Monday, June 2, 2008

Dodgeville schools Ridgeway in annual Graduation Game

Chris Clerkin worked up a sweat acting as the bullpen catcher for the Dodgeville Knights on Saturday in a Home Talent League game that would count in the Sunday league standings.

And while Clerkin wouldn’t enter the game at Ridgeway on Saturday, he was the star of the show for friends and family less than 24 hours later when he strolled across the stage on Sunday to receive his diploma from Dodgeville High School.

Saturday marked the annual “Graduation Game” between Dodgeville and the Ridgeway Cardinals in a match-up of Western section of rivals that are separated by only about seven miles.

In a league that usually plays games on Sunday afternoons, these two teams annually agree to move this particular contest to the day before graduation due to both teams heavily drawing players from the same Dodgeville school district.

The two teams know that players, family and even fans are going to be attending the ceremony and ensuing graduation parties on Sunday. So rather than fight a losing battle, the game was moved to a mutually agreed up time the day before.

Clerkin, still young in regards to Home Talent, served a very particular role for the Knights in what would end up being a 4-3 win.

“(He) was our bullpen catcher today,” said Dodgeville manager Pat Reilly, “and would’ve caught if we had to go longer too.”

It turned out that Clerkin was nearly called upon as the game was tied 3-3 heading into the ninth. Luckily for Dodgeville, fellow graduating senior Danny Sullivan scored the winning run in the top half of the frame and the Knights would hang on to win.

Even though Dodgeville ended up winning this year’s version of the “Graduation Game,” each side has some favorite memories from the rivalry in years gone by.

“One year we 10-runned ‘em,” recalls Ridgeway manager Rich Hogan referencing the rule which calls for a game to end after only seven innings if a team is up by 10 or more runs. “That was the most memorable game. That was the biggest upset we’ve ever had with them. And then, of course, we went over there, and they beat us. But they tried to 10-run us and could only 9-run us. Other than that, they’ve always been like this. Real close.”

Reilly can remember another game between the adversaries that ended up in Ridgeway’s favor. And while Dodgeville didn’t end up winning, it remained memorable.

“There was one game here that we got beat in the 15th inning on a Saturday. We started at 3:00 because we had other things going on, graduation stuff going on. We played 15 innings before it was over.”

In a twist of irony, it was Dodgeville’s current first baseman Tony DeMuth’s father that ended up hitting the go-ahead home run in the bottom of the 15th that put Ridgeway on top.

“I guess that’s a memory,” laughed Reilly who probably didn’t find it funny at the time but can now look fondly back at the game years later. It, no doubt, helped that the junior DeMuth contributed to this year’s victory.

No matter which team has won the game throughout the years, the intensity has been as memorable as the contest.

“When I first started playing, the bleachers were full, the sides were full, people were standing all over,” said Dodgeville veteran center fielder Gary James. “It was just crazy here.”

And if there happens to be any more one run games decided in the last inning, it’s sure to get just as crazy in the future too.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Cambridge vs. Utica in the opening round of the annual Fort Atkinson tournament on Friday June 6.
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

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