Senate Softball League: Prairie Populists 18, The Greats 12

It’s tough, when writing about a ballgame with a final score of 18-12, to say that pitching and defense carried the day.

And yet, in the case of Monday evening’s contest between Sen. Byron Dorgan’s (D-N.D.) Prairie Populists and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump health chief backs CDC research on gun violence | GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix | Groups sue over cuts to teen pregnancy program GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix 30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help MORE’s (R-Tenn.) humbly appellated The Greats, neither is it totally inaccurate.

Senate Softball League contests are never pitchers’ duels; take a look at a listing of recent tallies and you’ll find nary a single digit among them. Whereas in Major League Baseball the key to the game is the crooked number, here it’s the opposite. Hold your opposition to a goose-egg in a couple of half-innings and you’re likely to come out the victor.

That certainly seemed to be the MO for Dorgan’s Populists, who held The Greats to a single run in the fourth and blanked them entirely in the second, sixth and seventh, even (great Caesar’s ghost!) setting the side down in order in the second and seventh frames.

Part of the credit here surely goes to Populists hurler Zack Smith, whose looping, tight-spinning deliveries produced plenty of mis-hit grounders and pop-ups, and who even racked up four strikeouts on the day.

But it was also a team effort. The Populists managed to remain error-free and hit their cutoff men, preventing too many Greats from taking the extra base.

Nowhere was this commitment to team defense more evident than in the bottom half of the fifth. The Greats took their turn at the dish down 15-8 and looked ready to make their big push, getting a leadoff home run from Brent Wiles and a hustle double off the bat of big Thomas Carlisle. Press secretary Jim Jeffries (no small fry himself) followed up with a two-run dinger, and just like that, The Greats were right back in this thing, 15-11.

And they didn’t appear to be done there. Rheana Scarborough, Curtis Swager and Suzanne Rondinone hit consecutive singles, pushing each other around on the basepaths, and suddenly, the bases juiced and still with nobody out, The Greats were poised for a monster inning.

Smith, though, had other ideas. Digging deep and unleashing a torrent of stratosphere-scraping lobs, he got a huge strikeout. He then gave up one more single to Katie Argo — she of the sweet swing — to plate a run and keep the bases loaded, but settled right back down and induced a comebacker to get the force at home.

With two outs and the bases still loaded, Bill Tucker hit a hot shot on the button — but directly at Populists left fielder Evan Peterson (where fly balls go to die), and this one was, for all intents and purposes, in the books. The Greats sent only eight batsmen and –women to the plate over the final two frames, their spirits seemingly broken by that missed opportunity in the fifth.

NOTES AND MINUTIAE: While both teams entered the contest at 0-3 in league play, the Populists have had no trouble getting runners across the plate — a trend that held true tonight. Shortstop and leadoff man Ben Phillips led the charge, hitting for the cycle and adding a second single just for good measure. Peterson went 3-4 with three RBI.

Perhaps the key to the Prairie Populists’ offensive prowess is their in-game core-exercise regimen, which was brought to this reporter’s attention when a member of The Greats was heard to remark, “Look at them over there — they’re strength-training.” Sure enough, several Populists players were splayed out just to the foul side of the third-base line, limbs akimbo, grunting audibly as they crunched and planked their way through several sets.