Black Gold Comeback falls short in Black Gold Softball Classic

Pictured is Cullen Speckhals.

NEW HAVEN, Mo. - Black Gold got off to a tough start Black Gold Softball classic, (June 27 & 28) losing their first two pool play games and nearly being eliminated from their own tournament on Saturday. 

The local squad then rallied and won three straight elimination games before falling in the fourth do-or-die affair to the Pinckneyville Falcons. The Falcons, 5-0 on the weekend, won the Black Gold Classic for the 2nd consecutive year.

For the tournament, Cullen Speckhals led Black Gold with seven hits on the weekend with Brad Johnson, and Jake Murphy recording 6 hits apiece.

Matt Benz and Terry Coon led the team with 4 RBI’s each.    Eric Steinbeck pitched every inning of all 6 games for Black Gold, striking out 48 and giving up 37 hits.

Black Gold will play again in this weekend at the Nokomis Homecoming Tournament on July 11 and 12 in Nokomis, IL.  

Saturday’s Games

Kansas City Astros 1, Black Gold 0

The opening matchup was a pitching duel between Eric Steinbeck and 18-year old Australian phenom Dean Halsey. Neither team threatened until the 4th inning. Brad Johnson led off the top of the 4th for Black Gold with an infield single and was eventually stranded at second. In the bottom of the 4th, the Astros got their only two hits of the game, but they were timely.  A single from House with one out was followed by a deep triple to right by cleanup hitter Carlton, driving in House.  Steinbeck struck out the next two batters to end the threat.

In the top of the 7th, Black Gold had their best scoring chance of the game. Steinbeck led off with a single to right field with one out – the only ball that left the infield against Halsey all game.  Catcher Terry Coon reached via error, and pinch hitter Brent Schowe drew a walk to load the bases.  After a strikeout, Halsey went to a 3 ball, 0 strike count on shortstop Ben Held before recovering and eventually inducing a pop-up to the 3rd baseman to end the game.

For the game, B. Johnson had two hits and a walk, and first baseman Matt Benz walked twice.   Halsey rung up 13 strikeouts for the game, striking out the side twice. Steinbeck gave up two hits, two walks, and struck out 10.   

Boonville 9, Black Gold 2

Another great pitching matchup between Steinbeck and former USA National Team pitcher Terry Luster headlined game 2.  Black Gold got off to a lead in the bottom of the 2nd.   Cullen Speckhals singled to lead off the 2nd inning, advanced to second on a groundout, then an RBI single up the middle by designated player Benz got Black Gold on the board 1-0.  Steinbeck shut down the veteran Boonville lineup early, giving up only a two-strike opposite field single by professional hitter Kerry Shaw through 4 innings while striking out five Boonville hitters.

Things started to unravel for Black Gold in the top of the 5th.  An error, the second hit of the day by Kerry Shaw, and a walk by Kevin Shaw loaded the bases with one out.  An epic 10 pitch at-bat by 9th place hitter Vernon Gause ended with a single to left field. Another single and a Zach Shaw triple blew the game open for Boonville, making the score 5-1.  

Black Gold pulled within three after a double by Speckhals in the 6th and would then score off an RBI single from Steinbeck.   But Boonville tacked on another four runs in the top of the 7th (9-2) to put the game out of reach.     

Black Gold 5, Springfield Artisan 4 (8 innings)

Artisan Construction from Springfield came within a run of sending Black Gold home early.   

Black Gold scored in the top of the 1st inning on a triple by Held followed by a sacrifice fly by Jake Murphy. In the 3rd inning, two walks by Dean Haeffner and Held, and a single by Murphy loaded the bases with no one out.  After a groundout and a popup, Black Gold looked like they would squander the rally, but on full counts Benz and Coon both coaxed bases loaded walks out of Springfield starter Berrah Brown to make the score 3-0.

Artisan got on the board in the bottom of the 3rd with an RBI single by pitcher B. Brown to make the score 3-1.  Artisan added a run in the 5th and a run in the 6th inning, making use of their opportunities with five stolen bases, while Black Gold’s offense stalled, leaving the bases loaded in the 4th and two runners on in the 5th and 7th.

In the top of the 8th inning the international tiebreaker rule went into effect.  Held singled, moving runner Jay Daugherty to 3rd. Daugherty scored on a fielder’s choice by Murphy. C. Speckhals then drove home Held with a single, with Murphy being thrown out at the plate in a wild sequence.   In the bottom of the 8th, Burnett for Artisan singled to drive home B. Brown, but Steinbeck retired the final two hitters on a strikeout and groundout.
For Black Gold, Cullen Speckhals had 3 hits, Held and Coon had 2 hits, and Kurt Speckhals, Seth Atkins, and Murphy had one hit apiece.  Steinbeck struck out 8 in 8 innings of work, walking one. His counterpart Berrah Brown struck out 7 and walked 4 in a gutsy performance, stranding 14 Black Gold runners on base.

