Monday, August 20, 2007
It started as so many things start: a simple friendly wager. A kickball game between the employees of the Free State Brewery and Rudy's Pizza with the winners reaping either pizza or beer.
Six years later it is a full-blown local phenomenon known as the Kaw Valley Kickball League: two conferences with four divisions-24 teams in all representing local businesses like the Red Lyon, Yello Sub and Wildman Vintage Clothing.
After 10 weeks of Sunday matches and an NCAA Bracket-style championship tournament, the field has been narrowed down to the same two teams as last year: Billy Construction and Kuhlmania (formerly known as Milton's before renaming after teammate Matt Kuhlman, who continues to compete despite being diagnosed with cancer).
It's a much-anticipated rematch of last season's championship game, in which Kuhlmania pulled out an 11th-inning victory after a spirited see-saw game. Getting back to the final game was hardly a given though, particularly given last weekend's semifinal match-ups. Here's how they went down...
(1) Papa Keno's vs. (2) Kuhlmania
An absolute powerhouse of a team with a perfect 12-0 record coming into their semifinal match-up at South Park, top-seeded Papa Keno's-though villainized by fans and other teams alike-seemed unstoppable en route to their first championship.
They had dominated nearly every team they faced, with key wins over Wild Man Vintage, Billy Construction, and an impressive regular-season finale over another top-seeded team, Rudy's Pizza, who couldn't muster a point to answer Keno's 17.
After a 6-0 shutout of Yello Sub in the quarter-finals, Keno's seemed poised to handle No. 2 seed and defending champs, Kuhlmania.
- Sunday, August 26, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
- Hobbs Park, 702 East 11th Street, Lawrence
- All ages / Free
But Keno's hasn't fared any better than the Chiefs in the post season, losing last year to Wildman Vintage in the round of eight despite a near-perfect 9-1 regular season record.
"This is the best team to never win a championship. All these years they've been so close, and this year they're undefeated," said spectator Jason Hwau, from the 23rd Street Brewery team.
In what proved to be a controversial semi-final game, Kuhlmania edged out Keno's 17-14.
"We got seven outs in one inning," Keno's captain and pitcher Greg Keenan said, referencing questionable calls in the late innings.
"I love this league but, you can't officiate a game of this caliber with that. I have a serious issue with the officiating."
Despite their perfect record, this wasn't the first time the Keno's team has taken exception to officiating-which is done by volunteers, typically from third-party teams. Earlier in the season Keno's was implicated in altercations with referees prompting a no-tolerance policy issued by Commissioner Josh Hunt.
Kuhlmania captain Robert Coffman agreed the calls were close, but thought it was officiated fairly.
"All calls are within half a step and half a call. Keno's did great, it just these kids never give up," said Coffman. "It was the best game we ever played."
- Sunday, September 9, 2007, 6 p.m.
- South Park, 12th and Massachusetts streets, Lawrence
- All ages / Free - $5
(1) Billy Construction vs. (1) The Bottleneck
This heavy weight semifinal had all the makings of a championship game itself. The two teams had clashed in a close week nine game, with Billy Construction (10-1-1) beating one-time champs The Bottleneck (7-3) in an 12-11 nail-biter.
Billy had also handed the 'Neck another of their losses, upending them 11-7 in week five. Their only loss this season came at the hands of Keno's in week three; their season opener ended in an 8-8 tie with Kuhlmania.
The back and forth game was a grudge match to the end, with Billy pulling ahead two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, before shutting down The 'Neck in the ninth for a 13-11 win.
Though this is the second trip in as many years for Billy, essentially the same team has been in the finals four years running-the core team was renamed from Love Garden last year to acknowledge the other half of the members. The team's first trip to the finals in 2004 ended in victory over Keno's team.
Kaw Valley Kickball
2002 - (8 teams, no champion) Teller's undefeated2003 - Wattleneck (now Wattleneck) beat Rudy's2004 - Love Garden (now Billy Construction) beat Papa Keno's2005 - Jensen's beat Love Garden2006 - Milton's (now Kuhlman) beat Billy Construction
Showdown at Hobbs
Third-year captain for the Free State team, Lesli Smith, said this was one of the most fun and organized seasons yet.
"The camaraderie was great. I mean, we never have this many people show up for another team's game," said Smith, watching the semifinals among some 300 fans, a near-capacity crowd, at Hobbs Park.
No doubt the charming East Lawrence ballpark will be equally raucous for the finals Sunday, as defending champs Kuhlmania look to contain Billy Construction for a second year in a row. First pitch is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.