The Kansas Stars showed up 30-deep to the National Baseball Congress World Series hoping someone, or several someones, maintained a high-percentage of the talent that got them to Major League Baseball in the first place.
It was impossible to guess who those someones might be, and Friday’s 11-3, seven-inning Stars win over the Derby Twins in the quarterfinals at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium pinpointed how futile that exercise can be.
Delwyn Young, a veteran of 344 big-league games who most recently played in independent baseball, hit a three-run double during the Stars’ nine-run fifth inning. Brian Gordon, who pitched five games for Texas and the Yankees before retiring in 2014, pitched four scoreless innings to finish the win.
Gordon, a former outfielder who played 17 minor-league seasons, has been perhaps the Stars’ most valuable pitchers in their two years. He often pitches multiple innings in relief and seems to be available out of the bullpen most nights.
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“You really just don’t even know,” the 38-year-old Gordon said. “We grew up playing this great game of baseball, there’s obviously still passion there. We still feel the competitive side of things, so I think that’s what it is. A lot of these guys here that have the major-league level carry some grit, and I think that translates in times like this.”
The Stars advance to Saturday’s semifinals, playing the winner of Friday’s late game between Mulvane and Cheney at 7 p.m.
Young helped the Stars to their third straight run-rule victory with the team’s second bases-loaded double in two games. Chipper Jones had the first one in Wednesday’s win over Liberal in a game that was already a blowout, but Young’s came in a more crucial spot.
After consecutive bases-loaded walks put the Stars ahead 4-3 in the fifth, Young unloaded the bases with his double to right-center. Young hasn’t started every game and hits near the bottom of the order when he plays, but his recent experience in professional baseball has been valuable among a group of long-retired players.
“It’s almost like Sandlot,” Young said of his exposure to the Stars. “We get a game going and we call around and get a group text going, and here we are. It’s the best opportunity I think I’ve ever had in baseball. All of us are basically playing for the purity and love of the game.”
The Stars had eight hits, their tournament high. Most of their runs have come with help from the 38 walks they’ve drawn. They possess an innate ability to identify strikes, both as pitchers and as hitters.
Gordon and Young have that ability, too, which doesn’t come easily to non-MLB players. Those two are proving that not all of the Stars have to be stars to contribute.
“That doesn’t mean the body is going to be as resilient as it used to be,” Gordon said. “But we’re having a blast.”
In Friday’s first game, the Everett (Wash.) Merchants knocked out the defending champion Santa Barbara Foresters 6-3.
The Merchants took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, then added three runs in the third that included RBI doubles from Jake Levin and Austin Aluko.
The Foresters cut the lead to 4-2 in the fifth, but the Merchants added a run in the bottom of the inning. After the Foresters scored a run in the top of the seventh, the Merchants again restored a three-run margin in the bottom of the inning. Austin Atwell drove in two runs and scored twice for Everett.
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In the second quarterfinal, Dylan Schneider and two relievers combined on a five-hitter as the Hays Larks beat the San Diego Waves 4-2. The Larks took the lead with a three-run third inning – two scored on a double by Colin Simpson.
NBC World Series
Cheney Diamond Dawgs vs. Mulvane Patriots
Everett Merchants vs. Hays Larks, 3 p.m.
Kansas Stars vs. Cheney-Mulvane winner 7 p.m.