The Best Game of the 2016 NWLA Tournament
At the 2015 NWLA Tournament, the HRL All Stars woke up on day 2 facing an elimination game against SRL. On the mound for SRL was a guy by the name of Zach Artim, who immediately stood out for his passion and intensity, as well as his sportsmanship. The HRL got to Zach that Sunday morning and won the game 5-0. Zach was visibly disappointed, but held his head high and hugged it out with each member of the HRL as he walked through the line.
At the 2016 NWLA Tournament, the HRL All Stars went 3-0 in pool play, securing the 2nd overall seed in the double elimination tournament. The HRL’s first round draw was the #15 seed, WWF (Wild Wiffleball Federation), Zach Artim’s new team. Once again, Artim took the hill against the HRL. It became quickly apparent that the evolution of Zach Artim was in full effect. He mowed down the HRL early on, pelting the board with risers, sinkers and sliders with impressive velocity. With Hardball throwing bullets for the HRL, the game quickly moved through the 4th inning in a scoreless tie.
Sensing that the HRL was in for a fight, the All Stars turned to their staff ace, Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne, to lock down the WWF bats while the HRL’s hitters worked to figure out Artim. Smallpox was dominant as usual, issuing a couple of walks before striking out the side in the 5th inning.
The sweat and eye black bled down Zach’s face, streaming into his thick beard as he continued to relentlessly work over the HRL’s hitters. As the scoreless tie moved into extra innings, I thought to myself, “Surely he’s going to wear down soon… right?” Nope, inning after inning, Zach continued to deal, showing no signs of slowing down.
Meanwhile, Smallpox began to show some visible frustration as WWF’s Doughey was repeatedly struck by Flakne’s slider, seemingly as the ball was about to hit the board. Still, Tyler continued to battle, scattering only a few hits over his many innings.
An announcement was made in the top of the 13th that this game was now the longest game in NWLA tournament history. While still throwing plenty of gas, Smallpox struggled with his control, walking two batters, bringing up Artim. Zach had shown signs throughout the game that he was beginning to figure Smallpox out, putting the ball in play several times. The buzz in the crowd grew as Zach stepped into the batter’s box. On a 2-0 count, Smallpox threw a slider over the middle of the board and Zach laced a line drive to centerfield. The ball landed well away from the HRL’s left fielder, Griz, and rolled towards the wall. Griz sprinted towards the ball, picked it up, and with his back turned, fired it toward’s the pitcher’s circle as WWF’s runners sprinted around the bases. The ball was wide of Smallpox, and when the dust had settled, Zach was standing on third base, two runs had scored, and the crowd was going crazy. Tyler would strike out the final batter, but the damage had been done. Moving into the bottom of the 13th, the score was WWF 2, HRL 0.
With victory now within his grasp, Zach worked quickly, inducing ground balls from Two Bat and Web Gem, before walking Griz, Artim’s first and only walk of the day. In a tournament so often defined by walks, walks, and walks, Artim’s Maddux like control was the most impressive pitching feat of this year’s tournament.
With two outs and Griz on first, the tying run stepped to the plate in the HRL’s Dr. Seuss. Wasting no time, Artim pelted the board with two quick strikes. Dr. Seuss fouled off several pitches, working the count to 3-2, when Zach threw a riser that soared towards the upper part of the board. Realizing at the last moment that the ball was going to go high, Dr. Seuss checked his swing, but squared the ball high to left field. Flap Jack ran to his right, and secured the ball in his hands. Zach let out a cry of a conquering hero as his WWF teammates poured onto the field to celebrate.
Zach hugged it out with each member of the HRL once again, holding his head high. Today, however, there was no disappointment on his face, only joy. I talked to Zach after the game, and told him how impressed I was with his pitching. He thanked me, then grinned from ear to ear and said, “A little different from last year, huh?” Yes it was, Zach. You kicked our ass, and we tip our caps to you.