After a fourth place finish at the ASA National Tournament less than two weeks prior, the Circle Tap Dukes men’s fastpitch team travelled over the border to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada–one hour southwest of Toronto–for the International Softball Congress (ISC) World Tournament.
The Dukes were ranked fifth going into the biggest tournament of the year behind the 2017 world champion, top-seeded Hill United Chiefs, the #2 New York Gremlins, #3 and host team Hallman Chiefs, and #4 J&B Bombers from Los Angeles.
With several powerhouses assembling a roster to represent the little town of Denmark, Wis., (which will be hosting next year’s World Tournament) it felt to many as though new heights were destined to be reached.
GODOY GOES WILD
The Dukes’ competition began Sun., Aug. 12, against the Shakespeare Falcons of Ontario, Canada.
Circle Tap pitcher Roman Godoy had a terrific tournament overall, and began in great fashion by throwing a complete game and striking out 11 batters, his high for the tournament. The Dukes’ offense backed him up with a tournament-high of their own: the Denmark bats brought in 16 runs in the opening matchup, including a 10-run sixth inning which broke the game wide open for Circle Tap’s opening win.
Zane Vanlieshout finished 2-for-2 at the plate, scoring three runs while Matt Ratliff was 3-for-4 and scored two along with a game-high five RBI.
The following Monday game featured an entertaining back-and-forth contest with the Elmira Expos of Elmira, Ontario, Canada.
The Dukes got on the board in the top of the first inning, as Blair Ezekiel hit a two-run shot to give the Denmark squad an early lead.
Godoy was exceptional once more, allowing only one hit through his first three innings, en route to a six-strikeout, eight hit finish.
Elmira grabbed the lead in the fourth inning, grabbing four runs throughout the third and the fourth. It was the sixth when Circle Tap regained the lead, as Manuel Godoy hit a leadoff homer, while Leo Latasa hit a two-run shot later in the inning. The Dukes expanded on their lead with a two-run seventh inning, keeping their tournament rolling with a 7-4 win.
Godoy was playing with an extra chip on his shoulder, as he lost his grandfather following their win over the Expos. Despite the emotional battle, Godoy used it as extra energy on the field.
“He was lights out. He was throwing hard, the rise ball was moving, the dipper was moving, he used the changeups effectively. He just had everything going.
“He played with some extra desire.”
It was Tuesday’s game that would prove to be the biggest test so far during the ISCWT for the Dukes, as they matched up with the home team, the Hallman Twins. The Dukes were 0-2 on the year against the Twins.
That’s where Godoy and company showed that they were there to play. Godoy tossed a complete game, three-hitter, striking out eight batters in a shutout victory. Tyler Dudley was 1-for-3 with an RBI, but he gave Godoy all the credit for the upset.
“I think beating the Twins on Tuesday in front of their home crowd, that was what started everything,” said Dudley. “To have our bats come together and have Roman, that’s when we knew we were in store for a special week.”
A special week is exactly what was in store. For Dudley, though, it was a painful one.
With that win, the Dukes got Wednesday off. On Thursday, they were paired up against the reigning world champion Hill United Chiefs, a team CT has never defeated. The Chiefs have reigned atop the ISC four of the last five years.
Dudley, Circle Tap’s leader in home runs on the year with 13, would be shut down as a defenseman halfway through that battle. Dudley popped his shoulder out of the socket for the fifth time since 2010. That led him to the emergency room to get his shoulder popped back into place and be told that surgery was inevitable in the near future.
Circle Tap head coach Dean Kane knew how big of a blow losing Dudley was, but didn’t undermine what his team was still capable of without him.
“He’s easily one of the best hitters in the game. He’s been all-world before, he’s been one of our most consistent hitters, and he’s one of our best team guys when we’re talking about different approaches and giving everybody tips,” said Kane. “This is his fifth time with shoulder separation and now a torn labrum.
“It wasn’t easy to see him leave early.”