Saturday’s other results:

Boonville 7, Artisan 0 (6 inn) – one hitter by Terry Luster

Kelso 4, Tribe 3 – Tribe had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out in 7th but couldn’t score

Falcons 9, Wizards of Oz 2 (5 inn)

Tribe 7, Wizards of Oz 4

Astros 19, Boonville 6 (4 inn)

Falcons 3, Kelso 2

Falcons 10, Tribe 5

Kelso 10, Wizards of Oz 3 (6 inn)

Artisan 10, Astros 9 (8 inn)

Sunday’s Games

1st round bracket play - Black Gold 2, Kelso Fastpitch 0

Black Gold got on the board via a mammoth solo home run over the left field fence at Bock Field by shortstop Ben Held in the top of the 1st.  In the 4th inning,  Jake Murphy singled.  Kurt Speckhals sacrificed him to 2nd, and as Murphy pressed the issue with his speed, a throwing error by the Kelso 2nd baseman allowed him to come all the way around the bases and score.    

Those two runs were all Steinbeck would need. He scattered a double by Kelso’s Larry Eftink and singles by Clayton Eftink and catcher DeBrock, walking none, and striking out nine. A spectacular catch by centerfielder Murphy ended the game, highlighting what was possibly Black Gold’s best defensive and pitching performance of the weekend.

Kelso pitcher Tom Jansen had a similar dominant performance, giving up four hits, walking two and striking out seven. Black Gold’s only other hits were singles by Brad and Jake Johnson.

The other 1st round game was Boonville 12, Tribe 2 in 5 innings.

Semifinal - Black Gold 4, Kansas City Astros 0

Black Gold then had a rematch against the Kansas City Astros, who had a bye as a result of finishing first in their pool.  Both pitchers started the game showing no signs of fatigue, with Halsey striking out 5 of the first 6 Black Gold batters, and Steinbeck striking out 3 of the first 7 Astros.  As the game wore on, Steinbeck continued to baffle the younger Astros hitters in his fifth game of the weekend, whereas the Black Gold lineup finally was able to scratch out some runs against the younger Halsey in just his fourth game.

In the top of the 3rd, second baseman Dean Haeffner led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch.  Steinbeck reached on an error, then Cullen Speckhals drove home Haeffner and Held drove home Steinbeck on a fielder’s choice to make it 2-0.

In the 4th, Jake Murphy singled, was again sacrificed to second by Kurt Speckhals, and was later driven home by catcher Coon on a groundout to make it 3-0. The final tally came in the 6th as Brad Johnson singled and came around to score on a passed ball.

Halsey struck out 10 Black Gold hitters for the game. Murphy led the Black Gold attack with a 3 hit performance in his second look at the Australian, and Black Gold made the most of their timely singles by Haeffner, C. Speckhals, and B. Johnson. Steinbeck this time was able to scatter the Astros 4 hits this time, walking none, and striking out 11.

In the other quarterfinal, the Pinckneyville Falcons got great pitching from Bryant Hale and a timely double play in the 6th inning to hang on to beat Boonville, 2-1.

Championship – Pinckneyville Falcons 10, Black Gold 5

The championship game was a rematch of a wild, back-and-forth affair last year between the same two teams and this also did not disappoint. Black Gold went quietly in the top of the 1st.  Pinckneyville did not arrive quietly, getting five consecutive hits to start the bottom of the 1st and batting all 9 men to jump out to a 5-0 lead.  

In the 2nd designated player Terry Coon and Haeffner tried to start a two out rally with consecutive singles, but Falcons pitcher Troy Downen got a strikeout to end the threat. Meanwhile, Steinbeck came back and retired the side in order.

In the top of the 3rd, Black Gold got some two out magic to rally back into the game.  Steinbeck led off the bottom with a single, but Downen quickly retired the next two batters.  Brad Johnson and Jake Murphy loaded the bases with consecutive singles.

Pictured is the veteran Matt Benz who helped sparked Black Gold’s comeback.

Third baseman Matt Benz then lined a Downen pitch deep into the left-field corner, temporarily clearing the bases. Unfortunately for Black Gold, there is no left-field corner at Lions Field due to a gap in the fence.

After a conference, the play was correctly ruled a ground rule double, forcing Murphy to return to third and Benz to second. However, the veteran Coon stepped up again with a single to right, scoring Murphy and Benz anyway to cut the lead to 5-4.

In the bottom of the third, the Falcons leveraged two singles, a sacrifice bunt, and an old-school rundown to make the score 6-4. Both Downen and Steinbeck quieted things down in the 4th and 5th.

Second baseman Haeffner started the 6th inning with a triple, waking up the Black Gold crowd and causing the Falcons to replace pitcher Downen with Bryant Hale. A Steinbeck RBI groundout brought home Haeffner to make it a 6-5 game.

Steinbeck retired the first Falcon on a comebacker in the bottom of the 6th, but two errors and three hits later, the floodgates opened to make it a 10-5 lead for Pinckneyville. Hale retired the middle of the Black Gold lineup in the 7th to win it for the Falcons.