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Local team takes 3rd place in NAGAAA gay softball world series

Editor's Note: This article was first published on Friday, September 9, 2011, at our media partner, Gay San Diego. We are re-publishing the article in full.

Five teams from San Diego made the trek to Chicago for the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance World Series of softball Aug. 29 to Sept. 3. One team nearly made history, while three of the five teams earned top 10 finishes, giving San Diego reason to be especially proud.

Congratulations to Hillcrest Pharmacy’s Aftershock in the D division for qualifying for its first-ever World Series berth. The boys managed one win in double elimination, but the experience will make them much tougher in 2012. Bourbon Street’s Krush struggled at first, and then thrilled everyone with four wins in a row before finally falling out of the tournament. They earned ninth place in the D division.

Flicks Lawmen—powerful as they were all year—did not have it this week and won just one game in double elimination. The Bamboo Lounge Outlaws continued their usual tournament success with a ninth place finish in the large C division, a tremendous accomplishment.

My team, the Loft, had the B division buzzing with our terrific play. In Chicago, our defense and timely hitting nearly propelled us to the title game before ultimately settling for third place.

Pool play began Tuesday and finished Wednesday, with everyone scheduled to play two games each day. When the Loft’s schedule came out Monday, we noticed we received the dreaded 7:50 a.m. wake-up game, subsequently nixing late night partying for most. While some teams limit their social experience more than others, going out to Boystown to party with 3,000 players is as much a part of the World Series experience as the games are.

Not only were we playing early, but we were also facing our nemesis, the Killer B’s from Los Angeles. That talented team has had its way with San Diego teams over the past several years, so a good start was imperative. The Loft came out firing. After a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the first, we put up six runs in our half of the frame, and then followed with an 11-run second inning, ultimately “run-ruling” the B’s, 18-3. Albert Valenzuela fell a single short of the cycle, while Chris Rice set the table by going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI.

Our second game featured a wild final inning that left the Loft and Dallas Assault tied at 10-10. Ahead 10-4 midway through the game, we retired the first batter of the sixth inning. Then Dallas began to pile on the hits. With the bases loaded, the Loft committed several “Bad News Bear” type of errors on a single play, allowing Dallas to tie the game as time expired.

Stunned by our implosion, we got together that evening as a team with our sponsor, Andy Clark from the Loft. After a dinner and drinks tab of nearly $2,000, the team was ready to get back at it the next day.

Defense was the name of the game on Wednesday, as we hammered Chicago Downtown Bar & Restaurant 17-4 in our first game. Game two featured a crisp 7-1 victory over the Seattle Vendetta. All told, at three wins, zero losses and one tie, we were confident we would be among the top seeds and receive a favorable draw.

The real action begins on Thursdays at every World Series. Lose on Thursday, and you are not only done for the day, but you are one loss away from elimination. San Diego B teams have been notorious for coughing up their first game regardless of pool play success. We drew the DC Disturbance, a team our second baseman, Larry Chipps, played on years ago.

DC’s first four hitters reached home safely, bringing in three runs, but as was true all year, the Loft never panics when we fall behind. We came back with three runs of our own in the first, shut them out the rest of the way, and went on to win 7-3.

The victory set us up with a midday game against the Portland Assault, one of the stronger-hitting teams in the division. This game provided our first gut check, as we fell behind 6-1 in the third inning. We chipped away at the lead, tying it at 6-6. Portland added a run in the fifth, which we matched. Time expired in the sixth inning, and we kept them off the board.

I led off the sixth with a single, and brought in the speedy Justin “Juicy” Webb to run for me. Carlos Santiago singled to get Juicy to second base. We were a hit away from a huge comeback victory, and other teams were lined up watching the action.

Up stepped my college buddy, Jake Wheeler, who lined a ball that deflected off the third baseman’s glove and trickled away. Juicy rounded third and raced across the plate as the winning run in what was the most exciting game of our tournament, an 8-7 victory.

With only two hours of rest from the sweltering heat, we then had to play Chicago’s other team, Spin. A back-and-forth affair was tied at 5-5 until the sixth, when we punched through five runs to take what should have been an insurmountable lead. Spin returned with the same fire, and they plated four runs, leaving two runners on with two outs. We survived with a 10-9 victory and were still undefeated.

Thursday’s success led us to face that old rival again, the Killer B’s, on Friday. We were both undefeated.

Again we put up three runs in the first inning to take the lead. By this point, San Diego’s Flicks C team was done for the day and sent a contingent of supporters to cheer us on. They were loud in the stands as we flashed the leather all over the place. Diving catches by Jim Lebaron in right field and Rice in right-center helped sink the B’s once again. We scratched out a 7-2 victory that had us thinking about the title. We knew we were guaranteed at least third place by this point.

Unfortunately, this is where the Loft’s Cinderella story comes to an end. The Boston Alley Gators, eventual champions, took it to us in a 13-1 romp. On Saturday, we faced the Nashville Cyclones, and our bats stayed silent while our gloves faltered in a 14-3 loss. We were a tired, beat-up team, but we still had much to be proud of. Our third place finish was the best by a San Diego team in any division since 2001, when Rich’s took second in the B division in San Francisco.

What made the week so incredible was that our San Diego teams won every way possible and everyone contributed. On and off the field, these teams had a blast, win or lose. San Diego as a whole has a lot to be proud of. Three top-ten finishes out of five teams is a feat few cities can boast.

Jeff Praught is a regular sports contributor for both the Gay San Diego print edition and gay-sd.com.