MERIDEN —The Meriden-based Dirt Dogs overcame incredible challenges to claim the 2018 Slow Pitch Men’s Class C National Championship last week at the Prairie Island Complex in Prairie Island, Minn.
Tournament MVP Derek Drag and Nick Follo hit back-to-back homers in the 20-17 championship game victory over B.O.T./T.N.T.
That win avenged the Dirt Dogs’ lone loss in the tournament.
The loss to B.O.T./T.N.T. dropped the Dirts Dogs into the losers’ bracket. The locals battled back, including in the losers’ bracket final against Dynasty. Down by seven runs in the fourth inning, the Dirt Dogs erupted for a big sixth inning and wound up winning 22-12 via the mercy rule.
The win put the Dirt Dogs into the finals, where B.O.T./T.N.T. was waiting with a perfect 6-0 record. That meant the Dirt Dogs needed to beat them twice to win it all.
It didn’t look good in the first game. The Dirt Dogs fell behind 10-0 after three innings. However, they responded with 13 consecutive runs to win 13-10 and force a winner-take-all finale.
In that game, as in the previous one, the Dirt Dogs started slow, which was perfectly understandable.
“We were in our seventh game of the day and our sixth straight without a break,” said coach Tim Roussin. “Guys were playing hurt and were running on fumes, and the other team had a chance to put us away by (mercy) ruling us in the fifth and sixth innings.”
The Dirt Dogs were able to survive and staged yet another epic comeback. Trailing 15-7 in the seventh, the Dirt Dogs exploded for 10 runs to go up 17-15. The 10 runs came across before a single out was recorded.
To add to the drama, B.O.T./T.N.T. blasted a pair of solo homers in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game 17-17 and threatened for more. Dirt Dogs’ infielder Zak Sokolis flashed the leather with an unassisted double play.
Later that inning, the Dirt Dogs wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam on a line drive to infielder Matty Timmons.
In the top of the eighth, Drag came up to the plate with one on and one out and crushed a two-run dinger. Roussin estimated the the clout went 400 feet.
Follo added insurance with a homer of his own as the Dirt Dogs went up 20-17.
B.O.T./T.N.T. went down in order in the eighth and it was the Dirt Dogs holding up the national championship trophy.
“I'm still trying to wrap my head around this,” Roussin said. “Back-to-back national championships don't happen, ever. Teams get bumped and then usually struggle at next level or just not play the following year. These guys are special.”
The Dirt Dogs won the American Softball Association's Class D Eastern National Tournament last year.
Roussin said this latest championship is much more prestegious.
“Last year was an East National that we won being one of four regions,” Roussin said. “So, with winning that national we were bumped to the C level. The C National is the entire country, not divided like the others. So [it’s] a true National Championship.
“We went there knowing we could compete, but it's a much harder level of softball and I wasn't really sure how we would do. The guys put a ton of work in the three weeks before we left to be prepared and play at their highest level. “
Members of the team are Mike Verbasco (pitcher), Keith Sobkowiak (catcher), Zak Sokolis (first base), Eric Christensen (second base), Matty Timmons (middle infield), Nick Follo (shortstop), Derek Drag (third base), Jake Sharpe (left field), Cody Stone (center field) and Steve Connors (right field).
Scott Rowe, Mike Connors, Brian Joy and Bill Knight are utility players.
Verbasco, Sobkowiak, Sokolis, Connors and Christensen were tabbled All-American with Drag as the MVP.