No secret to PowerHouse success

PowerHouse Electric seems to have its game figured out.

Elite teams in other leagues tend to follow a more traditional path – get a couple guys on base and try to drop a bomb over the fence. That’s actually what had put Putt-Putt in the driver’s seat Thursday heading into the Michiana Senior Softball League junior division showdown – fence-rattling power.

But PowerHouse knocked off favored Putt-Putt twice with its usual, different formula – simple singles, smart speed on the bases and unbendable defense.

The winning numbers Thursday were 7-0 and 12-4, and PowerHouse has its second consecutive tourney title.

PowerHouse, coached by Jim Nace, entered the night with no margin for error. The defending champs had been knocked into the losers bracket with a four-homer 13-6 power display by Putt-Putt in their double-elimination tournament opener Aug. 3.

As a result, PowerHouse went into the Thursday showdown needing two wins. Putt-Putt, in the winners bracket, needed just one.

A slip-up of any kind by PowerHouse would give Putt-Putt its first-ever tournament championship.

No chance of that. The tone was set early. Putt-Putt filled the bases in the top of the first but came up empty when PowerHouse turned a hard-hit grounder into an inning-ending double play.

Then, in the bottom of the first, PowerHouse’s Mike Ernzen singled, moved to second on a walk to Bob Knight and scored easily on Adam Kroemer’s single. Knight and Kroemer advanced on a throw, and Jim Ridenour followed with a liner to right that scored them both. Suddenly, it was a 3-0 lead.

PowerHouse scored again in the second on a hit by Jerome Keller and made it 6-0 in the third on consecutive hits by Ernzen, Knight and Kroemer. Knight plated the final run in the seventh with a hit that scored Tod Moorhead.

Pitcher Jimmy Hill allowed eight hits in that first-game shutout and kept Putt-Putt off-balance, depending on the infield behind him. Only one runner reached third base against him as infielders Ridenour, Knight and Kroemer relentlessly speared grounders and liners. Double-plays killed potential rallies in the first and second innings.

Moorhead and Ernzen both had two hits and scored twice for PowerHouse. Knight, Kroemer, John Albers and Keller also had two apiece for the winners, who totaled 14 hits. Mike Fair and Ed Jankowski had two singles apiece for Putt-Putt.

Still, opponents would be mistaken to count Putt-Putt out too early. A week earlier, in its tournament opener, Putt-Putt trailed Holy Smokes Pizza 10-2 before a fierce 10-run rally in the top of the seventh inning eventually led to extra innings. In the ninth that night, Putt-Putt put the game away with a power show that created 13 runs for a 26-14 verdict.

Putt-Putt, coached by John Rice, wasn’t the same team Thursday. Out of town and missing from his lineup was the league’s most feared slugger, Faron Lubbers, who also may be MSSL’s top defensive player. Bob Gorny, solid and steady, missed the championship as well, and Rice scraped together a lineup that just met the 11-player standard.

In previous tournaments, some finalists have kept weaker players off the lineup card. The logic would be that a thinner lineup gives stronger hitters more trips to the plate by having fewer likely outs at the bottom of the order.

To its credit, PowerHouse batted all 14 of its players. “We have always hit everyone,” Nace said. “That goes back to when I came in the league and Dave McIntire was coach. We hit 17 in a tourney championship game six or seven years ago.”

In Thursday’s opener, Nace’s bottom five went a combined 0-for-10. With those extra outs lower in the order, only five of PowerHouse’s batters had three trips to the plate.

With the tournament on the line in the second game, Nace stayed with his 14-player commitment, and it paid off. Those same bottom-five hitters produced six hits and scored six times. They also were key to a five-spot in the third inning that overcame a 1-0 deficit.

After Kirby Prenkert reached on an infield error, Bill Snyder singled, Hill popped out and Nace singled to load the bases. Tom Barnes, who filled the 14th spot, knocked a ball up the middle that was deflected by the pitcher’s glove, scoring two runs. Moorhead singled, Ernzen reached on an error, Knight delivered another hit and Kroemer hit a sacrifice fly to reach the five mark.

