Rawkers crush Rollers in Homegrown Kickball Classic 2023 - Perfect Duluth Day

Rawkers crush Rollers in Homegrown Kickball Classic 2023

Rohrbaugh’s Rawkers piled on five runs in the seventh inning and four more in the eighth to easily top Vaagen’s Rollers 13-4 in the 2023 Homegrown Kickball Classic at Chester Bowl. The Rawkers now lead the overall series with 12 wins in 23 games.

First-year coach Leon Rohrbaugh soaked in chants of “un-de-feat-ed” from his teammates shortly before opposing coach Ellen Vaagen doused him with her beer during their post-game hug. Vaagen, who has coached the Rollers since 2018, is now 2-3.

Before the Rawkers breakout 7th inning, the game was closely contested. Fielding errors by the Rollers eventually determined the outcome.

A mist of rain greeted players as they arrived at Chester Bowl Park shortly after noon. The weather had been cold and overcast throughout the week of the music festival, and remained that way to its conclusion. The mist, however, relented as gametime neared.

During the pre-game fellowship, Umpire Jason Beckman attempted to reassure the players of his competence by offering his stats.

“Seventy percent of the time I get 80 percent of the calls right,” he said. Then he made his first wrong call of the day, predicting a 12:20 p.m. start to the game, which is always scheduled for noon and never starts anywhere near that time.

It was 12:26 when Jen Krussow of the Rollers came jogging from the parking lot carrying the gameball.

Nick Pawlenty of the Rollers delivered the first pitch at 12:33. Jeremy Craig of the Rawkers led off with a single down the first base line and later scored when Rollers shortstop Tyler Bonam made a nice catch but stumbled over other fielders, preventing him from throwing to home to stop the tag-up run.

The Rollers answered in the bottom of the first inning. A pair of singles by Krussow and Pawlenty set up runners on first and second with no outs. Joe Sauve kicked a hard grounder to third and the play at second was too late for the force out, loading the bases.

El Karnwie-Tuah flew out to Craig for the first out, but Sauve mistakenly ran on the play and was forced out at first for the double play, putting the potential rally in jeopardy. But an infield single by Evan Hawbaker scored both Krussow and Pawlenty to give the Rollers an early 2-1 lead.

Josh Nickila started the second inning off for the Rawkers with a line-drive single. He eventually scored when a lazy fly off the toe of Mike Smišek dropped for a single, tying the game at 2-2.

The Rollers failed to answer in the second, and the Rawkers went right back to work in the top of the third. Smokin’ Chris LeBlanc led off with a single, cigarette in mouth. Steve Solkela followed with a fly down the left field line that dropped.

Craig kicked a dribbler down to Karnwie-Tuah, who took the easy play at first base for the out, then threw to Pawlenty on the mound. Solkela advanced to second on the play, but LeBlanc attempted to stay on second and, suddenly forced to try for third, was easily trapped and hugged out to complete the double play. That left the Rawkers with Solkela on second and two out.

Ryan Van Slooten booted one to second baseman Blake Reistad, who moved in on the ball, letting it pass over his head. The error allowed Solkela to score, giving the Rawkers a 3-2 lead.

The Rollers had runners reach first and second with no outs to start the bottom of the third, but three quick outs followed.

Clancy Ward led off the fourth with a fly to Chad Brown, who had it and lost it, allowing Ward to reach first. Two plays later, another fielding error by Brown set the Rawkers up with runners on first and second.

With two outs, Smišek sent a fly ball to Sauve in right field, who dropped it, allowing Ward to score and up the Rawkers lead to 4-2.

In the bottom of the fourth, Pawlenty kicked a high fly to Rich Mattson, who dropped it. Pawlenty eventually scored when Karnwie-Tuah dropped a kick down the right field line that apparently landed fair, though there was a lot of argument about it. Walking away from his detractors, Umpire Beckman remarked, “I should read a book about this stuff. People are much more knowledgeable about kickball than I am.”

The Rollers eventually loaded the bases with infield dribblers that forced the Rawkers to hold the lead runner rather than make an out at first base.

Soren Dietzel sent a fly to first that was caught for the second out. Karnwie-Tuah tried to score and was hit with the ball before reaching the plate. The aggressive baserunning resulted in a double play to end the inning, but the Rollers added a run to cut the Rawkers lead to 4-3.

Both teams had opportunities in the fifth and sixth inning, but failed to score.

Nickila led off the seventh for the Rawkers with a spinning fly down the first-base line that might have gone foul but Karnwie-Tuah attempted to field it, wisely, as he had a good opportunity to get Nickila out. But when the ball made a weird bounce Karnwie-Tuah collided with Nickila and that resulted in Nickila reaching first safely.

Baby Grant Johnson lined out to Delgado for the first out. The excellent catch prompted Nelson to stride onto the field to inspect Delgado’s hands. No illegal sticky substances were found, so the game proceeded.

