ARCATA – Another season, another storybook ending.
For the second straight season and sixth time in seven years, the Humboldt Crabs finished off their season by claiming a tournament championship in front of their home crowd, this time winning the second annual Humboldt Invitational Tournament by hammering the Auburn Wildcats 18-5 in the championship game on Sunday night.
The win capped a perfect 5-0 run through the tournament for the Crabs and put their final 2016 record at 35-15, which is especially impressive considering they stood at just 7-8 after 15 games. Our advanced math skills tell us that means the team went 28-7 over its final 35 games.
“We definitely got of to a little bit of a slow start in June,” said manager Tyson Fisher after concluding his third season at the helm. “But I think we played some good teams, so it was a good eye-opener in terms of the caliber of baseball that we expect to see night in, night out – the caliber of baseball that not only the coaches but also the fans and community expect us to play.”
And that caliber of baseball was definitely on display on the final day of the season. After three days of round-robin play, Sunday began with the Auburn Wildcats eliminating the Solano Mudcats. The Crabs then took the field against the Alameda Merchants, whom they had beaten 15-0 earlier in the week.
The second match-up was closer, but the result was the same, as the Crab cruised to an 11-6 win. After spotting the Merchants two runs in the top of the second, the Crabs quickly answered with four runs in the bottom of the frame, thanks largely to a bases-loaded triple by David Hamilton.
Things were still close in heading into the bottom of the seventh, but the Crabs put up a five-spot in the inning to put the game away, setting up a championship game showdown with the Wildcats for the second consecutive year.
And just as in 2015, the Crabs left no doubt. Despite once again spotting their opponents two early runs, Humboldt poured it on throughout the game. They scored six runs in the third and seven in the sixth.
Brian Pozos had a huge day, going 5-for-5 with three doubles. Ryan Reynolds capped off a record season of home runs for the Crabs with a grand slam in that seven-run sixth, the team’s 38th and final round-tripper of what turned out to be quite a memorable season.
“It was a lot of fun with this group,” said Fisher. “It’s just a lot of fun when you have the versatility, players who can do so much, and they really want to do so much too.”
While it was almost ancient history by the time Sunday’s championship game rolled around, one of the most memorable moments of the tournament was the Crabs’ opening game against Solano. In left field was a group of people who arbitrarily decided to call themselves the Brian Pozos Fan Club.
They cheered hard any time he came to bat or made a play in the field, and had their own cheer: “P! O! Z-O-S! Brian Pozos is the best!” And wouldn’t you know it, Pozos wound up knocking in the game-winning run in the 11th inning, then came over to celebrate and pose for photos with his newfound friends.
After the conclusion of the tournament, Fisher announced the winners of the team’s annual post-season awards. Taking the top honor of Most Valuable Player was James Outman, who earned the title by being the most consistent offensive producer from day one through the end of the season.
“[Outman] kept himself in the lineup each and every day, he never gave away at-bats,” said Fisher. “He consistently was up there grinding, making pitchers work.”
The numbers back up the statement. Outman led the team with a .372 batting average and team highs in hits (70) and RBIs (39) while starting almost every game – something else Fisher said made the decision easy.
“There was never a fear of if he was ready to go or not that day,” Fisher said. “I always hate it when coaches ask, ‘Hey, are you ready to go?’ You’re a player, you’re supposed to be ready to go. He truly goes about each day like that.”
The Pitcher of the Year award went to Aaron Herr, the intense, hard-throwing righty who took the mound every Saturday. He led the team with 7 wins and posted a 1.45 ERA.
“Herr threw some really good games for us, in some big spots,” Fisher said of his ace.
The Morsching/Heinig Memorial Coaches Award, given to one or more players who exhibit the dedication, perseverance and teamwork associated with the award’s namesakes, was shared by first baseman Jayson Newman and pitcher Reed Pfannenstein, each of whom brought it every day in their own unique ways.
“Newman and Reed, they both work hard, they go about it differently,” said Fisher. “Newman’s more of a visible worker. I think Reed’s kind of a behind-the-scenes guy … he’s in there just trying to provide comic relief for his teammates, and I really enjoyed having both of them out here.”