throughout the tournament and their quarterfinal starter Geoff Brown earned the only shutout of the tournament, allowing only four hits in their game against the Kitsap BlueJackets.

“For me it’s just pounding the strike zone, not giving free base runners, and just going after hitters,” Brown said. “[It’s about]bearing down when there was a little bit of trouble and being able to minimize it and pitch out of it.”

Alaska’s pitching was also noteworthy in the final too, as they only allowed five hits through the first nine innings of play.

The defensiveness of the game made it a very low-scoring one, as the Studs lead 1-0 after five innings thanks to a Connor Savage RBI in the third.

The Goldpanners finally got on the scoreboard and took the lead in the sixth inning from a two-run single from tournament MVP Nick Ames.

It looked as if Seattle might finally be dethroned as champions, with a large segment of the crowd throwing their support behind the GFI newcomer Goldpanners, but a fielding error in the eighth inning allowed Kyle Boe to score for the Studs to even the score 2-2.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Matt Becker nearly won the game for the Studs, but Alaska catcher Parker Cormack tagged him out for the third out in a close play at the plate.

Heading into the 10th inning, it was anyone’s game and the two historic teams both wanted to take home the championship.

In the top of the inning, Brandon Langan’s double was the closest the Goldpanners came to scoring, but three outs later, all eyes were on the Studs.

The first batter at the plate, Studs veteran Connor Savage, got on with a single, before advancing to second on a wild pitch and stealing third.

After Garrett Breda grounded out to third, the next batter up for the Studs was designated hitter Lorin Archibald who could end the game and the tournament with one swing of the bat.

With a count of three balls, two strikes, and only one out with Savage on third, Archibald singled past the diving first baseman to score the run and win the GFI for Seattle yet again.

The win in the championship was made more special for the Studs as it was the 1,000th career win for Seattle boss Aden, and it was even better for him to get it at the GFI.

“If it had happened in a league game at a home or in Kamloops in the early part of the tourney, it would’ve all paled in comparison to doing it here in the championship game,” said Aden. “It was great timing for me on a great run for my team.We’re 24-4 so we had to win 24 games to get me there this year and these guys have been taking care of business day after day. We ran the table here, 6-0, and it feels great.”

He explained that he could have never made it to 1,000 career wins or three straight GFI championships without his team.

“We have a great core group of veteran players, great pitching on a daily basis, and position players that just don’t ever say die.”

The 2017 GFI tournament was also notable for being the first to provide qualification to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas — one of the most prestigious events in amateur baseball in North America.

Aden liked the addition of the qualification to the tournament.

“It’s great, I want to gobble up as many of those as I can,” he said. “We already got our own automatic berth as the Studs team this year, this is the second one, and the third one is the [Pacific International League] championship where we’re 14-0 right now and we can wrap that up in the next week or two, so it would be great to have all three berths.”

Prior to the World Series, however, the Studs have to wrap up their season. They join fellow GFI teams, the Everett Merchants,Okanagan Athletics, Highline Bears, Northwest Honkers, and runner-up Alaska Goldpanners at the Kamloops International Baseball Tournament before returning home to finish their final 10 games of the PIL season.