Smišek kicked a high fly ball to Hannah Plourd, who missed it, sending Bryan “Lefty” Johnson chasing after the ball as Nickila headed home to score easily. Smišek landed at second, where Pawlenty accused him of having steel-plated tips on his shoes.

Nelson bunted and Delgado fielded it, but chose to hold Smišek at second. Then LeBlanc kicked a dribbler but the throw to first went wild, allowing Smišek to score. Nelson and LeBlanc added two more runs on the next play when Solkela kicked one that bounced off of Luke Nyen and caused enough confusion for Solkela to get all the way to third base.

Steve Solkela played a key role in the Rawkers two high-scoring innings.

Solkela, who performs in a one-man band, was lauded after the kick with remarks about being a “one-man kickball team.” He ended up scoring his second run when Van Slooten reached base on a bobbled grounder that should have ended the inning.

The Rawkers ended up with five runs in the seventh to pad their lead to 9-3, but umpire Beckman miscounted and shouted out that the score was 8-3.

“The way homeboy is counting we might be in good shape,” Karnwie-Tuah said in an effort to cheer up his team.

Scott “Starfire” Lunt finally showed up around 1:30 p.m., just before the seventh-inning stretch. The traditional pause in the game failed to have the carnival atmosphere it has had in the past, largely due to the absence of the Wrong Notes Pep Band, which canceled its performance due to subpar weather and a desire by its members to “catch up on naps.”

The Rollers huddled during the break to strategize. “Spin the ball,” was among the general pieces of advice bandied about. “Keep it on the ground because they are good at catching,” was a more practical recommendation. “Yell random shit to confuse them,” was a third strategy.

Krussow led off the bottom of the seventh with a liner to Solkela at second, who pompously stuck out his chest and faced the first-base line with a smirk to taunt the Rollers.

“Go back to the Range,” Starfire shouted in response, but the inning was quickly over with no retaliation on the scoreboard.

Although the Rawkers rally in the previous inning was more about the Rollers fielding errors, coach Vaagen nonetheless pulled Pawlenty off the mound in the eighth in favor of longtime Roller pitcher Lefty Johnson, who had showed up to the game late.

“I need a veteran pitcher to step in,” Pawlenty said, hoping Lefty’s presence could spark a comeback.

The change in hurlers had little effect, however. Nickila sent a fly ball bouncing off Nyen to start the inning on yet another error. Baby Grant Johnson followed up with a dribbler that he barely beat out, tripping over first base and landing on his face — a move that would later be referred to as “sliding.”

“I’m OK, I just wanted to be safe,” Johnson announced.

“Get him a beer bong, he’ll be fine,” Nelson shouted from the Rawker side of the field.

Smišek booted a solid single, but Nickila was beaned out at third. Then Nelson kicked to right field where it bounced off Sauve. That loaded the bases for LeBlanc, who sent a grounder to second allowing Johnson to score, sliding for the fourth time.

“Did you slide at every base?” Pawlenty asked, wondering if it might be the first time in Homegrown kickball history a player had slid for the cycle.

The one-man kickball team made his return to the plate with the bases loaded and did not disappoint. Solkela sent yet another fly ball out in the field to be dropped, allowing Smišek to score. Craig booted a line drive on the next play, scoring Nelson and keeping the bases loaded.

Van Slooten’s hard grounder was fielded but thrown into the woods. LeBlanc scored, but Solkela froze on third. Umpire Beckman declared it a dead ball and did not allow the runners to advance. This ended up costing the Rawkers a run when Lefty scooped up a grounder and made an easy play to end the inning.

The Rawkers had amassed a 13-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.

Karnwie-Tuah led off with a flyball triple for the Rollers and eventually scored, but that was all the offense the Rollers could muster. The Rawkers threatened to score in the ninth, but instead stranded two runners.

The game ended with the Rawkers on top 13-4.

The Rawkers celebrate their kickball victory.

In a post-game huddle, the Rollers anointed Pawlenty as the team’s new legacy pitcher, retiring Lefty. Coach Ellen Vaagen declared Krussow the team’s most valuable player, because “every team gets an MVP.”

Members of Vaagen’s Rollers pose for a team photo following their loss.

The unofficial official kickball commission would ultimately award the overall MVP honor to Solkela, who reached base four times, scored twice, and was solid in the field.

Those stats stood in contrast to Solkela’s visible bewilderment throughout much of the game.

“I don’t even know what sport this is,” Solkela said while pacing the sidelines in the fifth inning. He then suddenly realized his team was in the field and he was not, so he muttered “oh, shit” and bolted off like he had left a baby in the bathtub with the water running.

And that’s the stuff kickball MVPs are made of.

Rohrbaugh’s Rawkers team photo by Kaylee Matuszak via Instagram.

1 Comment

Helmut Flaag

about 1 year ago

Never gets old.

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