In a series that in no way was Rockville guaranteed to win, they lost, and lost hard. The Rockville Pikemen were soundly defeated by the California Crusaders in a Landis Memorial Series that could only be described as a trouncing, a calamity, a beatdown, or your favorite synonym. Rockville lost in five games to California, and only the final two were really close after Rockville lost the first three by a combined score of 20-2.
"Well, that didn't go well," said Rockville starting pitcher Enrique Gomez, who lost Games 2 and 5 in the Landis and was thoroughly mashed while doing it. "It's hard to say this, but California was just the better team in this series."
The Pikemen bats went ice-cold in the Landis. Manuel Marino, who was identified as integral to the Pikemen's chances, went 2-18 (.111) in the series. Lorenzo Palacios also had just two hits in five games. The Pikemen hit zero home runs and had a total team OPS of .607, which isn't going to win many games for anyone, especially if your pitching staff is allowing an average of 5.6 runs per game.
"The California pitching is extra tough," said Palacios, who has a chance to win the Joe Gillstrom Award this season as the Johnson League OPS leader. "That's a tough team to hit against. We watched hours of tape and did tons of prep and it didn't matter a bit when we got on the field."
Some of the Pikemen players did hit, including second baseman Valeri Kharlamov. Kharlamov, playing in his second Landis, was rendered ineffective in the series in part because the Crusaders feature mostly lefty starting pitchers, but did manage to go 3 for 8 in his only two games in the series.
"It's so hard sitting on the bench and watching my team lose, but I knew that was right," said Kharlamov, who had just a .574 OPS against lefty pitching this year. "We were such a good team and we just couldn't get it done, and it's frustrating knowing that you're at the point in your career that it won't help for you to be in the game."
The Pikemen were touted as the better team, but perhaps that easy moniker was premature, much as many of the Pikemen players are, well, mature in a premature fashion. Palacios turned 21 years old during the season and Marino is just 20. Mario Guerrer is 23, Chip Puckett (.353 in the series with two doubles), just 19 years old, catcher Francisco Flores is just 21, and third baseman Larry Blake (.353 in the series) is just 20. It's possible their inexperience brought them down a notch in what for most of the team was their first Landis.
"It wasn't really as hard as it was for some of my teammates because of my father," said Puckett, whose father is Charles "Cricket" Puckett, perhaps the greatest player in the history of the BBA. "He's coached me to perform on this kind of stage. But this is a real growth experience for a lot of us, losing is always a growth experience."
The youth factor of the Pikemen is why so many people have picked Rockville as the next potential BBA dynasty. But that's the thing about being as young and talented as the Pikemen are, that it's very possible that you get more than one shot at this. That's the reason teams rebuild from youth: because young players stay around longer, they grow, mature, become potentially all-time greats themselves. Some of Rockville's amazing talent can't legally drink yet, and when they can, there might be some champagne in their future.
"We didn't build this team for one big run at the Landis," said Pikemen GM Aaron Weiner. "We didn't even do it for two runs. We did it to create a team that would be competitive well into the 2040s. That's what we were shooting for, and we feel like with all these amazing young players, that's what we have."
GM: Aaron Weiner