Saturday Night's Alright for Wiffle®Ball
NEW CARLISLE - On the longest day of the summer, things will heat up at Migley Field on Saturday evening as the New Carlisle Newts (9-0) will renew their storied rivalry with the Rolling Prairie Emery's Army (2-7).
The series exhibits the true nature of a backyard wiffleball league, with friends getting together to play a kids game. However, regardless of the win-loss records for either side, the long history of the rivalry has been marked by extra-inning affairs, walk-off wins, and a whole lot of one-run ballgames.
Cue Tom Rinaldi's voice:
New Carlisle vs. Rolling Prairie. It’s a phrase that sends a thrill up Kenny Peterson’s leg.
Two towns separated by just six miles of U.S. Highway 20, but united since 1968 through a consolidation of school districts.
Yet, over half a century later, the flame of the rivalry between the Tigers and Bulldogs still burns on the Wiffle®Ball field in the form of the Newts and Emery’s Army.
The mere existence of the New Carlisle Newts stems from the battle between the two towns. Around the turn of the millennium, alliances formed among New Prairie students during the emergence of the Snow Football League. In order to challenge the Rolling Prairie Wallabies, Jared Colanese, Kevin May, and Tyler Seniff began to assemble a New Carlisle roster, which included Garrett Curless and Koby Keck. The team, with the original colors of neon green and orange, was called the Newts.
After several years in hiatus, the SFL was rebooted in late 2006 with games being played at Migley Field. The following spring when the Old Republic Wiffle®Ball League was formed, the New Carlisle club, led by Curless and Keck, continued on with the Newts name.
The First Meeting
The two teams first crossed paths at The Wiffle®Ball Championship in 2008. In just their second year of existence, the New Carlisle Newts had already ascended to their perch as an established wiffleball franchise. New Carlisle had clinched their second consecutive National League pennant in ORWBL play and were the reigning Champions of Wiffle®Ball when they took the field at Hometown Days.
Led by Zach Blackwood, Emery's Army was making their first appearance in organized wiffleball. Despite a 1-2 pool play record on Saturday, EA showed up ready to go on Sunday (in future years, they would not make a habit of this). A win over the Cubs (Nick Arndt, CJ Kowalski, Evan Layman, and Zach Rehlander) set up an Elite Eight match-up against the Newts with a trip to Migley on the line.
On the brink of eliminating the defending champions, EA outfielder Matt Zakrzewski dropped the potential final out over the fence, resulting in a game-tying home run. Keck followed that with a walk-off home run to give the Newts a 9-8 victory on their way to another title.
Migley and The Knoll
Following the heartbreaking loss at Hometown Days, Emery's Army announced their intention to join ORWBL in 2009 with a series of incendiary YouTube videos directed at their newfound rival.
In that first season, the Newts and EA competed against each other in the Central Division, and both teams took two of three at their respective home fields.
While the crowds at Migley Field had already gained a reputation of just soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the experience of the ballpark, the large contingent that converged on the Grassy Knoll showed intense support of the Army. Under the command of the General himself, EA fans were known to get rowdy when things were going well and restless when the club struggled.
The teams finished the 2009 regular season tied at 30-12 forcing a one-game tiebreaker for the division crown. In a rarity, New Carlisle dominated with an 18-3 victory at the Knoll to clinch the title.
Wiffle®Ball's Best Rivalry
Eric Johnson took control of EA in their second season, and over the course of the next six years, from 2010-2015, the Newts and Emery's Army met 43 times in ORWBL play. New Carlisle scored 373 total runs, while Rolling Prairie put up 370. The rivalry was recognized by the National Wiffle League Association as one of the top nine in the nation.
Despite losing four of the six games head-to-head in 2010, the Newts repeated as division champions in a tight race with EA. However, Rolling Prairie got the last laugh that season, eliminating New Carlisle in the NLDS, 2-1.
Behind a rookie of the year campaign from Jake Lawrence, Emery's Army won their first division title in 2011 while the Newts tumbled down the standings.
Neither team was impressive in 2012, but all six games were tightly contested, including an EA sweep at the Knoll and the Newts winning two of three under the lights at Migley.
After splitting the first six meetings in 2013, the Newts recorded their first sweep in the series history on the final day of the regular season. The sweep put New Carlisle above .500 for the first time since 2010 and gave them much needed momentum heading into the postseason. The Newts would go on to win their first ORWBL World Series that year, with Emery and Jessica Johnson sitting in the front row at Migley Field cheering for New Carlisle in the Game 6 clincher.
En route to their second consecutive title in 2014, the Newts took four of the six against Rolling. EA was the only team not named Cult West to defeat New Carlisle that year. Rolling Prairie also bested the Newts in pool play at The Wiffle®Ball Championship, which to date is New Carlisle's most recent pool play loss at Hometown Days.
Heading into 2015, ORWBL supremacy seemed primed to be a battle between Cult West and New Carlisle. But Emery's Army joined the fray after acquiring Matt Serge, who had just spent the previous two seasons with New Carlisle.
Led by Serge and Lawrence, EA took two of three in the Migley Field opener as a sign of things to come for the rest of season. Emery's Army would finish second in the standings behind Cult West, and found themselves with home field advantage for a best-of-five series with a trip to the World Series on the line.
The series opened up at Migley Field perfectly for EA, as they led by nine runs heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 1. However, the Newts rallied to force extras, and then erased another two-run deficit in the seventh to win on a Keck walk-off home run.
The Skipper would walk it off again in Game 2, to give the Newts a 2-0 series lead as they went back to the Grassy Knoll.
Game 3 also ended in a walk-off, as Emery's Army manufactured three runs in the sixth inning for a 4-3 win. But in Game 4, the Newts were able to clinch another World Series berth with a 2-1 win as Noah Shail pegged Lawrence sliding into third to end the game and the series.
The Newts triumph tied up the all-time series at 25 wins a piece, and Emery's Army folded for the first time prior to the 2016 season, ending the rivalry's golden age.
Emery's Army returned to the league in 2017 and 2018. The Newts won all nine match-ups over those two years to pad the all-time series, 34-25, in their favor.
Even with the New Carlisle win streak, the most recent series still featured a walk-off finish. With the wind howling in at Migley Field in 2018, the Newts won on a sacrifice fly by Curless, which scored Matt Soos for a 2-1 win.
After retreating for the 2019 season, Emery's Army is back again. The EA roster features four players (Danny Hernandez, Lawrence, May, and Serge) that have spent time with the Newts in their ORWBL careers.
Although Emery's Army has been off to a slow start, you can throw the records out the window for Saturday evening's tilt. Fourteen of the meetings have come down to a single run, and 27 of the games have been decided by three or fewer.
The lights will not be up at Migley Field, so the teams will be taking advantage of the extra daylight on the summer solstice. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30pm ET.
ORWBL: Newts lead, 34-25
The Wiffle®Ball Championship: Tied, 1-1
Longest Streak: Newts, 10 wins (8/5/15-Present)
Biggest Newts Win: Newts 21, EA 5 (6/12/10)
Biggest EA Win: EA 18, Newts 11 (5/24/15)