The seventh annual game between the Columbia Blowfish and the South Carolina Alumni started off with laughable hijinks and turned serious in the late innings.
But the real cause for the evening was never lost on the participants.
Playing for former teammate Landon Powell and the medical bills he and his family incurred during his daughter Izzy’s fight for her life, the game was a huge success.
The Silent Auction held during the game raised several thousand dollars for “For Izzy’s Fight,” a foundation that has been set up to help pay for Izzy’s medical bills. Izzy succumbed to a rare autoimmune disease at 5 months.
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It mattered little that the Blowfish won 8-6 to reclaim the GameFish Cup and improve their record to 5-2 in the series.
Powell addressed the crowd before a spectacular fireworks show closed the night.
“We want to thank each and every one of you, the Blowfish and the players on the team,” Powell said. “Obviously we went through a very hard time this offseason. This is something that can wreck your life. For my wife and I to know we have such a strong community of friends, family and the Gamecock family that has rallied around us and prayed for us really helped us through the hard times. It shows us how good is in the world and a bigger side of God. So thank again for coming out to support us. Because of you, Izzy’s memory and legacy will live on.”
The highlight of the night came in the sixth inning when Powell’s four-year old son, Holden, took a turn at the plate. Powell pitched to him from a few feet away, and he hit the first pitch he saw out near the pitcher’s mound. The Blowfish players played along and the younger Powell raced around the bases to score the Alumni’s final run.
The entire atmosphere was something that Allyson Powell, Landon’s wife, will never forget.
“It’s been amazing.” Powell said as she held Izzy’s twin Ellie. “My heart is so full. Everybody is just so wonderful. Columbia means so much to us. This is where we started, and every time we come back, I get a grin on my face that just won’t go away. Knowing that everyone is here to support us is unbelievably humbling.”
Jason Craft of Pelion provided the next best moment. He was the highest bidder in the silent auction to have an at-bat during the game. He batted second for the South Carolina team in the fifth inning and spearheaded a four-run rally with his walk.
He came around to score on Harley Lail’s two-run triple.
“It’s been since 1999 that I faced live pitching,” Craft said. “It felt good, but I was a little behind on the fastball. I actually wanted a pinch-runner out there. It was fun and exciting but getting this little taste shows me how much I miss the game.”
It was evident from the first pitch that both sides were looking to have a good time. USC pitcher and Blowfish starter Josh Knab opened up the game by throwing the first pitch over the head of Alumni batter Jon Coutlangus. The former Gamecocks star and Blowfish coach charged the mound in fun and tossed Knab to the ground.
In the Columbia half of the first, Michael Wilson hit a bomb off of Nolan Belcher, the recently departed ace of the Gamecocks staff, but he Wilson was ruled out after manager Trey Dyson argued that Wilson used an illegal bat.
Once things turned serious, it wasn’t the storybook ending many were hoping for. Powell ended up being a factor for the losing team. A life-long catcher, who had a stint in the major leagues with the Oakland A’s and retired less than a month ago from the New York Mets organization, took the mound in the middle innings. He and Arik Hempy combined to allow four runs in the third, and the decisive blow came in the fourth. Powell faced three batters in that frame and Josh Sealey, the final batter he faced, hit a three-run home run to left that proved to be the difference.
“I wanted to pitch, but maybe it was a bad decision to let me pitch,” Powell said.
Dyson defended his decision to leave Powell out on the hill.
“He played in the major leagues,” Dyson said. “Who am I to tell him he has to come out of the game?”