B.A.L.L. First Round Complete

B.A.L.L. games are getting played at a slower rate than I’d like, but I reach the end of the first round enjoying the project and eager to continue. My original schedule called for the season to conclude by Halloween, but Christmas is looking more reasonable.

B.A.L.L.’s triple-elimination format and best-of-five scheduling has made every contest feel like a playoff series, lending importance even to match-ups of teams expected to bring up the rear. Even with three of four series ending 3-1, none of the brackets felt like stinkers. The series are generating good narrative reports. The big highlight of the first round was Wildredo Dzalio’s no-hitter — a signature event that some leagues never experience, while B.A.L.L. was blessed in its second game. An auspicious debut!

Anticipating that a slim stat set will make it difficult to determine league leaders, I’ve been awarding player-of-the-game honors after each contest, to guide selection of an end-of-year B.A.L.L. Stars team. And of course I am still keeping stats, for whatever that is worth — iScore makes it pretty easy.

Here’s how the bracket looks exiting the first round:

And because baseball must always have standings, I’ve done those, as well:

The standings are a little wonky, owing to the uneven number of games, and the absence of the top four seeds in the league from early results — but these are features, not bugs. With teams dropped from the league after losing three series, teams will not play an equal number of games or anything approaching a balanced schedule. Still, There Must Be Standings.

B.A.L.L. will resume in a week or two, with the El Centro Imperials, Portland Beavers, Santa Cruz Crabs, and Ventura Gulls making their 2021 debuts against the winners of the first round.

Bears Beat Tigers in B.A.L.L. Backyard Brawl

Tony Mazza’s ninth-inning solo shot is the difference as the Bears take the opener, 2-1 … Bears never recover from giving up two errors — and a three-run shot to Grant Eagle — in the first inning … Manny Fasero drove in seven with a pair of homers as the Bears roared back in a blowout … Bears chase Fresno starter Kurt Meacham in the third, but homeruns from Mickey Pettis and Bud Law let the Tigers roar back to even the series … Unheralded prospect Felipe Soto picks up the win, one of three Bears pitchers combining for the shutout to propel Merced to the series win.

With Fresno and Merced just an hour apart by freeway, Tigers-Bears is B.A.L.L.’s Backyard Brawl, and this series did not disappoint, being the only first-round pairing to go the full five games. Merced may not pass the “eye test” — especially their pitching — but some timely hitting was enough to take the series from the favored Tigers. Merced moves on to face the Portland Beavers, while Fresno will try to get on track against the loser of the Crabs-Silver Sox series which will kick off the season’s second round.

Aces Storm Back Against Solons

Solons bats pound out ten runs after Sacramento was forced into an unexpected bullpen day, with starter Charlie Guerrero a late scratch after reporting tightness during warmups … Ronnie Cyr had a 3-run bomb as the Aces evened the series on the road … Reese Bonneberger has his second save in as many appearances as the fired-up Aces took the series lead at home … Aces make it three straight to close out the series, behind a couple hits from BoBo Brzozowski; the big rookie has become an instant legend with the Las Vegas fans, hitting .312 and happily going about his business despite some ragged play in the field.

The Aces become the first lower seed to advance from the opening round. Las Vegas will take on Ventura in the second round, while the Solons will have to fight their way out of the lower bracket.

Bards Eclipse Moons

Melido Ortiz strikes out nine over an efficient seven innings in the win over Mesa … Truman Kenoyer hangs on for the white knuckle save by picking off Hector Avellaneda at second to end it; Bards win both at home … Josh Bell and Jim Funderburk shock Bards with back-to-back homers in the eighth for a come-from-behind win, on a day when five bombs found the seats at the City Suburban Sportsdome … Bards closed out the series with Truman Kenoyer collecting his second save; Moons batting only .157 after four games.

Bards advance to a second-round match with the El Centro Imperials, while the Moons drop down to the Loser Bracker (which, sadly for Mesa fans, feels appropriate).

Silver Sox Take B.A.L.L. Opening Series From Otters

Sox come from behind to win in the tenth on Horace Runyon’s bases-loaded dribbler … Wildredo Dzialo no-hits the Silver Sox, striking out seven and getting an assist from left fielder Blake Mullinix, who preserved the no-no with a diving catch in the eighth! … Sox win a fifteen-inning grinder in Cambria, scoring three in the top of the inning and surviving a two-run blast in the bottom to pull it out … Sox take the series with a 11-2 laugher, in a game best remembered for a breakout inning against Cambria starter Cristian Mercado, enabled by home plate umpire Gary Rifferberger’s wobbly strike zone.

