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With a huge crowd turnout, plenty of food and beer, cool tournament souvenirs and pleasant weather, the Park District of Forest Park’s 42nd annual 16-inch No Glove National Softball Tournament hit another home run this summer.
Of course, tournament finalists Flash and the Roadrunners added their collective signature on the special weekend with a taut, edge-of-your-lawn chair championship game thriller. Tied at 4-4 in extra innings, Flash took the lead for good on a clutch double from tournament MVP Anthony Tyler that scored Randy Russ, who slid into home plate head first.
Former Oak Park and River Forest High School student-athlete Max Sakellaris added a valuable insurance run with an RBI single, giving Flash a 6-4, which ended up the final score. The Roadrunners, vying to be the first-ever Forest Park League team to win the coveted No Gloves National crown, could not rally in the bottom of the eighth.
Tyler finished the tournament with a .517 average, 11 RBIs and nine runs scored, highlighted with a perfect 4-for-4 effort in the championship battle.
“We needed to win five straight games to win this tournament,” Tyler said. “Our guys sucked it up. Thank God, we had a lot of guys in our dugout that came to play [today] and we took [the tournament] down.”
Flash (40-9 overall this summer) forced a rematch by knocking off the Roadrunners 4-3 earlier Sunday night.
After squandering their first opportunity to win the title outright, the young Roadrunners grabbed a 3-1 lead in the final game courtesy of first inning RBI hits from Erik Niedzigla, John Robinson and Brad Moriarty. However, the resilient Flash posted a three-spot of their own in the top of the fourth. Jake Olsen’s bloop single tied the score (3-3) and Anthony Lococo’s sac fly gave Flash a 4-3 lead.
In the seventh, Moriarty again came up big for the Roadrunners with an infield single, scoring Erik Wicklund. Tied at 4-4 with two runners on base and one out, the Roadrunners stranded both runners which led to extra innings.
Despite the loss, the Roadrunners feature an array of talented young players like Nate Mercado, Ian Langston, Dave Hardt, Rob Rodriguez and Niedzigla. Other promising Forest Park League teams like the Outsiders, Heat and OBI also performed well in the tournament, boding well for the future.
“I hope this tournament is the start of something special for us,” said Niedzigla. “I think we are there right now. Most of us are between 20 to 28-years-old. We wish we could have won it for the Forest Park League, but finishing Top 2 is not bad.”
While Flash is primarily a veteran team boasting tournament fixtures like Randy Russ, Bob Russ, Keith Filkins, Ralph Lawrence and John Westermeyer, the thrill of the tournament never gets old for any of the players – or fans for that matter.
“Forest Park No Gloves National has such a great overall atmosphere,” said Westermeyer, a 23-year veteran of the tournament. “It’s certainly the most well-attended tournament and the fields are absolutely the best. [Park District of Forest Park Executive Director] Larry Piekarz runs a wonderful show. The staff, the volunteers and fans are all awesome.”
Mike White, a regular attendee/fan of the tournament, added: “I love coming to this tournament. The games are competitive and everybody is out here just to have a good time.”