Play ball!

The 39th Annual First Ward Falcon Fastpitch Tournament kicked off Friday night in Dunkirk with four games on the schedule.

Three local teams were in action, but only one came out on top, as Rookies on the Lake dropped the Pickering, ON Panthers, 5-2, at School No. 7.

Joe Conti picked up the win for Rookies after he allowed two runs on six hits. He struck out three and walked one in the win and used a variety of off-speed pitches to keep the Pickering hitters at bay.

“He was changing up (the speed of the pitches) and throwing some junk,” Pickering coach Dave Northern said. “And he kept us on our toes and a little bit off balance, so they got the better of us (Friday).

After a lead-off home run by Adam Northern in the top of the first inning, Conti went to work, at one time retiring 11 Panther batters in a row and 15 of 16 between the second and sixth innings.

“We had a good effort by our defense,” Conti said. “There certainly weren’t a lot of strike outs. Defense wins games and that’s what we had here.

“I have a really experienced catcher who moves the target in and out and up and down and calls for off-speed pitches at the right time,” Conti continued. “So that helped. And they had a hard time catching down to my fastball. (Pickering) is used to faster pitchers than me, so that helped.”

Rookies took the lead in the bottom of the first inning on a Nick Luther two-run home run and never looked back, as they scored three more runs in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI double by Jeff Potter that chased home Steve Keyser while Potter later scored on an error. Luther walked with one out in the inning and later came around on an RBI ground out off the bat of Alex Nusome.

“They just strung (the hits) together in those two innings there,” Conti said of his team’s offense. “And that was key getting (the hits) together.”

The Panthers threatened in the top of the seventh, scoring a run on a Jamie Northern triple, but Conti worked out of a first-and-third jam by getting Bertram Blackbird to ground into a game-ending double play.

“Certainly there’s more faster, or harder, pitching than these guys are used to,” Dave Northern said. “So the junk pitchers aren’t as prevalent in our leagues or some of the tournaments we’re going in, so he threw us off on that regard (Friday).”

In the tournament opener at Promenschenkel Stadium, Erie Budweiser defeated the Lakeside Club, 4-0, behind the two-hit pitching of Bill Hillhouse, who struck out 14 and did not walk a batter.

“I had a good rise ball going (Friday),” Hillhouse said. “And they were swinging at it, so when I can throw that pitch and make them chase it, it makes it a lot easier to stay ahead. And that’s kind of the advantage of facing a team you’ve never pitched against or haven’t seen in a long time. They’re not familiar with my tendencies, so I just stuck with what was working.”

Erie scored a run in the first, one in the fifth and two more in the sixth to put the game away.

The Lakeside Club had a chance to tie the game in their half of the fifth inning after Scott Kawski led off with a double, but Hillhouse was able to strike out the next three hitters to work out of trouble.

“At that point, I think the game was still 1-0,” Hillhouse noted. “So I kind of had to try and step up and make sure they didn’t score that run. And if they did score, it wasn’t going to be because of an easy pitch.”

Kawski suffered the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits. Nick Jackson had the Lakeside Club’s only other hit, a single in the seventh inning.

For Erie, Mike Krause led the way offensively with three hits and an RBI.

In the second game at Promenschenkel Stadium, Woodstock, ON defeated First Ward Falcons I-Dunkirk Fastpitch, 6-4.

“That’s the best, it’s always nice to get that first win” Woodstock coach Gary Pullin said. “We had a long trip (Friday) too, so it was pretty good.”

Rob Dixon picked up the win for Woodstock after he allowed three runs on seven hits over 5-1/3 innings of work. He struck out eight and walked two before giving way to Mike Pullin, who picked up the save. Pullin allowed a run on one hit while striking out four and walking one.

“Dixon did a good job,” Gary Pullin said of his team’s starting pitcher. “They’re a little different pitchers. But Robbie Dixon threw a hell of a game for us.”

Woodstock opened the scoring with a pair of runs in the top of the second on an RBI double by Bob Krzyzanowicz and an RBI single off the bat of Jeremy Pullin, before First Ward Falcons I-Dunkirk Fastpitch got a run back in the bottom of the second on an RBI triple off the bat of Tim Wdowiasz.

Woodstock increased its lead to 5-1 in the top of the fourth inning on a two-run triple off the bat of Krzyzanowicz and a run-scoring single by Mark McMann off losing pitcher Chuck Smith, who went the game’s first four innings. He allowed five runs on seven hits while striking out three, walking one and hitting a batter.

Jeremy McAfee worked the final three innings for First Ward Falcons-Dunkirk Fastpitch and allowed a run on four hits while striking out five and walking one. The lone run allowed by McAfee came in the top of the seventh inning on RBI single off the bat of Darin Kitchen.

First Ward Falcons I-Dunkirk Fastpitch edged closer to the lead in bottom of the fifth on an RBI single off the bat of Josh Jaffray that chased home Terry Frazier to cut the lead to 5-2. Then, in the bottom of the sixth McAfee helped his own cause with an RBI single the brought home Dennis Gawronski to cut the deficit to 5-3. Mike Pullin came in in relief of Dixon with pinch runner Jake Porpiglia at third and McAfee at second and got Wdowiasz and Bobby Kozlowski to strike out to end the threat.

“It’s just different,” Gary Pullin said of the way Mike Pullin pitches compared to Woodstock starter Dixon. “It’s a little (more) rise whereas Dixon threw more down stuff. So it was a little bit of a change.”

Scott Herdzik scored the home team’s final run of the game on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh, before Pullin worked around a two-out walk to Brian Crawford by getting Porpiglia swinging to end the game.

“We’ve got a couple more guys coming (today),” Gary Pullin said. “So that’s going to help. We don’t play until 12:45 (p.m.), so we’re going to get some rest and we’ll be OK.”

Krzyzanowicz finished the game 2 for 3 with three RBIs for Woodstock while Rick Zappie was 2 for 2, including a triple, a run scored and a walk, for First Ward Falcons I-Dunkirk Fastpitch.

The Owen Sound Under-21 Selects defeated Big John’s, 7-1, in the final game Friday night at Promenschenkel Stadium, in a rematch of last year’s finals, which was won by Owen Sound. Stats for the game were unavailable.

The tournament kicks into full gear today with games beginning at Promenschenkel Stadium, School No. 7, Veteran’s Field and Koch’s Field at 9 a.m. The top 12 teams advance to play in the single elimination round, which will begin on Sunday at 9 a.m.