July 25, 2011. The Ryley Rebels are at the Bardo Recreation Grounds to take on the Athletics in the Powerline Baseball League’s Playoff Play-In game. Winner moves on to the post season to take on the Leduc Milleteers and the loser takes a hike for the off season. At the time, it was a big game. The Rebels/Athletics rivalry was at its peak and both teams were filled with guys who all had ties to the area. The Athletics would send one of the greatest big game pitchers in PBL history, Ray Lehman, to the mound. Opposing him was a guy that Ray would babysit years before and who helped to instil a love of the game baseball I’m sure, Curt Stensrud.
In 2011, longtime PBL player and historian Jason Buzzell wrote about hearing stories of a young man from Camrose who scouts came from abroad to see. It was Curt. Buzzell talked about the July 12, 2009 game that would go down in PBL lore which once again saw Ryley and Bardo square off. The game itself deserves a story all its own as Curt went toe to toe with another PBL legend, and Ryley native, Donny Oslund. The game would finish 1-1 after eight innings as both pitchers refused to be taken out when a little tiredness appeared and instead found another gear to keep going.
I remember watching Curt on the mound for the old Camrose Roadrunner teams of the late 90s/early 2000s when they would come to Ryley. He was big and intimidating on the mound throwing absolute gas for the Roadrunners to “Mad Dog” behind the plate. He struck out a Ryley Rebel to end an inning and was marching off the field with his Stensrud game face…which quickly turned into a big smile when he came over to say hi and to say thanks for coming out to me and my dad.
The 2011 PBL Playoff Play-In game would be Curt’s final game in the Powerline Baseball League. The hard nosed, old school baseball player who was as well know for his bear hugs and laughs as he was for his toughness and passion for the game of baseball, would tragically pass away less than a month later, on August 21.
I was looking at the score book from that game and thought I would share a retro recap. Here it is;
STARTING LINE UPS
- Corey Epp (LF)
- Brian Tavaroli (2B)
- Kyle Reinholt (1B)
- Kevin Reinholt (DH)
- Dylan Solberg (SS)
- Dustin Solberg (C)
- Craig Koughan (3B)
- Kris Kushnerick (RF)
- Josh Lyons (CF)
Curt Stensrud (P)
- Rob Berrecloth (3B)
- Mike LeClaire (SS)
- Ryan Olsen (2B)
- Craig Neufeld (CF)
- Ray Lehman (P)
- Dylan Berrecloth (RF)
- Gary Yurkowski (1B)
- Pete Neufeld (LF)
- Don Oslund (C)
The Ryley Rebels struggled in the first three innings against right hander Ray Lehman. The veteran Athletics pitcher would allow a lead off walk to Corey Epp before retiring the next eight Rebel hitters in a row to face the minimum through three innings.
Bardo would start off with some small ball versus Stensrud and the Rebels, as Rob Berrecloth would start the game with a single back up the middle before being moved over on a Mike LeClaire sacrifice bunt. Stensrud would get Ryan Olsen and Craig Neufeld to get out if the inning on his way to retiring six of the first eight he faced.
The Athletics would strike first in the bottom of the third. Stensrud would hit Don Oslund and Rob Berrecloth to start the inning and then walk LeClaire to load the bases. A Ryan Olsen single to right fielder Kris Kushnerick would make it 1-0 but the A’s wouldn’t send Rob Berrecloth on the play. An error to Craig Koughan would bring in a second run to make it 2-0 and after a pair of ground balls back to Koughan at third which turned into 5-2 putouts, the A’s would cash in another run as Neufeld would score later in the inning for an early 3-0 lead. The final out of the inning was a flash of the athletic big man that Curt was as he would pounce off the mound and make a play himself on a Gary Yurkowski ground ball for the always exciting unassisted-1 put out.
Lehman would strike out Kyle Reinholt and Kevin Reinholt in the first to end the first inning before striking out Dylan Solberg to start the second. It was the first of two times during the game that Lehman would strikeout three in a row. The second time coming in the top of the fourth with the A’s up 3-0. Corey Epp would break up the no-hit bid with a single to left field and quickly turn it into a double with a stolen base. Brian Tavaroli took a walk from Lehman before the A’s pitcher would get Kyle Reinholt, Kevin Reinholt and Dylan Solberg to end the fourth and keep the Rebels off the score board.