Silver Sox will face the top-seeded Santa Cruz Crabs in their next series, while the Otters enter the B.A.L.L. Loser Bracket.

BULLETIN: Dzialo No-Hits The Silver Sox!

Cambria’s Wildredo Dzialo put his new league on the map by no-hitting the Reno Silver Sox in B.A.L.L.’s second game. Dzialo struck out seven while walking four, and got some help from left fielder Blake Mullinix, who preserved the no-no with a sliding catch in the eighth. 

Dzialo’s personal crisis came much earlier in the game, when a pair of walks and an error loaded the bases for Reno to start the third inning. But Wildredo came back to retire the top of the Sox lineup — Kyle Drees, Trevor Boston, and Kent Brunner — with lineups, popups, and a room-service groundball to shortstop Kogi Hirota to get out of the jam.

While the Great Western Lightning League had multiple perfect games, those were seven-inning contests, while Dzialo’s gem was a regulation nine-inning affair. That makes Dzialo’s feat the first full no-hitter in Distant Replay history, and only the second such result rolled by this author in forty years of sports gaming!

PLAY B.A.L.L.!

Baseball returns to Distant Replay with the Baseball America Lightning League (B.A.L.L.). A top-to-bottom reorganization of the Great Western Lightning League, B.A.L.L. is now fully affiliated with Plaay’s Baseball America, which will handle all rosters and player movement for the league.

B.A.L.L. returns nine teams from the Great Western Lightning League, with the Las Vegas Wranglers now the Las Vegas Aces. Two new teams — the Portland Beavers and the Ashland Bards — extend the league north into Oregon.

The twelve-team B.A.L.L. will play a unique triple-elimination schedule where teams square off in best-of-five series, with outcomes sorting teams into “winner” and “loser” brackets. 

League seeding is determined by Plaay, with the Santa Cruz Crabs, Portland Beavers, Ventura Gulls, and El Centro Imperials earning first-round byes. B.A.L.L. estimates this format will yield approximately 125 regular-season games, with the league’s final two teams playing around 25 games each — and every game should be meaningful, as a team’s season ends with their third series defeat!

B.A.L.L. will use History Maker Baseball, with the following league rules, several of which depart from the Great Western Lightning League:

  • Pitchers hit.
  • Nine-inning games.
  • Five man rotations, rotation carries over between series.
  • Full-star relievers may appear up to three times per-series; open-star relievers can appear twice.
  • Teams may make one roster move after a losing series.
  • Roll for each clubhouse’s mood once before each series.
  • Winner Bracket teams are semi-harmonious, Loser Bracket teams are semi-dissonant.
  • Divide injury outcomes by five, and they cannot exceed length of current series.
  • TFNs are for current series only.

Series One matches the eighth seeded Reno Silver Sox against the ninth-seeded Cambria Otters. Games start immediately!

NHL 2KO 2020-21 North SCRAMBLE

1) Montreal 1, Calgary 0 (2 OT): Both teams were sluggish after the long layoff, though this might have ended early if not for a pair of spectacular saves from Jacob Markstrom. As it was, it took three minutes into a second overtime before Montreal scored in a 5-on-3 Powerplay, with Josh Anderson scoring on the wrister.

2) Winnipeg 5, Ottawa 1: Winnipeg spotted the Senators the first goal, then five different Jets scored the rest of the way against a punchless Ottawa squad.

3) Edmonton 4, Vancouver 1: Edmonton might have doubled that tally if not for a highlight reel showing by Canucks’ goalie Thatcher Demko. Darnell Nurse had the first goal of the game and played a solid defensive game in his own zone.

4) Toronto 4, Montreal 3: Carey Price kept the Habs in it, but Toronto overcame their first round jinx with a win against their arch-rivals, with a goal on a rebound scrum from Willian Nylander proving the difference.

5) Winnipeg 4, Edmonton 3: Jets score twice in the final three minutes to beat the perpetually-perpexing Oilers. Mason Appleton’s second goal of the tournament proved the difference.

6) Vancouver 3, Ottawa 2 (2 OT): Canucks did their best to give it away, surrendering two goals — including a short-hander — in the third period to send the game to overtime. Brock Boeser pulled it out for Vancouver with a power play tally mid-way through the second overtime. Ottawa is the first team out of the North Scramble.

