Bulls looking for revenge
Just a week ago, it looked as if the road to another championship appearance in the Blue Mountain League would be easy for Limeport.
The Bulls, who finished the regular season with the No. 1 seed in the playoffs at 25-11, quickly built a 2-0 series lead against the Northampton Giants. A pitching spectacle from ace Adam Maini in Game 1 led to an 8-0 win. A 7-5 victory the next day brought the Bulls within one win of their fourth championship appearance in six years.
But Northampton, who ended Limeport's season in last year's championship with a 3-0 series sweep, won the next two games to even it up at two games apiece. Tuesday's Game 5, which was scheduled to be played after press deadline, guarantees one of those squads return to the championship series. The Bulls are hoping it's them after a disheartening exit last summer.
"They [Northampton Giants] are still an extremely scrappy team this year," co-manager Mike Cudwadie said. "They got some very good players. It's actually funny because last year in the series, I know we got swept, but I think we had a lead in every game in the fifth inning or later. They just came up bigger in the clutch than we did."
"For me personally, I want a little revenge from last year in losing the championship and being swept," said Maini, and Emmaus High School graduate who pitched the Bulls' final game last year. "For us as a team, if we do all the small things and play our game, we're going to win.
"Getting to the championship series again would be something great, but to beat them is one step ahead. Beating the defending champions is always in the front of your mind."
It's been a tale of two sides through four games. With their backs against the wall in a 2-0 deficit, the Giants responded with two convincing wins, including a 5-0 shutout last Friday and a 7-1 rout three days later.
During that stretch, it was Limeport's bats that became a nonfactor after scoring 15 in the first two games. In order to halt the Giants' momentum in the decisive Game 5, Cudwadie and the Bulls know how important of a role the bats play, as well as remaining even-keeled.
"I think the key is to wipe the slate clean and know going into tomorrow that we have our ace going on the mound, we're playing at home, [and] we're playing under the lights where we're comfortable," Cudwadie said. "It's just wiping the last two games out, and knowing that there is no tomorrow and playing like that."
And it's going to be Maini on the mound for the second time in the series. Cudwadie wouldn't want it any other way with their playoff lives on the line.
"I might be a bit biased, but I definitely think he is the top pitcher in the league," Cudwadie said. "He's definitely in the top two or three for sure. He does a lot of things for us; he has a bunch of saves for us this year in between his starts.
"It's exactly what we need. We need a little bit of a confidence boost. We haven't been hitting the ball too well the last two games."
Maini is also one who thrives pitching in the biggest games.
"I love getting the call to go out there," Maini said. "Emotionally, I just keep calm, and I know I have to focus on a batter at a time and not worry about who is coming up next."
Since their existence in the Tri County League, Limeport (formerly known as the Fleet Wings) has experienced a great deal of success over the years. No team since their inception has missed postseason play.
But on the other end of the pendulum, the Bulls represent a program still in search of its first title.
"This has been a franchise that has like 16 years in the league and they haven't missed the playoffs once," Cudwadie said. "But in the same sentence, they also have never won a championship. They've been very close. I think we've lost in the finals three of the last five years."
A win on Tuesday night will bring the Bulls one step closer to that elusive championship. The winner will play either the Northern Yankees or MetLife Orioles in a five-game series for the title.