Jesse Wolfersberger: Freedom Newspapers
A crew of bench players, an MVP, and some late-game heroics helped a Cannon Air Force Base men’s softball team recently take home a military world tournament.
The USSSA tournament is an annual event pitting the best of the armed services has to offer against each other in an exhibition of softball superiority.
Cannon coach Frank Talbott said his team was almost grounded due to injuries and military obligations.
“We really didn’t know how we were going to do, we had six starters that weren’t able to go,” Talbott said. “We didn’t pick up anybody. We went iron-man — 10 men for the whole tournament.”
Talbott said his bench picked up the slack.
“Some of our players that usually don’t start lifted their game to a whole new level,” Talbott said. “We had four or five players who were playing in positions that they’ve never even played in, and they lit it up. That was the difference between winning and not winning the tournament.”
After romping through the first three games of the 22-team, double-elimination tournament Aug. 19-22 in Panama City, Fla., Cannon was matched up against Barksdale Air Force Base with a spot in the finals on the line.
Down 11-10 in the final inning, catcher Jimmy Warner was on deck representing the winning run.
“I told the guy in front of me, ‘If you get on we’re guaranteed to win,’” Warner said. “He got a single. I came up and I fouled off the first pitch. The second pitch, I jacked it over the fence.”
Warner’s walk-off home run sent Cannon to the finals, but the team still had work to do if they wanted to win the championship.
In the finals, Cannon was up against Charleston Air Force Base.
Second baseman Pete Santos said Charleston had two things going for them. They were hot and Cannon was cold.
“We won the winner’s bracket,” Santos said. “And when you win the winner’s bracket you have to wait. We had to wait two and a half hours for these guys to finish. They were still hot. When they came to bat, they put it on us.”
Cannon lost to Charleston 24-9, but because it was a double- elimination tournament, and Cannon had only one loss, the two teams had to play again. This time the winner would be crowned champion.
Charleston struck first again, going up three runs early in the game. Pitcher Brent Taylor took the team on his back and gave Cannon the lead with one swing of his back.
“I hit a grand slam over the lights,” Taylor said. “It was the spark I think. We just kept rolling.”
Cannon won the game 18-9.
Although Taylor was named MVP of the tournament he refused to take much of the credit for the win.
“(Winning MVP) means we played awesome as a team because that is what it takes to win the award,” Taylor said. “I know it’s an individual award, but to me it’s a team award.”
Six players from Cannon were named to the all-tournament team; Taylor, Santos, Carlos Fierro, Chris Jensen, Thor Myers, and Michael Trelford.