Published On: July 22nd, 2009

The South Division emerged victorious despite a late rally from the North to claim the 2009 Northwoods League All-Star title.

Things started off well for the South as lead-off man Kurtis Muller (Madison ; Iowa) became the first base runner of the game in the top of the first.  Keith Castillo (Alexandria; Southern California) put a stop to any early runs, though, with a tough catch in the North’s bullpen.  The North made some noise in their half of the first inning with Rochester’s Rance Roundy (UNLV) giving the ball a ride out to the warning track, but the game remained scoreless through the first frame.

Both teams recorded their first strikeouts in the second inning as Dennis O’Grady (Brainerd Lakes Area; Duke) gave up only a single to Robert Brantley (LaCrosse; UC-Riverside) and a walk to Battle Creek Bomber Josh Valle (Marshall) before striking out Aaron Gates (La Crosse; Pepperdine) to end his scoreless inning of work.  Zach Varce (Green Bay; Portland) had his work cut out for him in the bottom of the second as he faced Mankato MoonDog, Danny Miller (Minnesota State-Mankato) who is on pace to break the MoonDog and Northwoods League single season walk records.  Varce struck out Miller, gave up a double to Keith Castillo that went over center fielder, Kurtis Muller’s head, and struck out Mankato’s Kyle Knudson (Minnesota) to end the inning.

Zach Robertson (Rochester; Iowa) and Steven Gruver (La Crosse; Tennessee) continued the pitchers’ duel despite a little excitement when former Thunder Bay Border Cat and current Alexandria Beetle, Mike O’Neill (Southern California) slapped a shot over third base.  O’Neill’s adrenaline carried him toward second, but the throw from Eau Claire’s Nolan Fadness (UW-Oshkosh) was quick and O’Neill was tagged out without a slide.

The South Division put up their first run in the fourth as a slew of Battle Creek Bombers stood in at the plate.  Jimmy Tanner (Battle Creek; South Carolina-Upstate) and Josh Valle (Battle Creek; Marshall) were on base for Greg Fujii (Battle Creek; San Jose City College) whose hit knocked in Tanner.  Valle was thrown out trying to score from first.  Cody Winiarski (Madison; Madison Area Tech) pitched another scoreless inning for the South.

After yet another scoreless inning in the fifth, the Madison Mallards’ All-Stars followed Battle Creek’s lead in the sixth.  Jerrud Sabourin (Madison; Indiana) snuck a hit in between the center and right fielders for a double before Home Run Derby winner, Harold Riggins (Madison; NC State) roped a shot down the third base line for a double, scoring his teammate.  Keith Castillo made another impressive catch at first, leaping for a line drive, and after Mike Gedman (Brainerd Lakes Area; Massachusetts) replaced James Wise (Mankato; Washington State) on the mound, the North got out of the sixth inning trailing by two.  Mike O’Neill and Rance Roundy both single for the North in the bottom of the sixth, but Kurtis Muller gunned down O’Neill as he tried to score to keep the North Division off the scoreboard.

Nolan Fadness added an RBI-double in the seventh for the South, scoring Riley Henricks (Green Bay; Portland).  A wild pitch scored Kurtis Muller, still with no outs in the inning.  A groundout, strikeout swinging, and a fly out get the North out of a dangerous position, leaving Fadness on third.  The North Division still couldn’t put together a string of hits in the bottom of the seventh. A line drive straight at pitcher Bryce Shafer (Wisconsin; Valparaiso) was caught in self-defense.

The North Division finally took off in the bottom of the eighth.  A strange hop led to a Josh Valle error at third allowing Derek Hamblen to get on base.  Hamblen advanced to second on a wild pitch from Green Bay’s Dixon Anderson (California-Berkley).  Border Cat, Adam Courcha (New Mexico) recorded the first RBI for the North All-Stars after Mike O’Neill reached on an infield single.  Rance Roundy added another RBI to cut the South’s lead in half.

Drew Smith (Brainerd Lakes Area; Barton County) and Arik Sikula (Rochester; Marshall) combined for a scoreless ninth inning; Sikula with two strikeouts.  The North had some contact in the bottom of the inning but fell short with the final score of 4-2.

The victory Tuesday marks the second year in a row the South Division has won the mid-summer showcase.  These two victories follow on the heels of three straight North Division wins. 

Three weeks remain in the Northwoods League season.  The divisional series runs August 11-13 with the Championship series set for August 14-16.

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