What a group of guys has to endure to command some respect.
For the Clearwater Bombers, a 37-0 record didn't seem to be enough because of what was perceived to be a weak schedule. So the Bombers hit the road last week for the first time all season to play in the Blue-Gray Tournament in Montgomery, Ala., against some of the best teams in the the Southeast.
The weekend wound up being a virtual round-the-clock gut check, but Clearwater won seven straight to improve to 41-0 and capture some attention with its second straight Blue-Gray title.
"We were pretty confident going in," said player-manager Barry Kahler. "Most people know we have a decent team, but we might not have gotten enough credit up North because we have a lot of younger players and local guys. They underestimated us."
Over a 44-hour span, the Bombers faced one hurdle after another. Murray Britt, the team's leading pitcher, bruised his throwing arm early; a qualifying-round game started at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, and later that day the Bombers played three games in about six hours; temperatures hovered in the mid-90s; and an exhausted Loran Algar was left to handle all the pitching chores.
"It was all on guts as hot as it was," said Kahler. "(Algar) had to work a little harder than we would have liked. We should have ended some games early, but he paced himself real well."
The opening round started easily enough. Britt tossed a no-hitter and struck out 14 in a 4-0 win over Atlanta. Algar followed that with a no-hitter of his own, adding 19 strikeouts as the Bombers beat Montgomery 6-0. Then the potholes appeared. Britt took a line shot off his arm with the Bombers trailing Nebraska 2-1, and was seemingly finished for the weekend. Algar held down Nebraska long enough for Clearwater to come back for a 4-2 win, but four games remained.
In the 1:30 a.m. Sunday game against Earhardt, S.C., outfielder Randy Brown gave Algar a brief rest and pitched three innings in a 9-0 win in which the final out came at 3 a.m.
A few hours later in the quarterfinals, Clearwater needed a six-run sixth to turn back United Surgical Steel 10-4. By then Algar was tiring badly. But he managed to pitch another complete-game shutout a couple hours later, 4-0 over Nebraska, which set up a championship showdown with the Texas Flyers from Houston, a pre-tourney co-favorite.
The Flyers jumped to a 4-0 lead, and after three innings Algar (17-0) had gone as far as he could. Britt, swollen arm and all, pulled on his jersey and started the fourth.
"I decided to see what I could do," said Britt. "Loran had pretty well had it."
Trailing 5-3 in the seventh, with one out and one on, the Bombers rallied to take a 7-5 lead. Britt (20-0) made it stand by retiring the side in order in the bottom of the inning.
"We did it all on our own," said Kahler. "We pushed ourselves and earned it all. The guys did all you could ask of them. There was very little hustle or energy left. We just persevered and made it happen."
Coming up: The Bombers are idle this weekend.