Pacers clinch division 4 title with dominant win

Tom Kankainen of the Pacers waves to teammates after Thursday’s victory over the Pistons at Saddlebrook Softball Complex. The Pacers clinched the Division 4 championship.

It was known but not widely discussed before Thursday’s game that the Pacers could clinch the Division 4 softball championship that morning.

With no postseason and a three-game lead in the standings, the league leaders just needed a victory over the Pistons at Saddlebrook Softball Complex to sew up the title. Still, the players understated the game’s importance.

“It got mentioned,” said pitcher Dave Bigelow. “We didn’t really make a big deal about it because all that does is jinx you.”

Regardless of what hand superstition may have had in the outcome, the Pacers made it clear early on that a jinx was not in play. They took the lead immediately and never trailed in a 22-4 victory to claim the 2020 summer season’s title.

The win moved the Pacers to 15-2, putting them out of reach of the second-place Thunder and taking away any pressure from next week’s games.

“I think today was a situation where, even though we didn’t talk a lot about it, everybody knew if we won today that we were going to be champs,” Bigelow said. “We have the Thunder, who was the team right behind us, coming up next and, if we would have lost today, that would have made it a little more interesting.”

The Pacers pounced early with four runs in the first inning. The Pistons answered with three of their own in the bottom half.

However, the Pacers went on a dominant run, scoring 13 more runs in the next three innings while shutting down the Pistons’ offense.

“We play every inning like we’re tied,” said Mark Jacques. “It’s nice to get a comfortable league, but, especially without the scoreboard, you’re not always aware of exactly where you are. So we just play one out at a time.”

Pacers manager Lamar Young said that strategy has worked all summer.

“Because we did that, it really gave us a cushion we could build on,” Young said.

The Pistons’ biggest threat came in the bottom of the fourth when they loaded the bases with no outs, but the Pacers quashed the comeback attempt, escaping the jam while allowing just one run.

The eventual champs tacked on five more in the sixth, ending the game due to the mercy rule.

The win was just the latest in a long streak — the Pacers haven’t lost in more than a month — but they didn’t all come as easily as Thursday’s.

“Some of the earlier games we won by just one or two runs and it was the clutch hitting, just at the right time,” Jacques said. “We haven’t scored the most runs, but when we’ve scored it’s contributed to a win.”

“The best thing that’s happened this season is timely hitting,” said Young. “Sometimes, you’ll go along all season and you’ll get two or three guys and you can’t get that timely hit. This season, these guys, every time they’ve needed a hit, they’ve gotten it.”

The players and manager agreed there was something special about this group.

“We jelled as a team through the season,” said Jacques. “We lost our first game and we kind of came together and I think everybody every game contributes.”

“I think the most special thing was that they loved each other, they got along, they played together,” Young said. “They worked as a team.”

Staff writer Drew Chaltry can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5233, or drew.chaltry@thevillagesmedia.com.