Fans may have been treated to the Atlas Dewatering North Stars of old in the early innings of game three of the Rick McDonald Fastball League final on Monday night in Azilda, but it was the old North Stars that had to hold on for dear life late against the upstart Bisons.
Building up a 7-0 lead through the first few innings, largely on the back of two-run homers from both Trevor Cain and Jesse St Cyr, the Stars looked every bit the team that dominated the RMFL for an entire decade, completing their ten-year championship run in 2016.
But as witnessed by the final score of 10-8, a win for the North Stars that gives the veteran crew a two to one series lead, there are perhaps a few more chinks in the armour than a few years ago.
"We can't get into a slo-pitch game with these guys," said Cain, after the game. "If we're into a 20-20 game, that is not going to be a good spot for us. They're too young, too athletic for us. We were trying to tighten up our defense."
The Stars took a 7-3 lead into the fifth, when Ricky Smith plated a pair of runners with a triple, closing the gap to 7-5. Looking to regain the league banner for the first time in four years, Atlas answered in the bottom of the fifth.
An RBI double by Curtis "Chopper" Marks got one run back, with the four run advantage restored when Marks, who went 3/4 on the night, came around to score on a wild pitch.
Yet even as the game seesawed aback and forth, there wasn't a lot of extra breathing room until winning pitcher Peter McKenzie registered a called strikeout to close out the game.
"All the credit to them," said Cain. "They're a bunch of young guys who haven't played a lot of fastball. It's good to see people coming up, we need more of that."
Born and raised in the area, Cain had moved away when he was 18, returning north some five years ago and jumping right back into the mix in the local fastball scene. Despite hitting a round-tripper in each of the three games of the final to date, the part-time catcher suggested he still hasn't found his groove.
"To be honest, we've only had 10 or 11 at-bats," he said. "I still don't feel right up there. I'm concentrating more on just calling a good game behind the plate and hoping I hit a ball or two. The rest of the guys will whack it all over the place."
"Player catcher takes away from my hitting, for sure, because it takes my legs away a little," Cain continued. "I'm not as young as I used to be. The nice thing, though, on a night like this, it helps me stay warm."
"It kind of balances out, I suppose."
The second game of the evening proved every bit as entertaining as the first, despite a final score that would see the Drillers bounce the Garson Hounds 10-4, also securing a 2-1 lead in their consolation best of five affair.
In fact, the teams were tied at 4-4, heading to the seventh inning, when the Drillers erupted for six runs. The rally was kicked off with two out, when Todd Parsons ripped a triple. Mix in a few run scoring singles and close things off with a two-run triple by Jeremy Welsh, and the victory was secured.
Garry Lamothe earned the win on the mound for the Drillers. Game four in both series are set for Thursday night (September 24th) at the Rick McDonald Memorial Field.