Cards' Zach Rehlander and Panthers Griffin Smith each win their 1st Manager of the Year award
Throughout the week, the Old Republic Wiffleball League will be handing out its yearly honors. Today we announce the winners of the Manager of the Year awards from both the American and National League.
Bourissa Hills Wildcards manager Zach Rehlander and Granger Panthers manager Griffin Smith were named ORWBL's Managers of the Year as voted on by all fourteen skippers.
In the American League, we saw one of the closest three way votes that we have see in recent memory. When it was all said and done, it was the longtime Wildcards skipper who received just enough support, edging out County Line's Mike Forrester and Maple City's Alex Friedman by 1 vote each (23-22-22).
By winning the award on the American League side, Rehlander dethrones Maple City's Alex Friedman who had won the vote in each of the past four seasons.
Although Friedman, Forrester, and Richards all made compelling cases to win the award, Rehlander was able to earn enough support from the voters after leading the Bourissa Hills franchise to their first winning season since 2010 when they were still under the Bourissa Hills Pterodactyls name.
With the league's youth movement in full effect, Rehlander is actually the 4th longest tenured ORWBL Manager behind New Carlisle's Koby Keck, Maple City's Alex Friedman, and Hudson Lake's Jared Monhaut.
Now in his 6th season at the helm, Zach Rehlander certainly put together his best year of managerial work. After starting the season 2-10, Bourissa Hills went on to win 11 of their last 12 games with all 12 games being played on the road.
Due to the scheduling changes caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, the Wildcards wound up with the corkiest schedule, having to play their first 12 games at The Palace before finishing out the season with a 12 game road trip.
Although Rehlander admitted that his feet were all torn up from playing 12 straight games at The Palace, he and his team embraced the situation as they set out to be road warriors over the course of the 2nd half.
The Wildcards turnaround really started towards the latter stages of the 2019 season after signing an unknown softball player to most by the name of DJ Hill.
Hill received a couple of games worth of action towards the end of 2019 and showed lots of promise as he came into the 2020 season determined to win the AL Rookie of the Year award.
He did just that as yesterday he was announced as the American League Rookie of the Year.
For Rehlander, the addition of Hill was huge as he had quietly been trying to find that missing piece for a couple of years now. With Hill on board, he was able to provide that missing piece that Rehlander had long sought out for.
On top of serving as the mastermind behind bringing in Hill, Rehlander also made some impressive in-season managerial moves that were quite noticeable to anyone who checks the stats. As the Wildcards stumbled out of the gates, Rehlander turned back to his old innings eater, Evan Layman who has done his fair share of pitching over the years.
After struggling on the mound for much of the past few seasons, Layman stepped in and thrived behind a new and improved defense to go along with a loaded lineup. Layman would end up winning 12 games while sporting a very respectable 6.47 earned run average.
Rehlander having the trust to go back to Layman paid off in a big way as that move played a huge role in Bourissa Hills' incredible 2nd half run.
The Wildcards saw their win percentage from last season jump by nearly .200 points as they made one the biggest improvements of any team from last year. All in all this franchise is trending in the right direction as they will look to build off of their impressive 2020 season in 2021.
Meanwhile, over on the National League side of things, Granger Panthers manager Griffin Smith was named 2020 National League Manager of the Year after leading the Panthers to their 4th consecutive regular season finish atop the National League standings.
Smith (26 votes) finished with a comfortable lead in front of 2nd place finisher Nick Brassell (18 votes) and 3rd place finishers Brandon Terry and Koby Keck (16 votes).
Despite finishing the regular season as the top seed in the National League over each of the past four seasons, this is actually the first time the award has been given to the man in charge of the Panthers.
With former manager Brett Shepard moving from manager to quality assurance coach prior to last season, Panthers ace Griffin Smith ended up assuming the managerial duties.
Now in his 2nd season at the helm, Smith is off to one of the more impressive starts by any manager that we have seen. After leading the Panthers to a 21-3 record in 2019, Granger followed it up by going 18-6 while earning the number one overall seed in the National League playoff bracket.
In his first two seasons in charge, Smith has led the Panthers to a 39-9 record which is tied with Alex Friedman's Magic for the best record during that stretch.
The difference between the two is that Smith is doing this in only his first and second seasons as a manager in the league. With Smith having such an incredible start as the Panthers skipper, he seems to be well on his way to becoming one of the top managers in ORWBL when it is all said and done.
Smith's Panthers started the regular season off with a bang, winning their first 15 games as they were rolling through the competition over in the National League. Their impressive start put them in position to be able to withstand some end of season struggles that they endured.
Over the past four years we have seen this Granger Panthers squad grow tremendously as they have turned into one of the premier wiffleball franchises in the country.
While the Panthers have loads of talent on their roster, Smith is the unquestioned leader of this team as he provides them with so much more than just his ability to perform at a high level.
We have seen Smith grow as a leader on and off the field as Smith provides the Panthers with a level headed presence as he brings a very relaxed yet confident demeanor each and every time out there. That demeanor has seemed to rub off on his fellow Panthers teammates who seem as focuses on the game itself than ever before.
Smith and the Panthers now head into the National League Championship Series in hopes of making it back to the ORWBL World Series for the first time since the 2018 season when they did it under the managerial eye of Brett Shepard.
Check back with us tomorrow as awards week continues with the announcement of the 2020 Gold Glove winners!