LAPD Blue and UTAH Metro claim Majors and Gold titles. Between the two teams they have a whopping SEVEN WCC championships.
LAPD BLUE WINS 4th West Conference Championship
The 14th Annual West Conference Championships were held at the San Diego Sportsplex for the 2nd year and the conditions were ideal for softball. The San Diego Deputy Sheriff Association co-hosted the event and welcomed the teams with a player reception at their facility. Aside from the free tacos and libations, the highlight was a cornhole tournament that was won by Team King George.
The event was one team shy of a sell-out (23 teams), and was evenly divided between Upper (Majors/Mid Majors) and Lower (Gold) teams. The Sportsplex is actually two complexes, one in Santee and the other in Poway. They are only a few miles from one another, but to accommodate the large number of teams and the 5 game guarantee, we needed to have the Gold division play the majority of their games at Santee and Majors/Mids play at Poway.
The Gold Division round robin saw Nitro2 Go, Northwest Shakedown (last year’s runners-up), Chicago Metro and a rookie team, Arizona Blue Heat claim the top 4 spots. Since 3 Upper teams were bumping down after round robin, they were seeded 4-7 accordingly. In the playoffs, the drop down teams, Aftermath (top seed), Sin City Saints and the defending Gold Champions Utah Metro did what they were supposed to do and won their opening games against Bay Area Combo, Gold Combo and Arizona Heat respectively.
As the playoffs continued Nitro2Go were playing like a team possessed as they went 3-0 in round robin play and then reeled off wins against Direct Impact, SoCal Riot and Aftermath which earned them an invitation to the undefeated game. On the opposite side of the bracket, it took a while for Utah Metro to get firing on all cylinders but once they did they looked even better than they did last year when they won the division. In addition to dispatching Arizona Heat, they sent a loaded Sin City Saints into the loser bracket which set up a blind date with Nitro2Go.
Many felt that the Nitro2Go team that finished 3rd in last year’s World Series was trending south after a few disappointing performances to start off 2022. They put the circuit on notice in San Diego when they showed up 15 deep, loaded with a mix of youth and veterans and played with a fire in their bellies. All that said, they still could not overcome the offensive barrage of Utah Metro. Utah Metro looked like two different teams this weekend, and the team that played in the playoffs looked unbeatable. They bested Nitro2Go and handed them their first loss after six consecutive and convincing wins.
That loss took the wind out of Nitro’s sails as they faced a red hot Sin City Saints in their next game and Sin City refused to be denied a shot at the title. After Sin City lost to Utah, they dropped into the loser bracket and started sending teams home with prejudice, starting with Chicago Metro and then Aftermath before ending Nitro’s march to the ship.
The championship was set between Utah Metro and Sin City. They faced each other earlier and Utah got the better of Sin City. After the loss, Sin City got red hot and looked every bit as strong as Utah so it seemed both teams were peaking at the right time. The championship was a high scoring affair with Sin City leading from the onset and we seemed destined for an “IF” game like last year. Sin City looked so strong, the tournament directors left the field to monitor other games since it seemed an “IF” game was imminent. About 20 minutes later a huge cheer erupted and everyone who was not watching knew what had occurred. Utah had the loudest cheer squad and the only reason they would be yelling so loud was because Utah had managed to come back and win the game.
Utah managed an unlikely comeback to defeat Sin City and earn the title of back-to-back WCC Gold Division champions. No team has won the WCC Gold title twice. Utah has now won it THREE times. During their celebration players were overheard promising to bring that same effort to Las Vegas in October. If that happens, they might be celebrating under the lights while being sprayed with champagne.
Utah Metro award winners:
MVP- Morgan Garrett
All Conference- Brett Barrett, Carter Grow, Gentry Hatch
Sin City Saints award winners:
All Conference- Bruce Butler, Raul Morales, Ryan Larson
1- Utah Metro 3x WCC Champions
2- Sin City Saints
5t- Arizona Blue Heat
5t- Chicago Metro
7t- Silver Stars
9t- Gold Combo
9t- Northwest Shakedown
9t- SoCal Riot
9t-Bay Area Combo
In the HEAVYWEIGHT division, it was a who’s who of top West Conference teams. The top 12 teams in the tournament were pooled for round robin play and that included 4 Gold “bubble” teams that would play up against the Majors/Mid Major teams. This provided a great opportunity for these teams to gauge themselves against some of the best teams in the nation… and in the case of LAPD Blue, they are literally the best team in the nation with the back-to-back World Championships on their resume. Although it is more “fun” to play lower caliber teams where ground balls can become singles and bloopers become doubles, when you are playing the heavyweights…every hit and every run is earned. The opportunity to play against this caliber of team WILL make them all better in the long run.
