Blue Jays, a local summer baseball powerhouse, wins NABF regional title

By Amber Dowdy

MUSKEGON – There’s a lot of truth to the old saying that defense wins baseball games.LSJ Logo incert

The Blue Jays demonstrated that on Sunday in the championship game of the National Amateur Baseball Federation Major Division Regional Tournament at Marsh Field.

The Blue Jays used a string of great plays in the field to capture a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over Jet Box, a Canadian-American team from the Detroit area, in the title game.

The Blue Jays, comprised of former college and high school players from the Muskegon area, finished the tournament with a 5-1 record. They now advance to the NABF Major Division World Series in Battle Creek, Thursday through Saturday.

The top defensive star for the Blue Jays in the championship game was Jason Ribecky, the right fielder.

Ribecky’s first piece of defensive mastery came in the third inning. With two outs and Jet Box runners on the corners, Ribecky ventured far into foul territory and made a diving catch that left the runners stranded.

He continued his strong play in the fourth inning when he fielded a gapper in deep right field and threw a strike to second base, mowing down Jet Box runner Eric Mischley, who was trying to leg out a double.

Ribecky, a graduate of Muskegon Catholic and Grand Valley State University, said he was particularly happy his team could beat Jet Box, which handed the Blue Jays their only loss of the tournament on Saturday.

“I was just playing to the best of my abilities,” Ribecky said of his play in the field. “We have a lot of respect for the Jet Box organization, they are a quality summer program.”

The game was scoreless for four innings, with Jeff Schalk, the starting pitcher for the Jet Box squad, hurling a no-hitter until the fifth.

The Blue Jays took a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning when Brandon Bard ripped a ground ball past the shortstop.

Jet Box came back in the top of the sixth when Don Watchowski tied the game with a two-run homer to left center field.

The game remained tied until the eighth inning, when Luke Valutis’ RBI double gave Jet Box a 3-2 lead. At that point the Blue Jays removed starting pitcher Ryan Butzer and put in Blake Dahlstrom, who went on to earn the win in relief.

Things got exciting in the bottom of the eighth for the Blue Jays.

Singles by both Aaron Bard (who went 3-for-4 on the night) and Jamie Potts put runners at first and second with no outs. Connor Seymour beat out a bunt to load the bases, then Brandon Bard ripped a two-run double go put the Blue Jays up 4-3.

Patrick Giddings produced an insurance run for the Blue Jays with an RBI sacrifice fly.

Brandon Bard led the team offensively, going 2-for-3 with four RBIs.

Bard, who has been instrumental in organizing the Blue Jays for the past eight years, was thrilled about his team finally winning a regional tournament title after many near misses over the years.

“This was a long time coming, and something we are going to cherish forever,” said Bard, whose team won the Muskegon City Baseball League title this season.

Blue Jays Manager Howard Bard said he believes his team will perform well in the NABF World Series.

“Every guy on this team contributed all weekend,” he said. “Even the guys that didn’t play that much had great attitudes. They were always pulling for each other.

“We’ve put in a lot of work, and had a lot of heartbreaking endings. It wasn’t in the cards for us in years past, but this is quite an accomplishment.”

The Blue Jays earned their way into the championship game by beating the Flint Mustangs 10-0 earlier on Sunday. They managed five home runs, including a grand slam by Aaron Gowell.

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