By Jacob Noseworthy
Canada Day marked the first games of Money Round action at the 2017 Grand Forks International as the top eight teams from the round-robin took to the field to try to earn their places in the Sunday semifinals.
The North Sound Emeralds, Everett Merchants, Seattle Studs, and Alaska Goldpanners were successful at James Donaldson Park on Saturday, as the tournament ended for the Westchase Express, San Francisco Seals, Kitsap BlueJackets, and Burnaby Bulldogs.
8) Westchase Express 4 at 1) North Sound Emeralds 5
W: Justin Polzin L: Fernando Martinez Home Plate Umpire: Phil Bourgeois
In the first game of the Money Round, the unbeaten North Sound Emeralds held off a comeback from the Westchase Express to win the game 5-4 in eight and a half innings.
With the Express playing their round-robin in the stacked Division One, they were a team deserving of much more than their eighth seed and they proved that with a good game on Saturday, although it was not quite enough.
North Sound started the game strong and had a 5-1 lead after six innings thanks to Justin Polzin’s two-run home run in the fifth inning, along with two runs in the third and an additional run in the sixth thanks to a sacrifice fly.
The Express, never to be counted out however, nearly came back.
Westchase earned one run in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to pull the game back within one.
Unfortunately for the Texas team, they left the tying run on second, giving the Emeralds the win and the first spot in Sunday’s semifinals.
7) Everett Merchants 7 at 2) San Francisco Seals 5
W: Brandon Poche L: Alex Guerrero Home Plate Umpire: Joe Mallinson
The lone upset of the quarterfinals came in game two as the seventh seed Everett Merchants defeated the unbeaten San Francisco Seals 7-5.
Early on, it looked as if there would be no stopping the Seals as the Californian team went up 5-0 after only two innings played, including when Thomas Kassner stole home in the first when Everett’s pitcher wasn’t paying attention.
The Merchants were not willing to give up though as a two-run third inning and a four-run performance in the sixth put them in the lead.
After the high-scoring first two innings, Everett seemed to shore up defensively and allowed no runs and only four hits in the final seven innings of the game.
Although Everett’s starting pitcher Brandon Mahovlich allowed four runs in his one and one-third innings on the mound, the Merchants bullpen was the standout of the game as they shut down the Seal’s red-hot offence.
6) Kitsap BlueJackets 0 at 3) Seattle Studs 6
W: Geoff Brown L: Aki Buckson Home Plate Umpire: Blaise Laveay
The third game of the day featured a commanding 6-0 victory by the defending champion Seattle Studs over the Kitsap BlueJackets in a game that lasted eight and a half innings.
Although the Studs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, the first half of the game featured strong defensive performances from both sides, with the two teams only having earned two hits each through the first four innings.
From the bottom of the sixth on, however, it was all Seattle. Cole Maltese’s two-run home run in the seventh and Nic Anderson’s lead-off blast in the eighth helped the Studs score five runs in their final three at bats.
Seattle’s pitcher, Geoff Brown, was the star of the game as he earned a shutout, struck out 10, and allowed only four hits and one walk in his full nine innings on the mound.
5) Burnaby Bulldogs 5 at 4) Alaska Goldpanners 10
W: Jimmy Endersby L: Dan Altoe Home Plate Umpire: Unknown
Despite the large Canada Day crowd at James Donaldson Park supporting the Burnaby Bulldogs throughout the last game of the night, a late-game collapse cost the Canadian team the game as the Alaska Goldpanners won 10-5.
The Bulldogs were off to a strong start as they took a 5-2 lead after four innings, and it looked as if Burnaby was on their way to another appearance in the semifinals.
The Lower Mainland side seemed to completely collapse in the fifth inning, however.
Starting pitcher Josh Larsen, who had pitched a good game to that point, walked the first batter of the inning, hit the second one with a wild pitch, and allowed a three-run home run to the next batter, Nick Ames, before finally being pulled.
Burnaby allowed an additional two runs in the fifth inning and three more in the eighth to allow Alaska to make the semifinals in their first GFI appearance.
The latter half of the game was far from representative of the Bulldogs’ talent, though, as the 2014 winner and 2016 runner-up seemed to be incredibly unlucky both offensively and defensively on the night.
Semifinals and Final
Semifinal 1: 8:30 a.m. – 1) North Sound Emeralds vs 4) Alaska Goldpanners
Semifinal 2: 11:30 a.m. – 3) Seattle Studs vs 7) Everett Merchants
Final: 2:30 p.m. – North Sound/Alaska Winner vs Seattle/Everett Winner