As anticipated 3 of the Gold teams who played up dropped down but that did not deter them from finishing 1, 2 and 4 in the playoffs. Mission accomplished…all faced big level competition so when the Gold playoffs came they had stepped up their game and began cutting down teams like a buzzsaw. Of the 4 teams that played up, the most surprising was West Coast Lawmen. We had projected them to be a drop down team since they were facing the defending champions, LAPD Blue along with the fastest rising team in the nation RSO Force and a team that has waffled between Mids and Gold, Sin City. How did the WC Lawmen do? They thoroughly defeated Sin City, lost to Riverside by a couple and had the LAPD Blue tied going into the 6th with time expiring. Had they managed the clock better (literally seconds) they would have defeated the Blue and taken the top seed in the bracket. But, you simply cannot afford to make mistakes, physically or mentally against LAPD Blue and Blue made them pay. In a very close game, Blue beat the Lawmen, but in doing so the Lawmen EARNED the privilege of staying in the Majors Division for the playoffs.
A very short handed DEA Combo somehow managed to win the top seed with a ridiculous run differential. As expected the LAPD Blue won their bracket to earn the 2 seed despite some serious threats from West Coast Lawmen and RSO Force who took them to the bottom of the 7th before losing by one slim run. CA Classic Sports finished strong to earn the 3 seed and State 48 Arizona beat Angel Armor Colorado to secure the 4th spot.
In the playoffs the paper thin LAPD Blue did what champions do and that is to find a way to win despite their limitations. They literally had 9 players at one point and pulled an eligible player who was a spectator to ensure they had a full line up. Despite being so short handed, team leader Dave Braun lifted the team up on his shoulders and carried them into battle against RSO Force (losing all game, but won in the last inning again) and CA Classic to advance to the undefeated game. That is about the time the calvary arrived… Buddy Lundy took an early flight home from his USSSA Conference game and Shane Stoner broke several vehicle code violations to arrive ready to roll in the money games.
On the lower end of the bracket it was a Cinderella story unfolding in real life. Angel Armor Colorado arrived with exactly 10 players. They had an 11th coming who was a late cancellation so they were trolling the message board to find an eligible player should one of their players incur an injury. That “sick pick up” was never located and, like the Spartan army, Angel Armor went to war seriously outnumbered and understaffed. Remember, just 3 years ago they were the Gold Division champions, but that is a different arena than facing a murderers row of teams such as former World Champions DEA Combo and LAPD Blue to name a few. Here is what tournament director Jeff Blair had to say about them: “I see so many teams at the World Series that I usually only get a snap shot of certain teams unless they are in the Majors division and go deep into the playoffs. I have probably seen Angel Armor play 2-3 full games before and I knew they were solid but I questioned their ability to compete at the Majors level. After seeing them play about 5 games this weekend against top tier teams, I now know I completely underestimated them. They are in the elite tier in the nation, in the conversation with teams such as Minnesota, DEA Combo, Max Elite, etc. I did not see a single weakness that needs to be addressed.” They went 2-1 in round robin and then beat State 48 and the 172 Combo before losing a close undefeated game to LAPD Blue. They answered with a strong win over State 48 in the losers bracket to advance to the ship against the heavyweight champs.
One loser bracket game of note: We warned you to watch out for RSO Force. We saw them drop a whopping 33 runs in the first inning of a loser bracket game against a top level team. There were no errors, it was a laser show. They ended up giving up over 20 runs but scored north of 40 so their offense, when clicking could one of the best in the country. They do need to learn to put teams away on defense, but hitting wise they are elite status. Any team that faces them in Vegas better come ready for a slugfest.
In the championship, Angel Armor had the lead into the late innings but LAPD Blue was within striking distance and still had 4 bumps left with the hammer so it felt like that hammer would drop at any moment. That hammer dropped in the bottom of the 6th with a hitting barrage that saw the Blue hitting line to line, bouncing balls off the outfield walls and mixing in some timely homeruns from sluggers Daniel McClement, Buddy Lundy and team newbie Daniel “Country” Brundage. The Blue batted for about 20 minutes and when the dust settled they went into the 7th with a double digit lead. Angel Armor fought a good battle but the Blue defense did their job and pitcher Mark Tolliver put the nail in the coffin by inducing a game ending foul out. The win marked the 4th time the team has won the WCC with their only blemish being last year when they finished 2nd. When October arrives and teams descend on Las Vegas, every single one of the upper teams should be preparing to face the LAPD Blue because, “If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man. Wooooo.” (Ric Flair quote).
LAPD Blue award winners:
MVP- Eric Mattos
All Conference- Danny Higa, Daniel McClement, Daniel Brundage
Angel Armor award winners
All Conference- Josh Martinez, Aaron Winter, Josh Padilla
1- LAPD Blue 4x WCC champions
2- Angel Armor Colorado
3- State 48
4- RSO Force
5t- 172 Combo
5t- CA Classic Sports
7t- WC Lawmen
7t- DEA Combo
9- Stanislaus Combo
Thanks to all the teams who attended and supported the circuit. We hope you got plenty of softball in (all teams got 5 games, most got 6-9). Shout out goes event sponsors, Brett Helmer of Easton Sports, Carlos Vega of Elite Sports USA and Blue Line Productions in association with the San Diego Deputy Sheriff’s Association. We hope to secure the San Diego Sportsplex for the WCC next year, first weekend of June once again so if you enjoyed the experience please pencil it in on your schedule.