7) Calgary 4, Edmonton 3: Tight game that seemed headed to overtime before Keller Yamamoto was whistled for tripping with a bit more than minutes to go. Sixty seconds after that and Elias Lindholm tipped home a power play goal; a minute after THAT and the Oilers were headed for the golf course.

8) Vancouver 4, Montreal 1: Brock Boesser may have lost his fight to Josh Anderson, but his power play goal — one of two on the night for Vancouver — proved the third-period tipping point in a game where Montreal completely melted down. The low-light was an ungly tomahawking high stick penalty against Ben Chiarot, who was assessed a match penalty (and will face discipline from the Distant Replay league office).

9) Winnipeg 4, Toronto 2: Opening of the tournament’s Final Four saw the Leafs make the least of their home-ice advantage. Toronto made it interesting with a pair of goals in the final period before Josh Morrissey salted it away for Winnipeg with an empty-netter, marking the end of a solid two-way effort for the Jets. Leafs drop into the loser bracket while Winnipeg now needs to win just one more game to claim the North Scramble.

10) Calgary 4, Vancouver 2: Canucks score the first two goals, then lose in a devastating late sequence in the second period, capped by Mark Giordano’s short-handed goal at the buzzer. Calgary stays alive with the come-from-behind victory to earn a trip to Toronto.

11) Calgary 4, Toronto 3 (OT): Torment for the Leafs as they allow two goals in the third period, then fall in overtime when Freddie Andersen couldn’t manage what would have been a spectacular save on Johnny Gadreau’s wrister. Jacob Markstrom came up huge for the Flames, with a highlight reel save at the end of overtime to preserve Calgary’s chance for victory.

12) Winnipeg 4, Calgary 0: The Jets cruised to victory in a game characterized by frequent lulls and ill-disciplined play by the Flames, with Matthew Tkachuk off the ice for much of the third period after receiving a misconduct for arguing with the referee. Winnipeg’s Conner Hellebuyck was perfect in net to bring Winnipeg their first championship since their WHL days!

Consistency and tight defense carried the Winnipeg Jets to the North Scramble title. Led by Conner Hellebuyck”s 1.50 GAA, and an offense scoring more than four goals per game, the Jets had an easy time of it in this tournament, with only their late comeback against Edmonton in the second round really putting the team to the test. Winnipeg got deep production from their lineup (Andrew Copp had two goals and two assists for a third line scoring nine points), while Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey added offense from the blue line when not keeping the slot clear for Hellebuyck.

And so the Winnipeg Jets claim the North Scramble of the 2020-21 NHL 2KO tournament, joining the Colorado Avalanche in a prospective “Final Four” … if the tournament continues. If.

NHL 2KO 2020-21 West Scramble

West division teams compete in a double-elimination tournament. Can the Vegas Golden Knights continue their hot play from the First Four tourney? Teams seeded by regular-season records.

Game results:

1) Colorado 4, Anaheim 2: Avalanche in command throughout in a game that wasn’t so close as the score would indicate. Colorado gets seven points from their top line.

2) St. Louis 3, Arizona 2 (2 OT): Heartbreaker for Arizona as Coyotes allow tying goal in dying minutes of regulation, then lose in overtime on Sammy Blais after Darcy Kuemper failed to control the rebound.

3) Los Angeles 8, Minnesota 1: Kings jump all over Kappo Kahkonen, scoring six against the Wild’s #2 goalkeeper before he was pulled in the second period. Drew Doughty keyed the blowout upset with four assists from the blue line.

4) San Jose 6, Vegas 3: Upsets continue in the bottom of the first round as the Sharks out-physicaled Vegas on their own ice. Evander Kane led the way for San Jose with a pair of goals on a night that saw his first line collect seven points.

5) Arizona 5, Anaheim 1: Ducks score first before allowing five straight goals in an undisciplined performance — Anaheim allowed two goals on major penalties, and another on a penalty shot. Coyotes stay alive while Ducks are first to exit the scramble.

6) Vegas 4, Minnesota 2: Shades of the old SDHL as top seeds meet in a sudden, do-or-die contest. And it was Wild that did the dying, with a listless performance that titled Vegas more than the outcome would indicate. An 0-2 exit for the #3 seed Wild may well be the poorest performance we will see in NHL2KO 20-21.

7) St. Louis 5, Colorado 3: Blues survive some poor penalties to tuck it away on Justin Faulk’s empty-netter. Colorado drops down to a one-and-done match with Vegas between the top two seeds in the tourney!

