BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – The number four is the charm for the UCT Cal Ripken Baseball League. For the third consecutive year, four runs from a UCT squad is what it took to win the David A. Kasey Memorial Tournament championship game, sponsored by the Kokomo Tribune. After H.P. McPike won back-to-back titles with scores of 4-3 and 4-2, it was King’s Heating that hoisted this year’s Ralph Stewart Insurance Trophy after stopping Salsbery Garden Center of Russiaville 4-3.
“This is a goal we have had for four years,” said King’s manager Jeremy Moon, who reached the championship game as a player for Eastside’s Amber Electric years ago. “When I came up from the minor’s, I was offered King’s or Scoop’s. They told me I didn’t want King’s because they were kind of cursed, like the (Chicago) Cubs. I took King’s because I wanted my sons together and we were 1-19 that first year. We worked hard to get where we are today.”
King’s Heating and Cooling has been a team sponsor – and general supporter – at UCT for nearly two decades. The King family has coached and donated to the league, and finally can say they are champions of not only UCT but of Howard County.
“This was a long time coming; we are happy,” said Jerry King. “It is about supporting these kids. It means a lot for the kids and the community and we are happy to be a sponsor at UCT. This trophy will be proudly displayed in our showroom.”
In a game in which neither team lead by more than one run and featured three lead changes, it was the lone RBI of the contest that proved the difference. In the top of the fifth, Salsbery scored two runs to take a 3-2 lead. Casey Vail and Kitchel Gifford both singled and scored on a combination of wild pitches and errors. In the bottom of the fifth, Logan Bowser was hit by a pitch and Jaden Armfield reached on a walk for King’s. Two wild pitches later, Bowser scored and Armfield was on third. Elijah Moon then recorded the games only RBI with a sacrifice fly to right to score Armfield for what would become the 4-3, come-from-behind victory.
“This sure didn’t come easy for us,” said Jeremy Moon. “Even our one loss to Eriks Chevrolet was like today in that we had a few errors. We didn’t overcome that loss, but tonight we overcame those errors to win.”
In the back-and-forth affair, Salsbery (15-9) struck first as Gifford walked and scored on a King’s error. King’s tied the game in the bottom of the second after Matthew Arcari walked and scored on a Salsbery error. King’s grabbed its first lead in the second inning as Charez Butcher singled, advanced to second on error and third after a perfect sacrifice bunt off the bat of Cameron Arcari. Nine year-old Cayden Belt – who made a sensational diving catch in left field in the third inning – walked and started to steal second, which drew a throw and allowed Butcher to steal home in a perfectly executed offensive play.
Armfield joins an exclusive club as his father – third base coach Gerald Armfield – was a member of the 1984 championship Rocchio’s team, back when it was called the Kokomo Tribune City Tournament. Both Armfield’s played key roles in their squad’s victory – the elder Armfield recorded the final out of the 1984 game as a 10 year-old and the younger Armfield was the winning pitcher and scored the winning run.
“How great is this?” asked Gerald. “I mean, man, I can’t describe it. There can’t be many father and sons to have won this as players, right? This is a great feeling. I know what Jaden is going through and I really wanted this for him.”
Armfield picked up the win in relief of Moon, who started and gave up one unearned run in his two innings on the hill. Armfield pitched three innings and retired six of the first seven batters he faced. He gave up two unearned runs and struck out five. Bowser closed the door with a 1-2-3 sixth inning to earn the save.
“It was awesome,” said Jaden Armfield. “Logan came in and shut them down and I am pretty proud of him. Logan and Elijah are our 12 year-olds and after we won the league they were pumped. So yeah, I thought we could win.”
“I like the pressure; I was more excited than nervous,” said Logan Bowser of his save.
With both teams relying on pitching, Butcher recorded the only two hits for King’s with a pair of singles. But the champs played effective small ball as they had sacrifice bunts from both Arcari brothers and Drew Bowser.
“That is what baseball is all about – putting the ball in play,” said Jeremy Moon. “You have to make someone do something with the ball, whether it is a bunt or a blooper over second base, just put it in play and make them make a play on you. We will bunt our leadoff if we have to. Some people get prideful and arrogant, but we aren’t like that. We have taught our kids it is about the team and about winning, and everyone has to do their part.
“That is why we pulled my son (Elijah) in the third inning, and he wasn’t happy about it. But I explained to him in the dugout that we didn’t want them to get used to him as a pitcher the second time through the lineup. We want to keep them on their toes. And Jaden came in with that nasty knuckleball, which is hard to hit, so it worked.”
A quirk to the King’s (21-1) lineup is it featured three sets of brothers in its starting lineup – Matthew and Cameron Arcari, Logan and Drew Bowser and Elijah and Ethan Moon. The elder sibling is listed first and batted before his younger brother in the King’s lineup.
With seven starters returning to the lineup next season, King’s Heating has a chance to do what McPike accomplished the two previous seasons – back-to-back Kasey titles.