A pesky rain left the field a bit slippery, and that may have aided Putt-Putt’s comeback effort as Scott Martin reached on a rare infield error in the fourth. An out later, Don Torok slapped a single, and Scott Britton followed with a hit that brought home two runs. Andy Gemske later drove in a run to bring the score to 5-4.

That’s the way it was until Knight broke the game open in the top of the sixth. Moorhead had reached on a single before Knight lofted a fly over the left-center fence. Kroemer, Ridenour and Gerard Xaver followed with runs, and suddenly the score seemed out of reach.

Knight’s was the only homer of the evening for either team.

As in the first game, Hill kept Putt-Putt’s offense under control, allowing just eight hits and no walks. He said batters went to three-ball counts on him six or eight times during the evening but always ended up swinging at pitches that were too good to ignore. PowerHouse’s infield turned another two double-plays.

Knight was among three players with three hits, the others being Xaver and Snyder. For the evening, Knight totaled five hits in five at-bats, scoring twice and driving in four runs. Moorhead had four hits and scored four runs. Keller also had four hits.

Despite the two defeats on the tourney’s final night, this was a step-forward season for Putt-Putt, which typically finished in third place or lower in recent years. The team claimed second place for the regular season with a 13-11 mark. PowerHouse earned its fifth consecutive league title at 20-4.

The championship game crowd was treated to a Dollar Day promotion in the concession stand. A similar discount, which will include slices from Holy Smokes Pizza, is planned for the Aug. 22 championship games for the senior division.

PowerHouse manager Jim Nace.

Below: Bob Knight was one of Thursday’s stars.

Jimmy Hill pitched the opening game shutout.

Linescores and individual batting, thanks to score-keeping by Gary Marcus

Game 1

Putt-Putt 000 000 0 – 0

PowerHouse 312 000 x – 7


Putt-Putt: Dave Melander 3-0-1-0, Scott Martin 3-0-1-0, Joe Gambill 3-0-1-0, Mike Fair 3-0-2-0, Don Torok 3-0-0-0, Scott Britton 2-0-1-0, Ed Jankowski 2-0-2-0, Andy Gemske 2-0-0-0, Frank Gorny 2-0-0-0, Rob Harris 2-0-0-0, Mark Kruszynski 2-0-0-0. Totals 27-0-8-0.

PowerHouse: Tod Moorhead 3-2-2-0, Mike Ernzen 3-2-2-1, Bob Knight 2-1-2-2, Adam Kroemer 3-1-2-1, Jim Ridenour 3-0-1-2, Gerard Xaver 2-0-0-0, Matt Creviston 2-0-1-0, John Albers 2-1-2-0, Jerome Keller 2-0-2-1, Kirby Prenkert 2-0-0-0, Bill Snyder 2-0-0-0, Jimmy Hill 2-0-0-0, Jim Nace 2-0-0-0, Tom Barnes 2-0-0-0. Totals 32-7-14-7.

Game 2

PowerHouse 005 005 2 – 12

Putt-Putt 100 300 0 – 4

PowerHouse: Moorhead 4-2-2-1, Ernzen 3-0-0-0, Knight 3-1-3-2, Kroemer 2-1-1-1, Ridenour 3-1-1-1, Xaver 3-1-3-0, Creviston 3-0-0-0, Albers 3-0-0-0, Keller 3-0-2-0, Prenkert 3-2-0-0, Snyder 3-2-3-0, Hill 3-0-1-0, Nace 3-1-1-0, Barnes 3-1-1-2. Totals 42-12-19-8.

Putt-Putt: Melander 3-1-2-0, Martin 3-1-1-0, Gambill 3-0-1-0, Fair 3-1-1-0, Torok 3-1-1-2, Britton 3-0-1-1, Jankowski 2-0-0-1, Gemske 3-0-1-0, Gorny 3-0-0-0, Harris 3-0-0-0, Kruszynski 2-0-0-0. Totals 30-4-8-4.

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