|BRAKETTES PREVAIL WITH MIRACULOUS COMEBACK
It has been called one of softball's most remarkable comebacks. You had to be there to believe it. There were those in attendance who still don't believe it.
Last August 24th (1991) at the Borg-Warner Complex in Decatur, Illinois, the Raybestos Brakettes added another chapter to their illustrious history by staging a miraculous come-from-behind victory to capture the 22nd National A.S.A. Championship in the club's history.
After being knocked into the loser's bracket earlier in the week, the Brakettes were faced with the prospect of winning five straight games against the most formidable opposition in the game.
They responded like the true champions they are. As the television commercial proclaims, the Brakettes did it the hard way, "they earned it!" That may be the understatement of all time.
Raybestos was so close to extinction that members of the tournament committee already had the trophy table primed for a quick entry onto the infield. After all, the Brakettes were down to their last strike and several hundred fans had made their way to the parking lot.
The California Knights, who had stunned the Brakettes 1-0 in the semifinals of the winner's bracket, could almost taste the championship. Lefty Lori Harrigan had retired the first two hitters and had No. 9 batter Doreen Denmon dangling with two strikes on her. Denmon fouled off four pitches before lining a double to right field. Michelle Palmer came in to run.
Rather than walk Dot Richardson, the Knights elected to pitch to her. Richardson, one of the game's most feared hitters, especially in clutch situations, delivered an 0-2 single to left-center to drive in Palmer with the tying run in the bottom of the seventh.
The miracle the Brakettes had been waiting for had arrived. After working out of trouble in the next two innings, Brakette hurler Lisa Fernandez became the winning pitcher as Jill Justin gapped a single to right-center to score Dionna Harris from first base with the gamer. Justin's hit also came with two outs.
Even before the "if" game began, there were no doubts that the Brakettes were going to cap their unbelievable climb through the loser's bracket.
And with veteran Kathy Arendsen taking the mound for Raybestos, it was impossible to find anyone willing to bet the ranch on the Knights.
Fernandez and Karen Walker delivered RBI singles as the Brakettes jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Sheila Cornell's 10th home run of the year made it 3-0. Harris' RBI double and Pat Dufficy's two-run homer provided Arendsen with a 6-0 cushion. Dufficy, who tied a tourney record with her third home run, crushed a seventh-inning solo shot and the final run crossed on a wild pitch as the Brakettes won the crown with the 8-0 triumph.
While that game proved to be a laugher, it was the only one the Brakettes had in the 27-team tournament.
In getting off to a 3-0 start, each outing was pressure packed for Manager Ralph Raymond's club. He entered the event minus left-fielder Justin, who had pulled a groin muscle prior to the Pan American Games in Cuba. She was only used as a designated hitter.
After a 2-1 win over Avanti's of East Peoria, Ill., with Cheri Kempt striking out 14, the Brakettes beat regional rival Plymouth, Ma., Blue Wave 5-1. In that game they lost second baseman Julie Standering with a broken wrist. Barbara Reinalda was the winner. It was her 43rd National tourney win.
In the quarterfinals, the Brakettes needed a dramatic seventh-inning home run by Cornell to edge the Sunbirds of Phoenix. Arendsen allowed one hit and struck out seven.
The Knights, a second-year club, collected two of their four hits in the bottom of the seventh to beat Fernandez 1-0 in the semifinals. Fernandez, the MVP of the Pan Am Games with a 5-0 record, had struck out 11 batters before surrendering the winning single.
Once in the loser's bracket, the Brakettes had to eliminate the entire California delegation to repeat as champions
Kempf, who had three tourney wins, stopped the Orange Majesties 4-1 before Arendsen got the victory in a 7-2 nod over Michelle Granger and the Whittier Raiders. Raybestos trailed 1-0 against the Majesties and Debbie Doom, and 2-0 against Granger. But they rallied in both games.
In a rematch of the 1990 finale, the Redding Rebels jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the second. However, the Brakettes fought back and went ahead with a six-run fifth inning. Kris Schmidt drew a bases-loaded walk to give Raybestos a 6-5 lead and Fernandez, the tourney's Outstanding Player, doubled to right for two more.
Reinalda, who compiled a 20-0 season record, was victimized by two errors and left early. Kempf (19-0) relieved and got credit for the win with Fernandez coming in to pick up a save.
Arendsen won the Bertha Tickey Award as the top pitcher in the event and was one of five first-team All-Americas. She was joined by Fernandez, first baseman Cornell, shortstop Richardson, and outfielder Schmidt.
In finishing the year with a 64-2 record, the Brakettes had secured their third title in the past four years. During that time the team has a combined 279-14 record. Since 1958, the Brakettes have won 22 championships and finished runnerup 10 times.
Last August in Decatur was a perfect example of it's never over until it's over. The fat lady never got the chance to sing!