Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mallards Win 2nd Northwoods League Title

All photos of NWL Championship Series Game 1 in Madison and trophy presentation available on Flickr.

Last Monday, the Lakeshore Chinooks embarrassed the Madison Mallards 15-0 in the first game of the playoffs, the culmination of a pretty rough 2-week stretch for the Mallards.  A team that seemed like a lock for the Championship series in July was now looking like it would have an early exit from the playoffs.  The Mallards would need to summon all the strength and determination they could to go on one more run.  Following the pounding in Mequon, they did just that.  Madison came from behind to defeat the Chinooks 2 games to 1, and then swept the Duluth Huskies in the championship round to bring home their 2nd title in franchise history, and their first since 2004.

I was in attendance for Game 1 of what was called the Summer Collegiate World Series - a title I think is misleading and ambiguous, so I refer to it as the Northwoods League Championship Series.  The Mallards obviously won the game I saw, 10-7, and would win 12-3 the next night in Duluth to win the title.  The offensive explosion in the series was indicative of the Mallards' entire season and was what I was hoping to see.  The Mallards have a very complete team with some solid starting pitchers, but I don't think anyone would refute that the bats carried the team most of the year.  They notched 36 total hits in the two games, led by John LaPrise and Joe McCarthy with 7 hits apiece.  Everybody in this lineup contributed all year and they were one of the most exciting team's I've had the pleasure of watching since the Jordan Comadena-Mike Rohde days.  LaPrise led the league in hitting at .414, Drew Weeks led the league with 68 RBI, and no matter who they plugged in around them or how the lineup was stacked it seemed to work.  McCarthy, Mike Fitzgerald, Tate Matheny, Jason Goldstein, and Jeff Zahn all had great seasons.  Zahn is a particularly good story because he came to the Mallards on a temporary contract following a terrible collegiate season and played a very admirable 1st base all season.  Alex Bacon, a guy who didn't even join the team until mid-season, was the hero of the playoffs with two big homeruns, including the go-ahead homerun in Game 1 as part of a 6-run 5th inning.

As I learned at the trophy presentation at the Duck Pond on Saturday, the completeness and competitiveness of this team was far from a coincidence.  The Mallards' manager this year, Donnie Scott, was the team's real true "baseball guy."  In years past the team would hire younger guys or former Mallards to coach, but Scott had many years of minor league experience before coming to the Mallards and won the title with Battle Creek in their inaugural season, so clearly he knew what it took to win.  Part of that winning process was absolving himself of all recruiting responsibilities.  Donnie Scott is used to a minor league background where you just have to work with the players you're given and was clear early on that he wanted no part of making those decisions.  He said to the front office, "you give me 25 guys who can play and love ball, and I'll bring home a championship."  This put a lot of pressure on the GM but they certainly came through, and Scott did the rest.  I was happy to hear at the trophy presentation that he is coming back to manage in 2014 and will be having a bobblehead likeness of himself as a future giveaway.  The trophy presentation probably had more people in attendance than a typical game in most Northwoods League parks, a true testament to the great fanbase Steve Schmitt and Vern Stenman have built up in Madison.  Although, free food and beer certainly didn't hurt.

Even though the irreplaceable voice of the Mallards - PA guy Aaron Sims - is moving on to greener pastures next year, I can still hardly wait to buy my Mallards Championship gear and 7-pack for next season and watch a new team of young men defend the title.

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