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Kuzniak helps San Diego win ASL championship
James Kuzniak pitched five strong inning in Saturday's Arizona Summer League championship game, helping the surprise San Diego Surf Dawgs claim the title in a 9-4 win over Team Canada at Desert Sun Stadium.
Kuzniak was also the winning pitcher during the Arizona Winter League title game in February.
“Winning the winter league was a blast, and coming back here — I think this is the first time anyone has won both,” Kuzniak said. “It's not much, but it's something to hang my hat on.”
Pitching on two days' rest, Kuzniak (2-2) started strong, but ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth, giving up four runs to Team Canada (8-5) as the Surf Dawgs (6-9) fell behind 4-2, the pulled to within one on an RBI single by Nate Alfson in the top of the fifth. Kuzniak pitched a scoreless fifth, then San Diego took the lead for good on a tow-run double by Nick Naegale.
“Being from Yuma, the Golden League or North American League has been very generous in letting me do these,” said Kuzniak, a Cibola graduate and pitching coach at Arizona Western. “I think I represent them well. I come out here and I help the guys out and I show them what it takes. It's very gratifying but I can't do it without my teammates. Every year it's a new group of guys, and I tell them ‘Hey, this is what it's about. You work hard and try your best you never know what can happen.'”
The regular season ended Friday and all four teams made the playoffs. San Diego entered with the bottom seed but beat Mesa (8-6) in the semifinal Saturday morning. Canada knocked off Long Beach (7-7) in its semifinal.
“It's a new season, so anything can happen,” Kuzniak said. “We took those games as learning experiences. So while the other teams are kind of kicking our butts, we were kind of learning from each situation and each game. I think that kind of helped us build into winning the championship.”
The seven-inning game took almost 3 hours, 45 minutes to complete and pushed back the start of the Yuma Scorpions game by more than half an hour. Play stopped after three innings because neither team had acceptable game balls for use, and it took almost 10 minutes to procure new ones. The game also was delayed twice when Team Canada players suffered injuries. In the top of the fifth, Anthony Bazant made a diving catch in center field, but ran head-first into the fence and was on the ground for ore than 10 minutes He tied to stay in the game but was lifted a batter later. In the sixth, TC shortstop Andy White was hit in the face with a chopper and left the game.
The injuries to the No. 2 and 3 hitters proved very costly, said TC manager Kip Gross.
“We had one guy in position to finish the game,” Gross said. “The rest of them got hurt. Unfortunately we don't have any extra players and for some reason the other team had six extra players, but hey, we're a team and we stayed a team. It was awesome what these guys put together.”
Gross felt that his team should have gotten the win.
“We know who the best team is,” Gross said. “There's no question. We had some injuries and what do you do? Any day of the week we'll beat any team out here. There's no problem. But it's one of those days it didn't happen for us. A one-game series, that's what happens.”
The Surf Dawgs added four runs in the seventh, including another RBI double from Naegale.
San Diego coach Rusty Meachem said he was proud of how his team hung in there and battled.
“Today was a long day,” Meachem said. “We played at 9 a.m. this morning and came back and played at 4. We saw a lot of things happen. ... A lot of breaks in the game today but we won the war.”