LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS – Tour Stop No. 11 for Conference USSSA was the 4th Annual Space City Classic on June 4-6 at Big League Dreams in League City, Texas (located just south of Houston). The tournament was won by Albicocco/The Scene/Worth, a Class A team based out of New York, who unexpectedly won four straight games on Sunday, including a double-dipping of Wood Law.
Albicocco’s improved offense, stellar defense, and new-found chemistry led to their first Sunday finish of the season. Albicocco wound up with an 8-1 record in besting an incredible 48-team field, which should be the largest of any Conference tournament this season.
The Big League Dreams fields are quite possibly the very best in the nation. The park features six fields, all of which are replica, scaled-down versions of histori¬cally famous Major League Baseball parks. The “show field” was a replica of Crosley Field in Cincinnati; the second field was of Yankee Stadium; and the third was Fenway Park (my favorite). The three fields on the other side of the complex were Wrigley Field, Ebbets Field, and Sportsman’s Park.
Extreme heat in the 90’s and humidity kept homerun totals down, and games were lower scoring than normal.
Fields were 280 down the lines and 315 to center, with varying fence heights based on their Major League park scale. Infields were artificial turf which made infielders’ confidence go way up. I don’t remember seeing a bad hop all weekend, although I heard the turf was a bit tricky on Friday night when there was some moisture. The weekend was full of great diving stops. Outfields were perfect golf green style grass and all the fields had working scoreboards, stadium seating, and plenty of shade. There was no dust at this park.
The park also featured two full restau¬rant/sports bars with air-conditioning, and provided a great view of all the fields to watch games in comfort. With the food, drink and batting cages, a person had everything they needed and never had to leave the park. Now if they would just build a hotel off of Crosley’s left field homerun fence, we’d be all set!
This tournament would make a great destination for all the Conference A and B teams to agree to come to in 2011. Just think, it could be a 48-team tournament with the top 24 A/B conference teams against the top 24 B/C Texas teams. With the weather, the fields, and the atmo¬sphere of this “Big League” park, it would make for an early season World Tournament-like feel, and give teams a true test to see where they stand.
In the early part of the tournament there were quite a few run-rule games, as higher class teams weeded out the lower classes in the first three rounds. One thing became apparent and that was the local Houston teams had talent at all levels of play and they do a good job of classifying teams compared to most of the rest of the country. This is one of the few areas of the country that has a legitimate B program and a some¬what thriving C program as well.
In the future to make this a truly one of a kind event, I agree with some of the player’s –make a rule that to hit a homer, you have to hit it out of the stadium on each field. Most of the walls are 20 feet high and would make for a great challenge.
Let’s take this tournament to the next level and make the homers count only when they clear the big wall, not just the yellow line. If the ball happens to get stuck somewhere in the wall like it does at the Yankee Stadium field, then it’s a simple ground rule double.
Conference A team from New York 8-1 Houston Record
Albicocco has definitely struggled this season, having been just 2-4 against their peers in the A division coming into the tournament, pulled out an incredible Sunday run to win their first Conference tournament of the year. The veteran laden team was led by MVP pitcher Rick Sills who’s comment during the FBI game – where he said “maybe we’re as good as we thought we were” – pretty much sums this team up. Albicocco is a team that has made painfully slow, but steady improvement most of the season and it looks like they have made a deci¬sion to just let their play do the talking.
TMack in the middle brought a football-like mentality to his defense in Houston and won Outstanding Defensive Player of the tournament award. In no way did I think Albicocco had the stamina to knock off FBI, Front Row Sports, and Wood Law twice on Sunday to win, after leaving the field around midnight Saturday with their run-rule of Peak. Albicocco’s defense which is already stacked in the infield, really benefitted from the great Big League Dreams arti¬ficial turf. If I were Albicocco, I’d move Tony Mack around more based on who the hitter’s are.
Albicocco’s lineup was something like this: 1B Rich Gulash, LF Chris Wilson (quietly having a great year), C Kyle Moyer, MI Tony Mack, C Randall Boone, 2B Rhodney Donaldson, SS Brad Stillwell, 3B Robin Roberts, P Rick Sills, RF TJ Mariconi, Steve Wilson, and CF Denarra Jackson (made some great shoestring catches, former Prime Time and DO player).
Wilson had the quote of the weekend when he slid into home head first and it scraped his chest and probably rubbed the old nips a little raw. “I guess I won’t be playing with these anytime soon.”
Conference A team from Texas 5-2 Houston Record
Wood Law lets one slip away as they get double-dipped by Albicocco in the finals. They made it to the finals by easily knocking off three local teams early. Then in the quarterfinals against Albicocco, John Dutch robbed Randall Boone of a homer to left field in the first inning and they used a 13-run second to go up big. Albicocco seemed to be rolling over through the middle innings, but scored 14 runs in a flip-flop situation to get themselves back in the game. But Wood Law held on to win, 26-25.
In the winner’s final, Wood Law ran into a hot-hitting local Houston team, Front Row Sports that had made a strong and unexpected run. Recently signed pitcher Justin Mucciarelli quickly put Front Row off balance by getting in their heads about having his foot off the rubber, and early in the game both Front Row’s manager and assistant manager were tossed arguing such a silly point. With Front Row’s leadership, motivator, and disciplinarian gone, Wood Law jumped on them and put them down 15-3. Then things got ugly when a takeout slide at second base erupted into a bench-clearing jawing and pointing match. This was followed by a Front Row infielder intentionally throwing the ball at an unexpecting Wood Law player which cleared the benches yet again and ended up with the Front Row team being dismissed from the game with a forfeit.