Even without their top power hitter, the Dukes pulled the unthinkable upset, knocking off Hill United, 3-1.
Adam Folkard, who is debatably the most dominant pitcher in the game, was just that. Allowing only three hits, but six base on balls, gave Circle Tap all they needed. As exhaustion set in down the stretch, Folkard broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning, allowing a leadoff single and walking three batters in four at-bats, 2-1 lead. It was then an incredible base running maneuver by Denmark native Derrick Umentum, who was at third base with one out. Guillermo Patat drove a line drive to the outfield, while all three base runners tagged up. Umentum quickly scored from third, beating what was a double play ball at second base which ended the inning, still giving CT a two-run cushion going into the final inning of play.
Godoy, again, had ice in his veins, pitching his way to three outs in just four at-bats, landing the Dukes a date with the New York Gremlins in the winner’s bracket championship.
IN THE ROAD
The Gremlins, who had beaten the Dukes three times already this season heading into Friday’s matchup, allowed history to repeat itself. Offensively, New York outpowered Circle Tap, leading to a 6-1 victory and forcing the Dukes to fight their way back to the championship game.
It was Saturday afternoon’s rematch between the 2018 host team and the 2019 host team that would determine who would have a shot for the world title later that day.
“We went in with nothing to lose, the same attitude we’ve always had,” said Kane. “We believed in ourselves and we truly believed we had a shot at them.”
A shot at them proved true, and a two-run shot over the fence in the bottom of the sixth inning by Blair Ezekiel gave the Dukes a 2-1 go-ahead victory and a punched ticket to the world championship game rematch against the Gremlins.
Ezekiel was a first-team tournament selection, along with Roman Godoy, Manuel Godoy, and Daniel Dalton.
Kane’s mantra all year long has been players stepping up, and Ezekiel was a prime example of just that.
“Blair has a couple world titles under his belt, he’s been a phenomenal batter most of the year,” Kane said. “He stepped up, hitting that two-run homer to put us in the championship game.”
The Gremlins and Dukes matched up in fastpitch softball’s biggest game of the year on Saturday night.
New York’s Andrew Kirkpatrick, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, was nothing short of outstanding in the final game of the year. He allowed only five hits, striking out 13 Circle Tap batters, and leading the Gremlins the a world title in a 8-1 victory.
The Dukes, though, finished with their best place in team history, surpassing 2005’s third place finish and 2004’s fourth.
Overall, a successful year for a team with a lot of question marks as the season commenced that became exclamation points as it concluded.
“We exceeded that best finish [from 2005] and it was super cool to be apart of it,” said Tyler Dudley.
The Dukes now gear up for the summer of 2019, where they will host two of the biggest tournaments: the annual Boys of Summer tournament and 2019 ISC World Tournament.
“The Boys of Summer tournament has been my favorite tournament since 2012 when I first played in it,” said Dudley. “To play in front of so many people that know softball and interact with softball from the Denmark, Green Bay, and Kimberly areas is so cool.”
Of course, though, nothing beats the biggest tournament of the year.
“If you want to know the truth, I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt and I have goosebumps just thinking of the world tournament,” said Dudley. “At Boys of Summer, that’s the best atmosphere. I can’t even imagine and fathom the atmosphere that will be after the opening ceremonies [of the ISCWT] next year.”
Kane is expecting huge crowds and huge results for the home facilities and team next year.
“We are absolutely beyond excited about it,” said Kane. “Kitchener has an amazing fastpitch following there. Our game against the home team there was 3,500 to 4,000 people there. We think we can almost double some of those just because of the amazing support we get in Denmark.”
Before that, Dudley will head to Prague to represent the United States and even Denmark–the country–in some world tournament action to conclude his summer of softball.
With the best finish in the 23 years of Circle Tap softball apart of the ISC, Kane is extremely optimistic.
“Bringing the world tournament to Denmark and the Green Bay-area is something we’ve never seen.
“It’s going to be amazing.”