FARGO, N.D. — Bishop Gorman was without its top closer Friday at Newman Outdoor Field.
However, that didn’t prevent the Titans from winning a tight game to open defense of their American Legion World Series title.
One day after Jeff Malm agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Rays, newly-appointed closer Cory Welch got the final five outs in the Titans’ 8-7 victory against Berlin (Conn.), in the opening game of the series.
“It’s not Malm, but so what?” Titans coach Chris Sheff said. “We don’t have Malm. So we have to do what we can. The next best option to close games right now is Welch. He did a nice job. He came in and threw strikes and got outs, and that’s all we can ask.”
The Titans (63-12) are attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back American Legion Series championships since Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, in 1973 and 1974.
“I think the first game is the most important game,” said Welch, who gave up one unearned run in 1 2/3 innings of relief and stranded the potential tying run on base in both the eighth and ninth innings. “You want to win that one. If you lose that one, you have to claw all the way back.”
Welch entered the game with the potential tying run on second base and one out in the eighth inning and retired the next two batters to end the threat.
First baseman T.J. White, who went 4-for-5 with two runs, singled home Joey Rickard with what proved to be the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning, giving the Titans an 8-6 lead.
“It was big,” White said of the victory. “We lost Malm, one of our best pitchers. We’ve got to come out, we have to win every game with the guys we got. I think we can do it. We’ve got a good club. Good team chemistry.”
Berlin (34-7) cut the Titans’ lead to 8-7 with two outs in the ninth inning after third baseman Joe Balowski lined an RBI single to center field. Balowski’s hit scored pinch-runner James Broncato, after a three-base error had extended the game.
However, Welch squelched the rally, getting pinch-hitter Doug Ferraguto to fly out the center field the end the game.
“It’s huge,” Sheff said. “If you lose the first game it’s just a dogfight to get to the last day. We didn’t play well. We didn’t play as well as we should have. We pitched OK; we didn’t play great but yet we won. That’s the important thing this time of year.”
Welch had closed out games during the season when Malm was absent so he was comfortable in his late-inning role.
“During the regular season because Jeff wasn’t there a lot, I was the main closer,” Welch said.
Malm was lights out at the regional tournament, pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Malm struck out 10 batters and had one save.
The Titans had confidence in Welch to do the job.
“Welch is a good player,” White added. “He’s got a good changeup. He’s a competitor.”
The Titans built a 5-0 lead, scoring three runs in the third inning and two more in the fourth and led 7-3 before Berlin scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh.
“We kind of went into relax mode and didn’t put the hammer down,” Sheff said. “We’re in the winners’ bracket and that’s huge.”
Gorman’s next game is Saturday at 3 p.m. against either Medford (Ore.) or Midland (Mich.).
Bishop Gorman 8, Berlin (Conn.) 7
Gorman 003 200 201 –8 11 3
Berlin 000 120 301 –7 12 3
Manthei, Welch (8) and Van Meetren; Carasiti, Bordonaro (3) and Morin. W–Manthei. L–Carasiti. Sv–Welch. 2B–Ber: Carasiti 2. 3B–Gor: Gallo.