Despite giving up three runs in the third, Stensrud would start the bottom of the fourth with back to back strikeouts. The Rebels defence was once again shaky, but did not break. With two outs Mike LeClaire would reach on an error to Brian Tavaroli ahead of Ryan Olsen’s second single of the night to load the bases. Stensrud would battle for the Rebels and get a big two out fly ball off the bat of Craig Neufeld that left fielder Corey Epp would make a catch on to end what would have been a back breaking inning for the Rebels should the A’s picked up some runs.
Instead the Rebels offence got a spark. Catcher Dustin Solberg would lead off the fifth for the Rebels with a single, which would be wiped out by a fielder’s choice from Craig Koughan. The big fella hustling down the line proved to be huge for the Rebels as Kris Kushnerick would step up to the plate and drive a ball into the right field stands to trim the lead to 3-2 A’s.
With his offence coming around Curt went into shut down mode on the hill. In the fifth Stensrud would allow a single to Dylan Berrecloth but would strikeout the side. In the sixth inning the power right hander would get through the inning with three weak ground balls.
The Rebels would tie the game in the top of the sixth with pinch hitter Travis Bugge coming in as a left handed bat against Lehman. The former Rebels teammates would duel but Bugge would prevail with a single to right centre. Bugge would come all the way around from first base to tie the game 3-3 on a Kevin Reinholt single to right field. Bugge, not known for his speed, would be aided in his last ninety feet of base path by an error on the play from pitcher Ray Lehman on the cut off.
Tie ball game heading into the the seventh. Craig Koughan would lead off the inning with a single before going all the way around to third on a pair of passed balls. Lehman would get Kushnerick on a line drive to first baseman Gary Yurkowski (I remember taking a few steps out of the box thinking double for sure as the Bardo Sun was abusing the right side off the defence but Yurkowski made a great grab at first dealing with that sun) but would surrender a walk to centre fielder Josh Lyons. The walk would end Lehman’s night as Bardo would call on Don Oslund to come out from behind the plate to get the A’s out of the jam. Oslund would get Corey Epp for out number two on a towering pop up to third base to set up a two out duel between the oldest guy on the Bardo Athletics (I think Donny is older than Ray?) and the oldest guy on the Ryley Rebels, Brian Tavaroli. With runners at the corners and two out, Tavaroli would turn around a pitch from Oslund and send it deep into the left field corner. Koughan would score easily from third for the eventual game winning run and Lyons would take off on the crack of the bat to turn the corner at third and come home for an insurance run to make it 5-3 Rebels on Tavaroli’s double.
Curt didn’t need an insurance run though. The guy who was amped up for the game and pacing in the first base dugout like a caged lion went right after the A’s hitters in the bottom of the ninth. Curt went 1-2-3 getting Craig Neufeld to strikeout and then Ray Lehman and Dylan Berrecloth both to fly out to right field to end the game and send the Rebels to the playoffs. Stensrud would retire 10 of the last 12 hitters he would face in the game, striking out four in that span and seven on the night.
7.00 IP, 4 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned runs, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts
6.33 innings pitched, 6 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned runs, 4 walks and 10 strikeouts
The win would send the Rebels to the playoffs against the Leduc Milleteers. Ryley would lose game one by a score of 2-1 as the Milleteers would score both runs in the bottom of the seventh to walk off the Rebels. Game two was the miserable Tuesday after the August Long Weekend/Edson Slopitch Tournament weekend which saw the Rebels come out flat and get beat 17-5 in five innings by the Milleteers as they completed the sweep on their way to their third PBL Championship in a row.
I remember the Bardo stands being packed with Rebels and Athletics fans. I can vividly recall playing right field and making those last two outs dealing with the Bardo Sun like so many fielders who had to play that side of the field had to deal with. I remember Curt pacing in the dugout waiting for the offence to hurry up and score their runs so he could hit the mound again and go at the hitters. And I remember Curt’s excitement for the big game. A playoff berth on the line, versus Bardo, in Bardo, infront of a big crowd and it was against Ray.
We never know when the last time will be and when it happens we ask for one more because we often didn’t realize it was the last one at the time. But Curt’s last game was a special one.