I don’t think anyone that was at this tournament thought Wood Law would be double-dipped in the finals. They had Mooch pitching well, and have also added 3B Chris Larsen who is also on the Long Haul Bomber Stadium Tour. But they played without shortstop Tim Mattox.
Wood Law’s lineup was : 1B Derek Perkins (seemingly recovered from shoulder injury), MI Mitch Mabe, SS Dennis Shrum, C Mark Dennis , LF John Dutch, 3B Chris
Larsen, CF Justin Valenti, 2B Randall Poplin, P Justin Mucciarelli (kept teams off balance and Made Front Row look like a bunch of rookies), and RF Matt Arlett.
Front Row Sports
Non-Conference B team from Texas 4-2 Houston Record
What can I say. I started out following this team closely, as their talent and intensity jumped out at me as being one of the top non-Conference teams in the country. I quickly began collecting their players names, positions, and learning as much as I could about this team as they knocked off three straight Conference teams – Team Chub (10-8), Savesecond (9-7), and Fencebrokers (24-23). Wow! This team could hit, run, and field at a very high level and I was immediately thinking they were good enough to possibly make a run at the B worlds even.
Then I began seeing some MAJOR cracks in their armor and it was all above the shoulders. Mentally this team plays – not with a chip on their shoulder, but with a MOUNTAIN on their shoulder. They dropped more ‘F’ bombs than the rest of the 48 teams combined. They argued over every little thing. “Mooch is off the rubber…you can’t test my bat… we’re getting screwed because the umps are from Houston…Mooch is off the rubber…we’re getting screwed because the umps are from Dallas…I’m going to quit because conference rules say I have to wear a hat…Mooch is off the rubber.” It never ended. I’m not sure how these guys get through life on a daily basis. If Rick Robertson, the Umpire-in-Chief of USSSA, was present at this tourna¬ment, the whole team would have been excused from the tournament with a one-year suspension. Two of their coaches should have been tossed in three CONSECUTIVE games. The disre¬spect this team showed to umpires, fans, opposing teams, and the directors was unprecedented and I’ve been following upper level softball since 1989 and I’ve seen some really ugly incidents.
At one point one of their players’ bat was pulled because he shot the box on Mooch. The player actually went between innings and grabbed the bat from the backstop and put it back in his bat bag before it could be tested. If that isn’t an admission of bat tampering, then I don’t know what is. The director then went to the bat bag and allegedly pulled out the right bat and it failed.
In the words of one former Conference manager who was present at the tournament…”SHUT UP AND PLAY”.
Front Row had a chance to put themselves on the map. Instead they failed to adjust to the umpiring and rules and IMPLODED.
Fence Brokers/ Gametime Supply/Worth
Conference B team from Arkansas 4-2 Houston Record
FBI used a nice seed and a soft spot in the bracket to win their first couple of games. They were my pick to win this weekend, but came up against the hot Front Row team in the semi-finals. FBI let a few defensive miscues lead to a 21-17 deficit. In the sixth inning, they scored six to take the lead but Front Row had the hammer and won, 24-23.
Sunday morning against Albicocco, FBI had the hammer and some homers left but a leaping stab by Rhodney Donalson at second base and another leaping stab of a liner by Tony Mack in the middle put them away, 18-15.
FBI came away with fourth place points. I thought they had a chance of running the table on Sunday like Albicocco did, but it wasn’t meant to be.
FBI’s lineup was: CF Tim Howard, LF Gary Farrar, 3B John Glidewell, Gigerich/ Keene (they look like brothers), P Perry Hensley (looks like Gig and Keene’s older brother), C Tim Bowser, SS Burton, MI McCorkle, 2B Raul Cardenas, Pennington.
Tied 5th Place
Conference B team from Colorado 4-2 Houston Record
Peak played their best ever Conference event to finish tied for 5th. They knocked off two locals – Elite and Texas Takeover – before dropping a comeback bid against their nemesis FBI. In the loser’s bracket, Peak used a walk off homer to beat Dish Network and jumped out to a big early lead to hold off Rent King, before drop¬ping to Albicocco late Saturday night, 36-15. A Sunday finish for Peak would have been a true accomplishment.
Win or lose, Peak plays up and seems to really enjoy playing softball and travel¬ling the country together. A team like Front Row Sports could really learn something from Peak’s outlook and atti¬tude on the game of upper level softball.
Tied 5th Place
Non-Conference B team from Texas 4-2 Houston Record
The other fifth place team was Lonestar Sports out of Houston. This is another local B team with some great talent. Lonestar was knocked to the loser’s bracket by Wood Law (17-13) in the fourth round and then drank at the bar for four hours. Somehow they returned to the field and knocked off LA Strokers and put up a 15-0 lead and eventual victory over a listless AYS team to finish in fifth place. In the AYS game, they hit three no-doubter home runs out of Yankee Stadium in their big inning and took what wind was left out of the AYS sails. Lonestar has a lot of “see ball, hit ball” bam-bam types.
The rest of the Top 10 at the Space City included Rent King (Oklahoma C team) and AYS (Texas B team) tied for seventh place; and Slapaho (Texas C team), LA Strokers (Louisiana C team), Dish Network Express (Conference C team from Texas), and SaveSecond (Conference B team from Texas).
In a nice touch, the Space City Classic offers single-elimination brackets for all of the non-Conference teams after they are eliminated from the main event. The winners of those brackets were:
B – Olmito Heat (Valley)
C – Straight Shot (Conroe)
D – Disturbed (Baytown)
E – Foul Play (Houston)
A big thanks to my sponsors for making this trip possible – Down2EarthSports. com, GameTimeSupply.com, MojoSports Gear.com, and South Texas USSSA State Director Greg Huchingson. Greg is a true ambassador of upper level softball and put together a solid Conference event.
The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World's Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!