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September 2, 2013

Championship Reflections: Forty years ago, the Croton Dukes changed way softball was played

(Continued)

NEW CASTLE — BECOMING CHAMPIONS

At Southgate, Croton rolled through the competition. The Dukes didn’t swell scores to lopsided decisions, instead they had close, low-scoring battles, including a 5-3 victory over World-Wide Movers in Cudahy, Wis., and a 4-3 triumph against Ulrich Athletic Club of Louisville.

The physically undersized Dukes’ brand of softball, based on fundamentals and speed, won over the Southgate crowd. Some even changed allegiances from their hometown favorites, Dino’s Pizza, Bryant Walker and Snyder’s Masonary, in favor of the Pennsylvania boys from a steel town.

“I just remember fans going ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’,” John Lambo said. “In our first game, I was the leadoff batter and hit the ball to the shortstop. By the time he picked it up and looked, I was already at first base. We played Robert’s Lounge and they were stunned. They were like ‘who are all these little guys who are kicking butt up here?’ ”

Included in the team’s five-game winning streak was a triumph over Dino’s Pizza, the champion of the event the previous season. The 8-4 win advanced the Dukes to the finals, where they’d have to wait for their opponent from the losers’ bracket.

“It’s always in my head, I remember us scoring 87 runs on 92 hits with no errors in six games,” Dan Cook said.” Base hits, base hits, base hits. That’s how we outplayed everybody.”

A heat wave swept through Southgate on that Labor Day weekend. The temperatures turned up even higher when Dino’s Pizza made its way out of the losers’ bracket for a much-hyped rematch against the Dukes in the finals.

“Their pitcher, Cal Carmen, was a wise guy,” Chuck Cook said. “He was chirping at us that we weren’t going to beat him that second game He was a well-known guy, an all-world player a couple times. He thought he had us.”

The score was 9-9 after six innings. Croton broke the game open with five runs in the seventh as the Dukes took home the title with a 14-10 final. The game ended with a fly ball to left fielder Cotelesse.

“The best moment of that weekend was when we recorded that final out,” Yerage said. “All the pressure that goes along with being part of such an accomplishment leaves your shoulders.”

“We were all running around like little kids,” Spigler said. “I remember telling Danny to pull down the banner in the left field. We all posed for a picture. That brings back at lot of memories.”

“It was amazing. We were signing autographs. You’d thought you were a professional,” Larry Lambo said. “I was 20 and I thought, oh my God, somebody is asking me for an autograph. It was an awesome time.”

Shortstop Randy Huey was one of many stars for the Dukes, leading the team with three hits, scoring three runs and driving in one in the title game.

The victory gave starting pitcher Carl Pia his sixth win of the tournament. Pia also hit .750 with two home runs in 20 at-bats. He was 2 for 3 with two runs in the championship game, leading to MVP honors and an All-World selection for the tournament. Huey and Mickey Annarella also earned All-World recognition.

“It was our weekend. It was my weekend,” Pia said. “I was in the groove that weekend. The few outs that I did make were all line drives. I never hit the ball so well.”

Croton wasn’t the only team that had success in Michigan. Stan’s Auto earned the women’s division championship while the Iron Dukes (4-2) placed sixth in the men’s division. The double championships by Croton and Stan’s is the only time a men’s and women’s team from the same city has won titles in the same season.  

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