BROOKVILLE — In his 64th year wearing a Brookville Grays uniform, 85-year-old Bobby McCullough was literally wearing a full Grays uniform.
Battling some health problems through the summer and offseason, McCullough was able to put on his uniform pants along with his jersey top and blue hat, something he had normally done for decades.
“I wanted to look like the part, so I made sure I wore the uniform,” said an emotional McCullough afterward. “I hadn’t worn it in over a month and decided I’d better start wearing it.”
The timing was fitting. His Grays had a chance to clinch the Federation League title Sunday at McKinley Field and that’s exactly what they did.
It was yet another late rally, this time five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 6-2 lead that wound up the final score. The finals Most Valuable Player Hunter Geer, who just graduated this spring from Brookville, threw the final two innings to get the win in relief and in the top of the seventh, retired three of the four batters he faced to clinch the title.
Zane Morgan’s fly ball to right field was gathered in by Dillon Wolbert in almost the exact spot that the final out was recorded in a driving rainstorm to clinch the 2019 title in a five-game decision over Pulaski.
The Grays trailed the Rockets two games to none to start the best-of-seven series. That hiked the Rockets’ record to a remarkable 70-4 since the beginning of the 2020 season.
McCullough’s No. 9 jersey was retired prior to the Rockets’ 9-1 game two win last Tuesday. After that, the Grays did not lose.
“I don’t know,” said McCullough, still fighting emotions. “There was something in the air. Maybe we’ll have magic all the time.”
Geer blanked the Rockets 3-0 in eight innings in game three and after Thursday’s game four was postponed to Friday, the Grays made it 2-2 with a five-run bottom of the sixth inning in an 8-7 win that culminated with Geer throwing out the potential tying run at the plate to end the game in the seventh.
Then Saturday, the Grays were down to their last out before Geer doubled in the tying run, then scored on Joey Lopez’s go-ahead single in what turned out to be a 5-4 win.
Which brought things to Sunday where the Grays naturally trailed again late, 2-1, going into the bottom of the sixth before rallying again.
In the six-game series, the Grays led the Rockets after a grand total of six innings.
“That’s crazy. It was just the right six innings,” said Geer.
This time around, it was Bryce Rafferty, another outgoing BAHS senior, who came up with the big hit. With runners at first and second and one out — Dillon Wolbert walked and was bunted to second by Nathan Bonfardine and the Rockets intentionally walked Tanner LaBenne for the fourth time in three games — Rafferty delivered a double to left-center, just eluding a diving Zane Morgan. The dive allowed both Wolbert and a racing LaBenne to score on the play.
“I had a few fast balls and fouled one off and got a hanging curve ball and sent it into left-center,” Rafferty said. “They shifted me a round to right and (Zane Morgan) is quick and he covered a lot of ground and I was worried and saw him lay out, but it got past him and Tanner was moving.”
LaBenne was happy to see his fellow lefty come up big behind him.
“I told Bryce to keep his front shoulder in and hit it the other way because they were pitching us out and soft in the whole series,” LaBenne said. “And I saw Zane lay out for it and I was at second and said to myself I better score.”
Rafferty’s big hit was yet another example of yet another Grays player stepping up in the postseason.
“Zane gave it absolutely everything he could into that (dive) and just came up short,” Rockets manager Jeff Gasbarre said. “You work a lefty away and make him go that way and he did and he beat us. He made the intentional walk hurt and he hadn’t done that yet this series. Tanner was locked in and you could see it as the series went on. Their lineup kept coming and they beat us consistently.”
The Grays weren’t done in the sixth. After Rafferty was tagged out straying too far from second on Jamison Rhoades’ grounder to shortstop, Cole Slaugenhoup reached for the third time when his grounder to Morgan Bell at short was misplayed, allowing Rhoades to score from third after he moved up twice on wild pitches.
Thomas Plummer singled and then Geer came up with yet another clutch hit with his two-run single to cap the five-run rally from nowhere.
Josh Sorbera singled with one out in the top of the seventh, but a forceout grounder and a flyout to Wolbert — Geer dropped a foulout hit by Zane Morgan that would’ve ended the game — finished off the Rockets.
The Rockets scored first, again, when Zane Morgan reached on an error and scored on Gasbarre’s two-out single in the second inning.
The Grays tied it at 1-1 in the bottom of the second when they loaded the bases with no outs and got a one-out single from Slaugenhoup, but Rockets starter Austin Amacher limited the damage and got out of the inning by striking out Geer.
In the fifth, the Rockets grabbed the 2-1 lead with Sean Sleigh’s clutch two-out single to score Amacher who led off with a walk.
Geer replaced Plummer in the fifth and shut the Rockets out the final two innings. The Grays had runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the fifth, but Lopez’s liner to Gasbarre’s at first turned into an inning-ending double play.
But the Grays had their sixth-inning rally waiting and a celebration for their veteran manager.
“I’m surprised it came out the way it did, I’m not going to lie to you,” McCullough said. “I was worried about today when I saw who was pitching. I like Plummer really well, but you had to have a short leash because if he went past five innings, we’d be in trouble.”
They were the whole series, but won four straight.
“We were the underdogs from the get-go here,” said catcher Nathan Bonfardine, the next oldest Gray way behind McCullough in his 12th season. “A normal person would’ve thought this as four wins for DuBois and we’re done. We battled, strung some hits together and persevered through some bad innings also and it came out in the wash that we were champions.”
“No way, I thought this was going to happen,” he said. “It’s hard to even describe how this series has gone. The only thing I can say is that we have a team that loves one another and we came together at the right time. We play for each other. So many guys contributed in so many ways, it’s remarkable. You can’t explain how it happened and it almost feels like it was destiny.”
Even in defeat, Gasbarre was very gracious.
“I’m really happy for Bob,” he said. “I have all the respect in the world for Bob and it clearly means a lot to him after shaking his hand after the game. This is a small community. We’ve all been playing around the same people for a lot of years now and Bob’s been on the forefront as we learned when they honored him after game two. I’m extremely happy for him and have nothing but respect and good things to say.”
GRAYS 6, ROCKETS 2
Score By Innings
Rockets 010 010 0 — 2
Grays 010 005 x — 6
Thayne Morgan rf 3000, Josh Sorbera 3b 4010, Sean Sleigh lf 4021, Zane Morgan cf 3100, Matt Zimmerman 2b 2010, Luke Salvo c 3000, Morgan Bell ss 2000, Jeff Gasbarre 1b 3011, Austin Amacher p 1000, Jake Sorbera cr 0100. Totals: 25-2-5-2.
Hunter Geer cf-p 4022, Joey Lopez ss 4000, Dillon Wolbert rf 2100, Nathan Bonfardine c 2000, Tanner LaBenne 3b 1200, Bryce Rafferty 1b 3022, Jamison Rhoades 2b 3100, Cole Slaugenhoup dh 2121, Cole LaBenne lf 0000, Thomas Plummer p-cf 3100. Totals: 24-6-7-5.
Errors: Grays 2, Rockets 1. LOB: Rockets 8, Grays 5. DP: Rockets 1. 2B: Sleigh, Rafferty. SAC: Zimmerman, T. Morgan, Bonfardine. SB: Bell.
Rockets: Amacher 6 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 3 SO, 4 BB.
Grays: Plummer 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 SO, 4 BB; Geer 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 SO, 0 BB.
Winning pitcher: Geer. Losing pitcher: Amacher.