The Italians were all smiles after defeating the Swedes 17-14 at Runkle Lake Park July 7 in the annual Wop-Swede slowpitch game. Front row, from left: Tony Santilli, Philip Robinson, Scott Santilli, Coach Tom Lesandrini, Manager Bill Santilli, Herb Nylund, Dave Lesandrini, Kyle LaVacque, Coach Dennis Fabbri. Back row: Troy Margoni, Bryan LaChapelle Jr., Bryan LaChapelle, Brian Fabbri, Chris Colavecchi, Kevin Colavecchi.
CRYSTAL FALLS—The Italians made plenty of noise with their bats in the first three innings of the annual Wop-Swede softball game at Runkle Lake Park here July 7.
And even though they didn’t score a run after that, their early 17-run onslaught was enough to win the annual ethnic classic 17-14.
It was the closest contest in years, but the Italians had special incentive to win this year. First, the Swedes’ two-game win streak, including a 31-9 triumph in 2011.
“A lot of us last year felt humiliated,” said Italians’ Manager Bill Santilli after the game. “The Swedes gave us a thrashing, and we didn’t want to see that happen again.”
It was more than that, though. Earlier this year, the Italians’ long-time manager, Peter “Bacco” Albarello, passed away. The “Top Wop” (that’s what was printed on his hat) was one of several people remembered in a moment of silence just before the game.
“We came with a different attitude tonight,” Santilli said.
Both teams saw a big infusion of younger talent. For years, the tradition was that the game was for players 35 or older. That was dropped this year.
“Chad Martin [of the Swedes] and I talked earlier this week,” Santilli explained. “Some of our older guys are just saying they don’t want to play.
“And it worked out great tonight—17-14! What a competitive game!”
From the way it started, fans wondered whether scientific notation would be needed on the scoreboard before it ended.
The Swedes scored six times in the first inning, highlighted by Bob Wolard’s three-run home run, a solo homer by Drew Gussert and a two-run single by Jeff Charnach.
That 6-0 lead melted as fast as an ice cream bar in last week’s heat wave. Bryan LaChapelle Jr. hit a three-run homer as the Italians scored four in the last of the first.
After blanking the Swedes in the second, the Italians went back to work. Two Swede errors and a walk led to eight runs, highlighted by Tony Santilli’s two-run single and Brian Fabbri’s two run double. Now the Italians were in front 12-6.
The Swedes got one run back in the third (12-7), but the Italians added five in the third, highlighted by Tony Santilli’s three-run homer and RBI hits by LaChapelle Jr. and Fabbri.
Trailing 17-7 after three, the Swedes had to do two things fast: stop the Italians’ offense and get their own bats heated up.
They got half of it done. Gussert took over on the mound in the fourth and immediately shut down the Italians’ offense. Incredibly for a Wop-Swede game, Gussert threw five straight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and retiring the Italians in order three times.
But while Gussert was holding the line, the Italians’ pitcher, Bryan LaChapelle Sr., was also in shutdown mode. After the first inning, LaChapelle never let the Swedes’ offense get out of first gear, holding them to single runs in the third, fourth and seventh innings. After eight, the Italians led 17-9.
Top of the ninth. Now or never, and the Swedes finally got it going. Calix Sholander singled, John Bruce doubled him to third. Wolard drove both in with another double. Gussert hit the Swedes’ third straight double, scoring Wolard, and Chad Martin belted a two-run homer to left. Joe Vrancic followed with another double.
With five runs in, the Swedes had cut the Italians’ lead to three (17-14), and there was still nobody out. Was Chung going to let the lead slip away?
Hardly! He retired the next batter on a long fly to center, got a foul ball strikeout, and a grounder to short ended the game.
“I was quite nervous at the very end,” said Santilli. “They went through their whole batting order up until the end.
“It was a good game for the fans to see, for the Wop-Swedes as far as the tradition goes. And it’s nice to get a W after last year.”
Top Italian hitters: LaChapelle Jr. and Tony Santilli, both three hits, four runs batted in; Kyle LaVacque, Fabbri. both two hits, three RBIs; LaChapelle Sr., three hits. Three Italians scored three times each.
Top Swede hitters: Wolard, four hits, five RBIs; Gussert and Joe Vrancic, both three hits, two RBIs; Chad Martin, Jeff Chernach, both two hits, two RBIs; Calix Sholander, three hits. Two Swedes scored three times.