Bobby Hughes got crazy hot - even for softball.
Greg Connell was Greg Connell, the understated slugger rapidly becoming one of the finest home run hitters in the land.
The Resmondo/Specialty Tank duo powered the nation’s top-ranked team to its third consecutive title and record sixth overall with a 44-33 battering of No. 2-ranked Dan Smith/Menosse in the championship game of the 42nd annual Smoky Mountain Classic Sunday morning at Sandy Springs Park.
Resmondo has now won seven of nine tournaments entered this season. The Classic record holder finished second in another, falling to Dan Smith in the championship game of the Texas Legends tournament a week before the trip to Maryville.
In all seven tournament wins this summer, sod king Travis Resmondo’s team has run the table, compiling a 38-0 record en route.
Hughes went nuts over the three days of the Classic, finishing a sizzling 21-of-23 with a .913 on-base percentage, easily securing tournament most valuable player honors. There have been two perfect games pitched in Major League Baseball this season. Hughes was almost perfect for an entire weekend.
“The main thing I’m excited about is we won the tournament,” Hughes said. “Just trying to win the tournament - that’s our main goal.”
Dan Smith didn’t make it easy.
Connell belted a tournament-best 16 home runs out of Sandy Springs’ two parks, an achievement made all the more impressive when the team in the other dugout is factored into the equation.
The Dan Smith roster contains five of the top six home run hitters nationally, paced by Caldwell Fence Co. Home Run Derby champion Brian Wegman, who’s gone deep a Conference USSSA-best 65 times on the season. Connell is nipping at his heels with 62 bombs. Dan Smith’s Geno Buck (59), Dal Beggs (57), Brett Helmer (56) and J.D. Genter (55) hold down the Nos. 3 through 6 spots. Brett McCollum’s 49 round trippers rank ninth.
Dan Smith brought its big guns full to bear on the two-time defending champions in the bottom of the first on Sunday, rocking Resmondo with a 17-run inning. The San Jose, Calif., club had fought its way through the loser’s bracket to earn a rematch with its Winter Haven, Fla., nemesis.
“We battle these guys a lot in a year,” Connell said. “You try to hang close and eventually get going.”
Eventually, that’s just what Resmondo did.
“With this group of guys, we’ve always had just a great chemistry,” said Hughes, who played baseball collegiately at Arkansas. “As corny as that sounds, there’s some truth to it.”
Resmondo had taken the winner’s bracket final with Dan Smith, 29-13, only the night before. With Dan Smith remaining close enough throughout the championship game for a big, last inning to force an if-necessary contest, Resmondo’s hopes for an early flight out weren’t looking too good. Even in a sport where 400-foot home runs are the norm, though, defense still wins championships.
Dan Smith cooled considerably after its first-inning fireworks as Resmondo chipped away at a once 17-7 deficit. There’s no panic in the champs, Resmondo manager John Rector said.
“These guys have been around for a long time,” he said. “They know the sixth or seventh (innings) are when things are decided. They push each other to be the best they can be.”
Resmondo took the lead for good in its half of the seventh, but it was the half inning before that cleared the way for a third straight title. Dan Smith could manage only two runs in its half of the sixth, Resmondo leading, 31-30, to start the seventh. In the pitching circle, Hall of Famer Andy Purcell is just that good.
“He’s the best pitcher in the game,” Rector said. “Everybody knows it. There’s nobody even close. When he gets the knuckleball moving, it’s hard to hit.”
Bryson Baker clouted a pair of home runs in the Resmondo seventh, sparking a 13-run spree that blew it open. B.J. Fulk, Jeff Wallace and Scott Striebel also homered.
When the smoke cleared, the Resmondo lead was 44-30, Dan Smith going all but quietly in the bottom of the seventh to close it out.
The ending was much in keeping with Resmondo’s run throughout the tournament. The champions took each of their five wins in the Classic by 10 runs or better. Resmondo hammered Art Explosion, 27-7, in its Friday opener. Wood Law succumbed, 29-14, a day later, with Team Combat absorbing a 24-9 beating to set up Resmondo’s winner’s bracket final showdown with Dan Smith.
The Smoky Mountain Classic is sponsored by Blount County Maryville Alcoa Parks and Recreation, Blount Today, Louisville Slugger and Boombah.