8) Los Angeles 2, San Jose 1 (OT): Both teams looks like they were skating with dead legs, but San Jose came alive in the closing minutes of regulation to tie the game and send it into overtime. Sharks were on the receiving end of a couple tough calls in the extra period, losing on a power play goal from Anze Kopitar that the Kings didn’t really seem to earn. San Jose will have to bounce back in a hurry — they have an elimination game in Arizona tomorrow night!

9) Arizona 5, San Jose 2: Sharks kept it close throughout but surrendered a pair of empty-netters at the end. It was like they just didn’t have the gas in the third period. Goal and assist for Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun, powering the Coyotes ahead in a bracket where there is no margin for error.

10) Colorado 4, Vegas 3: Figured this would be the Scramble’s Final, but instead … Marc-Andre Fleury makes his first appearance in the West Scramble, but the Avalance solves him, scoring a quick three goals to open the second period before clamping down the Final Four champs the rest of the way, allowing a goal only after the Knights pulled their goalie in the waning moments of the game. Colorado advances to a knock-out match with Arizona — can the top seed fight there way out of the bottom bracket to the final?

11) St. Louis 7, Los Angeles 1: Kings have no answer to Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, as St. Louis dominates Los Angeles in every phase of the game, out-muscling the Kings and seemingly keeping momentum throughout. Blues are now just one win away from winning the Scramble, while any prospective opponent will need to win at least three in a row to claim the title.

12) Colorado 4, Arizona 2: Avalanche starts slow, then scores four goals in the final period to put away a tenacious Arizona squad. Colorado must now fight their way past the Kings in another elimination match to earn a shot at St. Louis for the West Scramble crown.

13) Colorado 4, Los Angeles 0: It was shaping up to be a tense third period; then in a flukish sequence, Colorado’s bottom line scored twice in the same minute to effectively win the game. Kings scored eight goals in their first game of the tournament, but only three in the following three games. Avalanche looking a bit like a team of destiny as they host St. Louis for the Final, needing two wins without a loss to complete their redemption arc.

14) Colorado 8, St. Louis 1: Avalanche bombs backup St. Louis netminder Ville Husso in a game Colorado needed three goalies of their own to complete. Avalanche hitting on all cylinders as West Scramble goes to a decisive fifteenth game.

15) Colorado 4, St. Louis 2: With Jordan Binnington nursing an unspecified upper-body injury, shell-shocked Ville Husso was forced back between the pipes for the Blues. Husso cut his goals-against by half, but it still wasn’t nearly enough as Colorado cruised to the victory.

Outside of their second-round stumble against St. Louis, the Avalanche were in a class of their own in the West Scramble, getting stronger as the tournament developed, and ultimately winning five straight to take the crown. Colorado’s first line was out of this world, with FIFTY points in seven games. Nathan MacKinnon led the way with seven goals and thirteen assists, and 25 minutes in penalties for good measure.

His line-mates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen both chipped in six goals of their own. From the blue line, Samuel Girard had two goals and ten points, while goalie Philipp Grubauer went 6-1 with a 1.77 GAA, including a shutout and even an assist for the cherry-on-top. Colorado got to burnish their scoring with St. Louis reduced to their backup goalie for the final two games; Jordan Binnington enjoyed a sub-2.00 GAA and surely would have made a difference at the end, but the Avalanche felt like the class of this tournament, especially once they got on a roll to power their way out of the bottom bracket with zero room for error.

Congrats to the Colorado Avalanche, West Scramble champs!

Great Western Lightning League Suspends Operations

Citing diminishing fan interest, seasonal weather issues, and diminishing operating capitol, the Great Western Lightning League announced they are suspending operations. With the league lapsed dormant for several weeks, fans has begun to fear the worst, and today’s news confirms those fears.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom — the league promised to return in the Spring, on a reorganized basis. Striking a deal with Baseball America, the Lightning League will re-form as the Baseball America Lightning League (B.A.L.L.).

As part of this reorganization, the league will expand to twelve teams with a fresh disbursement draft of players. B.A.L.L. will add new franchises in Portland and Ashland, Oregon, and will also re-brand their Las Vegas franchise.

The league is evaluating a 22-game, balanced schedule, with the possibility of running multiple seasons within a year if interest permits. Other changes under consideration are 9-inning games, five-man pitching rotations, and the elimination of the designated hitter.

The league apologizes to fans for the sudden cancellation, but it is the earnest belief of the league office that this reorganization will be best for the Lightning League going forward. Join us here in the Spring for the Baseball America Lightning League!

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