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SPORTS: Thrilling walkoff advances Leafs (Sept. 2022)

September 27th, 2022 · No Comments

Marcus Knecht’s bottom-of-the-ninth winner sweeps Leafs into semis

The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a walkoff win on Aug. 28. R.S. KONJEK/GLEANER NEWS

By R.S. Konjek

The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a flying start in their pursuit of the Intercounty Baseball League championship.

No image better demonstrates that than the sight of an airborne Jose Vinicio diving for home plate at Christie Pits. The Leafs’ speedy shortstop scored the game-winning run to clinch his side’s victory in its opening round series, played over the final weekend of August.

With a place in the semifinals assured, the Leafs await the outcome of other quarterfinals to determine their next opponent.

As the IBL postseason got underway, Toronto faced their longtime rivals the Barrie Baycats in a best-of-five series.

Game one took place on the evening of Friday, August 26. Having finished fourth in the regular season standings, the Leafs hosted fifth-ranked Barrie.

The game was dominated by great pitching performances on both sides. Dominican Angel Castro dueled with his counterpart Frank Garces in a game-long test of wills between the two countrymen.

The Leafs came out swinging and put three runs on the scoreboard in the first inning.  The Baycats struck right back with two runs in the second.

The score remained 3-2 as both starting pitchers battled through the opposing lineups.  Both sides got plenty of hits and baserunners, but the game was tight throughout.

Whenever Castro was not on the mound, he engaged in his other role of chief disruptor.  Seated on the bench, he rallied his teammates with a steady stream of high decibel Spanglish, cheering loudly in two languages at once. Sometimes it wasn’t even words, just exuberant whoops and shrieks that jolted Christie Pits and got under the other team’s skin.

A solo home run by Barrie tied the game 3-3 in the seventh inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, Vinicio did what he’s done all season. He slapped a single, then stole two bases in a row. The Leafs rallied for three hits and two runs in the inning.  They took a 5-3 lead, and the score held.  

Garces went the distance for Barrie and Castro returned to the mound to start the ninth.  However, he hit the first batter he faced, and Franklin Hernandez was brought in from the Leafs’ bullpen. Hernandez recorded three strikeouts to seal the opening game win.

Game two was played in Barrie the next day. The Leafs used a combination of four pitchers to limit the Baycats to three runs and won 6-3. With the victory, they were one game away from advancing with a sweep.

Game three—by far the most exciting of the series—took place at Christie Pits the following Sunday.

The Leafs got the jump on their opponents and enjoyed a 3-0 lead after the first three innings.

One swing of the bat took all the joy out of the park. Barrie’s Ryan Rijo hit a three-run homer off starter Sam Greene to tie the game.

The game was a see-saw battle. The Leafs retook the lead, then lost it again.

It all came down to the bottom of the ninth, the stuff that players and sportswriters alike dream of.

Down 6-4, the Leafs mounted a comeback rally. Two singles and a successful bunt by Vinicio loaded the bases. Barrie brought in their closer, but to no avail. Leafs first baseman Jordan Castaldo hit a single to make it a 6-5 game. Two Leafs struck out and their final hope rested on the shoulders of outfielder Marcus Knecht. With the entire ballpark on edge, Knecht connected for a two-run, game-winning, series-clinching single.  

Vinicio, on second base and representing the winning run, flew around third and raced for home. Approaching the plate, he dove through the air and landed safely. The Leafs won 7-6.

Dust, elation, flying helmets. There is no more riotous scene in baseball than a series-winning walkoff. The Leafs stormed the field to mob Knecht and spray him with water.  On the hillsides, fans cheered their heroes.

Immediately following the game, Knecht was philosophical about his approach to the high-pressure situation. “Something I have been focusing on the last couple of years is how to remain calm and how to feel good in those moments,” he said.  “I take deep breaths during games and let go of the things that may happen. I really have fun doing it.”

Thanks to Knecht’s timely stroke, the fun continues for him, his teammates and their fans.

The schedule for the Leafs’ can be found at:


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