COLUMBIA — David Wilfong stands on the rubber wearing his red St. Louis Cardinals hat and pinstriped shorts. He lobs the ball underhand with the back of his hand facing home plate, allowing him to add backspin to the pitch. The batter hits a deep fly ball to left, but not deep enough. It’s just another out recorded by the Machens Hitmen ace.
Wilfong pitched the entire seven-inning game, allowing just one run as the Machens Hitmen defeated the Terror Squad 7-1 to win the Show-Me State Games men’s slow-pitch softball tournament Sunday at Cosmopolitan Park.
Machens Hitmen consists of a group of men from Columbia who have been playing together for about four years. They play in Columbia’s recreational league and the Show-Me State Games each summer. The players range in age from 25 to 56, though most are in the older end of the spectrum.
“We’re just a bunch of old guys,” Wilfong said. “If you saw us walking up, you wouldn’t think we were going to win.”
Although it was a slow-pitch tournament, the game was anything but slow once contact was made. There were a lot of hard hit balls and aggressive base running. Most of the players weren’t afraid to get dirty to field a ball or slide safely into a base.
But there were some elements that made it different than a typical fast-pitch game. Some batters just went straight to the dugout if they hit what was likely to be a sure out. When a home run was hit, the players didn’t even bother rounding the bases.
The tournament was delayed because of rain Saturday night, so the games had to be shortened in order to finish all of them on time. To speed the games along, each batter started with a 2-2 count, which worked to Wilfong’s advantage.
“The key is, you’ve got to know you can throw a strike at any time and make them chase on the 2-2 pitch,” he said. “I was never throwing strikes on 2 and 2. I was throwing balls all the time. They were swinging at balls because they couldn’t let it go. They were afraid of striking out.”
Wilfong’s strategy allowed him to pitch 6 2/3 scoreless innings before finally allowing a solo home run. Even with a plan on the mound, the pitcher can only do so much in slow-pitch softball, so Wilfong needed help from his defense, and he got it. The Machens Hitmen defense didn’t commit an error and turned two double plays.
“In softball, if you play good defense and pitch good, you’re going to be all right,” Wilfong said.
Offensively, the Machens Hitmen did most of their damage in the top of the sixth, scoring five of their seven runs. Two of those runs came on a home run by Matt Kelly, whose approach at the plate is simple.
“I just swing the same way every time and hope for the best,” he said.