Resmondo for the defense: Championship 4-peat built around stellar fielding

Resmondo home run king Greg Connell gets ready for an at bat during last weekend’s Smoky Mountain Classic at Sandy Springs Park.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Resmondo home run king Greg Connell gets ready for an at bat during last weekend’s Smoky Mountain Classic at Sandy Springs Park.

Chicks can dig the long ball all they want.

Resmondo will just keep right on winning championships.

The nation’s top-ranked team made it a record four in a row last Sunday morning at Sandy Springs Park, routing GTL/Cartel, 27-12, in the title tilt of the 43rd annual Smoky Mountain Classic softball tournament.

The Winter Haven, Fla., powerhouse put to good use the classic’s unlimited home runs, using an eight-run sixth inning to end things early on the mercy rule. Resmondo slugger Greg Connell clubbed his way to 11 homers and 20 runs scored over the three days of the tournament in securing most valuable player honors.

That said, it was more the occasional flash of some spectacular leather than a succession home run bombs that got the champs their four-peat. A winner’s bracket final the night before would prove telling for the Cartel in more ways than one.

The home team, GTL had the winning run at third with two outs in a tie game in its half of the seventh. Resmondo Hall of Fame pitcher Andy Purcell induced a ground ball to short with the next batter, Don DeDonatis III killing the Cartel rally with a quick stab and sure, accurate throw to first.

“That was a big out, a big stop,” Resmondo manager Frank Webb said. “Everybody pitched in on that game.”

Half an inning later, Brian Rainwater, Howard Krause Jr., Jeremy Isenhower and Michael Rhines all went deep for Resmondo, which put four of its five runs in the frame across on two outs. Rines finished the evening a sizzling 4-for-5 at the plate.

“He kept coming up in key spots with two outs, and he kept banging,” Webb said.

A ground ball back to Purcell to start the GTL eighth, followed by a pair of pop ups, and Resmondo, with a 28-24, come-from-behind win, got to sleep in Sunday morning while the Cartel was forced to rise early and fight its way to the title game through the loser’s bracket.

“We definitely should have gotten it done last night when we had the opportunity,” GTL manager Jose Sanchez said. “They just got us. They just beat us. They (Resmondo) got to sleep in late and come in fresh.”

In the later innings Sunday, the champs only grew stronger.

“Our team’s older,” Purcell said. “To stay out of the heat as much as possible is big.”

Resmondo’s big sixth inning in Sunday’s final was one thing. Connell, Purcell and Striebel each homered, with Striebel’s three-run blast to collect Vince Bisbee (walk) and Rainwater (single) bringing an end to the proceedings.

“We’ve been together so long we know what to expect,” Connell said. “You just get up there and do your job. It’s not over until the last out. This is the fourth year in a row. They know what it takes to get it done.”

More telling in getting it done this time was Purcell shutting out GTL in both the fifth and sixth innings from the pitching circle, working the corners and not giving the Cartel anything good to hit.

“If you just lay the ball in there,” Purcell said, “they just hit it wherever they want.”

The play of Rhines at third, DeDonatis at short and Connell at second repeatedly kept hard-hit balls on the infield, the trio often snuffing opposition rallies with crisply turned double plays. Striebel’s running grab in center in the GTL sixth Sunday put the second out on the board and noticeably deflated the challengers.

“At this level,” Purcell said, “you can’t give extra outs to anyone because everyone is so good. I like my chances with our defense because we can catch it.”

Home run limits at all other Conference USSSA tournaments have had a telling effect on the sport, DeDonatis said. The limits have brought more station to station softball into play. The all-rounder who can also get it done defensively has become as much, or more, prized than the guy that hits for power.

“Defense is a big part of the game,” DeDonatis said. “It can be the difference between winning and losing. I definitely take it very personally.”

Connell, third, and Rainwater, 10th, are the only Resmondo players ranked in the top 10 nationally in home runs on the season. In runs scored, however, a quicker, more athletic Resmondo claims three of the top five spots, with the leader, Connell, joined by DeDonatis, third, and Bryson Baker, fourth. Baker, Connell and Bobby Hughes rank second, fifth and ninth, respectively, in on-base percentage.

Few players better typify the changing face of top-flight softball than Purcell. One of a handful of players on the circuit with better than 1,000 career home runs, the Resmondo ace is 50 pounds lighter from a year ago, an offseason P90X regimen replacing a winter spent in the weight room.

“I’m older,” he said, “so I just wanted to get healthier and play on as long as I can.”

The game is changing, Purcell said, and Resmondo is changing right along with it.

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