NEW CARLISLE - The one thing we know about 2020 is that we don't know much about anything. As 80 teams descend upon the New Prairie Little League Complex this weekend with hopes of raising the Hometown Cup, everything is completely up for grabs.
While it will be imperative for teams to follow the health and safety protocols, the participants are also focused on getting to Migley Field on Sunday afternoon.
And there is no shortage of teams with the ability to do so.
The Wiffle®Ball Championship Game has featured a match-up between the Granger Panthers and New Carlisle Newts in each of the last two years. The hometown team kept The Cup in 2018, while Granger got their revenge a year ago.
The Panthers roll back into town with the same roster as last year, with an expectation to repeat. Kaylor Trophy winner Seth Campbell, Griffin Smith, Alex Zarazee, and Austin Williams put on a show with the wind howling out at Migley Field in the finals in 2019. Weather forecasts as of press time call for similar conditions this Sunday.
Making their 14th appearance in the tournament, the Newts have never had the same roster in consecutive years. Having played in four of the last five title games, New Carlisle adds former ORWBL MVP Mark Richards to the squad of Garrett Curless, Koby Keck, Joey Schuster, and Noah Shail.
Ryan Galiher, a Newt in 2018 and 2019, leads the franchise's other team the Bray Bombers. Featuring Garrett Ruiz, Zarek Finley, along with Griffleball legends Jeremy Ratajczyk and Kyle Lidster, the Bombers should certainly live up to the name.
Old Guard Isn't Leaving
It's almost criminal to get this deep into a major tournament preview without mentioning the Cult West Warriors. Led by Hall of Famers Scott Soos and Jay Ryans, the four-time champions are still here.
Teammates Matt Soos and Danny Hernandez get less press coverage, but account for many of the clutch moments in team history. The Warriors' roster is rounded out by Anthony Rieff. A member of their World Champion team in 2016, The Muffs captain adds a little pink to the Warriors' multi-color look.
With Rieff's departure to Cult West, The Muffs will not be appearing in The Championship for the first time in over a decade. However, there are plenty of familiar names in the field looking to make deep runs.
Speedy's Chickenheads is rumored to have picked up some free agents from The Muffs to fill out their roster. The 2009 Champions continue to contend year in and year out, most recently finding Migley in 2017.
Perhaps the most consistent team on the northern Indiana tournament circuit, Grandmother's Quilt had their best year in New Carlisle in 2019. Aided by Jared Monhaut and Bobby Bushman from the Hudson Lake Heat, the Quilt made their first appearance at Migley. As Monhaut and Bushman return to the Heat this year, Granny's has a more traditional lineup of Mishawaka veterans with a ton of championship experience.
The Maple City Magic have established themselves as one of the most successful teams in Championship history. The primary squad is loaded with three Hall of Famers: Shane Anderson, Wes Ellis, and Drew Luther. They are joined by Caleb and Jared Jonkman to round out a deep lineup.
On The Brink
Several squads have quietly made deep runs over the past few years. The Woo Crew, led by Jimmy Tumpane, will feature BFAM superstars Walt Griffin III and Brandon Terry. The Crew knocked off Cult West in the Sweet Sixteen in 2019.
After an Elite Eight run ending with a loss to the eventual champions last year, GP Black returns with a mission to drop the "B"-team label.
The Twin Branch Billy Goats, who emerged in 2018 with a final four run, add veteran Tony Koch to their roster this year and will look to salvage something after a disappointing ORWBL regular season.
Fast Pitch Crossover
The Championship's unique pitch-to-hit style lends itself to an inherently less competitive game. However, much of the nation plays a fast pitch style, utilizing the design of the ball for what can only be described as "YouTube-able" pitches with video game movement.
Several teams have made the crossover in past tournaments, and this year is no different. Returning for their third appearance, Prior Lake, Minnesota's Team Combat is looking for their break-out year.
Joining them from the Land of 10,000 Lakes is the Minnesota Moose Soup, led by national wiffle jersey guru Trent Steffes.
Circle City Wiffle commissioner Brendan Dudas makes his return to New Carlisle with a combination team known as the Short Pistols. Also making the trek from Indianapolis will be the Outlaws.
Famed National Wiffle podcaster Carl Coffee also returns to The Championship this year, his first appearance since the inaugural tournament in 2005. He brings a squad featuring some of Northwest Indiana's most colorful characters.
As they wait for their postponed season to take place over Labor Day weekend, the Pokeballs from the Skibbe Wiffleball League in St. Louis will try their hand at The Championship. Commissioner Sam Skibbe has been one of the preeminent "wiffletarians" in the country for several years.
"Don't Sleep" Sleeper Picks
With several ORWBL teams and other teams consisting of ORWBL players, there are plenty of lineups all warmed up and ready to go.
Teams like the Mechanics, Kings, Heat, White Lightning, Wildcards, Emery's Army, and Malort! I'll Have Another will all factor in on Sunday afternoon.
Tournament based teams like The Naturals, Clutch Players, and Homerun or Bust are also no strangers to big success in this tournament and will be a tough draw for anybody on Sunday.
Led by Hall of Famer Seth Shail, the "C-Team" could turn some heads this weekend. Along with Hall of Famer Jared Emmons, the lineup is expected to reunite 2010 Champions Randy Schuster and Sam Zucker.
With all this uncertainty in the world, one thing will be certain on Sunday afternoon, whoever is named Champions of Wiffle®Ball will have earned it.