1996 Lorain United Polish Club Fastpitch Softball Team (Inducted 2014)
The road for the Lorain United Polish Club 1996 Fastpitch Softball Team to qualify for The American Softball Association “Class C” National Championship in College Station, Texas, was achieved by winning four qualifier tournaments against outstanding teams from the Midwest.
UPC started the championship series with a 5-2 win over a team from Jacksonville, Florida. They won the next three games; San Raphael, California 8-0, Chester, Pennsylvania 8-6 in 11 innings and Columbus, Ohio 10-3. UPC lost the fifth game to Auto Zone of Memphis, Tennessee, as pitcher Bubba Timmins, shut them out 4-0. The road ahead was not easy. They had to fight their way out of the losers bracket.
UPC defeated a Texas team 5-1, and beat a New York team 9-2. They maintained their momentum in dramatic fashion, with a 7-3 win over a Sycamore, Ohio, team as left-fielder Rick Zakrajsek hit a three-run homer to seal the victory and set up a rematch with the strong Auto Zone team. They needed two straight victories to win the championship. UPC did the improbable by defeating Auto Zone by a score of 7-5 in both games to win the National Championship title.
Great defense and strong offense propelled UPC to the championship. Nandi Cruz and Mike Keron provided a strong “up-the-middle” defense, fast and sure-handed outfielders led by Rick Zakrajsek contributed to the victories. Outstanding solid pitching, in the 100-degree Texas heat, by Ken Shoup and Jim Robinson were keys to winning. Player/Manager Gary Lilly was the DH and was ably assisted by pitcher and assistant manager, John Millsaps Sr. The entire team played with a “refuse-to-lose” attitude, no matter how hot the temperature, how tough the pitcher, or how stacked the odds against them were.
All-American honors awarded to the team were as follows: Gary Lilly, Mike Keron, Ken Shoup, Bill Millsaps and John Millsaps Jr. Mike Keron was awarded MVP for the tournament. The season record was 46-20.