Jerusalem had a storied and historic playoff run.
This season, the league tested a new playoff format - double elimination. 6 out of 8 teams made the playoffs. After an initial elimination round to pare teams down from 6 to 4, the remaining 4 teams played in a double elimination style tournament, spanning 3 days. This tournament involved two brackets - a winner's bracket and a loser's bracket. Each team had to lose twice to be eliminated from the playoffs, with a losing team dropping from the winner's bracket to the loser's bracket, where they would fight to stave off elimination against the other teams in the same bracket. Against this backdrop, the playoffs began.
The first round showcased a classic battle between the third seed Jerusalem's lock-down defense and the sixth seed Cairo's high-powered offense. Cairo had bested Jerusalem in all 3 regular season games. Some said this game would be Jerusalem's greatest test, and that Cairo's big three (Tash, Hammad, and PG) would be too much for Jerusalem's defense to contain.
Cairo came out swinging in the game, putting up 9 runs in the first three innings, on the backs of homeruns by Tash and PG. However, for the remainder of the game, Cairo's bats were silenced, and they went on to score only 2 additional runs. In response to Cairo's offensive threat, Jerusalem deployed their own firepower, by putting up a staggering 20 runs in 6 innings of batting, including 2 mercy innings. Jerusalem began firing on all cylinders and put the league on notice.
Unfortunately, after their victory over Cairo, Jerusalem began celebrating prematurely. Jerusalem had a break before their next game against the number 2 seed, Baghdad. Against the strictest orders from their GM, Aftab Khan, some members of the squad snuck away and ordered fish fillets. This would be Jerusalem's undoing, as the team engine failed to fire during the game against Baghdad. After a sluggish start against Baghdad, including 5 errors in the sixth inning leading to 5 runs by Baghdad, Jerusalem finally woke up, and began putting up runs in the top of the seventh. However, they would fall short, and lose the game by 1 run, with the final score being 12-11 Baghdad.
Now in the loser's bracket, Jerusalem had its back to the wall. The remaining games were all do or die.
The next day, Jerusalem faced Cordoba, who were hot after having eliminated Medina in the playoffs. Much like the Cairo game, this was a showdown battle between a Jerusalem's top tier defense versus Cordoba's elite, and unmatched offence. Cordoba started off hot, putting up 6 runs in the first inning. However, Jerusalem answered back with 7 of their own. Despite the best efforts of Cordoba's big 4 (Sulemann Mann, Safwan Khan, Faisal Saeed and Omar Khan), including a 350 foot monster home run by Faisal Saeed that nearly hit the other field's fence at Drumquin, Cordoba would never regain the lead. Jerusalem put up 22 runs, while holding the juggernaut that was Cordoba to only 12 runs.
Jerusalem played their next game right away, against the mighty Lahore team, who had finished first overall in the standings for the season, and had consistently destroyed most of their opponents throughout the year, playing high calibre defense and offense.
Lahore was coming off a heart-breaking loss against Baghdad. In that game, Lahore was leading 12-2 after 6 innings. In the top of the seventh inning, things took a turn for the worst. Lahore's shortstop suffered from a strained hamstring. And Lahore decided to pull him from the field, to save him for the remainder of the playoffs. At the same time, Baghdad's bats woke up, putting up an unfathomable 14 runs in the top of the seventh, to take a 16-12 lead. Lahore tried to fight back in the bottom of the seventh inning, but just fell short, as Baghdad won the game 16-15.
Having played two games already, Lahore now faced a hot Jerusalem team for their third game. This was a battle for the ages, as both teams exchanged blows, trading the lead between them numerous times throughout the game. Finally, in the top of the seventh, with their bottom up to bat, Jerusalem fought for their lives, and put up 4 runs to take a 2 run lead into the bottom of the seventh. With Lahore's top up to bat, Jerusalem's defense hunkered down and held Lahore to one run, as they won the game 15-14.
With that victory, Jerusalem advanced to the finals, against the Baghdad team that sent them into the loser's bracket in the first round of the playoffs. In order to take the CHIP, Jerusalem would have to defeat Baghdad twice.
Jerusalem came to the finals focused to play and win. Their GM, Aftab Khan, took everyone's wallets and car keys before the game, to ensure no-one snuck in fish fillets in between games. Aftab promised to take the team out for a post-game meal if they emerged victorious.
The first of the two games was tightly fought. Although Jerusalem never gave up the lead, Baghdad was always on their heals. Jerusalem went into the bottom of the seventh inning protecting a 4 run lead. After securing one out, Baghdad became hot. Their bottom hit well to bring up the top, who kept their foot on the gas. Baghdad quickly put up 3 runs to make it a one run game. In a game of inches, Kara, slipped as he rounded third, and was held. With the tying run at third, and the go-ahead run at second base, Baghdad was on the precipe of victory. This where the buck stopped, and a playoff legend was born. Faheem Kotwal secured the second out of the inning, on a soft infield pop-up to second base. On the next play, Faheem stepped up again to save the game. Baghdad hit a blooper into the outfield, in the gap behind the midpoint of second and first base. Faheem came flying in from second base, running backwards into the outfield, and laid out his glove to snag the ball out of the air, saving Jerusalem's season. This was perhaps the most clutch catch in BSL history, and it saved Jerusalem's season, sending them into the second elimination game against Baghdad.
In the second game, Jerusalem took full advantage of the swing in momentum and morale created by Faheem's game saving catch ("The Catch"). Jerusalem held Baghdad to 3 runs for the first six innings, while scoring 14 of their own. Baghdad tried to rally back in the top of the seventh inning, by scoring 4 more runs, but it wasn't enough to overcome the lead created by Jerusalem. The final score was 14-7 as Jerusalem hoisted it's first CHIP in the franchise's history.
Jerusalem's historic playoff run was led by Imran Merchant, who batted an astonishing 0.824 in the playoffs, including 11 RBIs and 12 runs scored, all the while holding down the outfield, on his way to his third CHIP in the last four years. Taha Iqbal, a newcomer to the league, battled in game injuries while holding down third base, and batted an impressive 0.684, with 11 RBIs and 13 runs. Ali Nazir played lights out in outfield and at shortstop, while scoring a league leading 14 runs as the team's lead off hitter. Hassaan Khan played gold-glove caliber first base, and drove in a league leading 16 RBIs as the team's clean-up hitter. Tyler Jackson played outstanding at the shortstop and LCF positions, making all his catches, including the CHIP winning catch, while delivering clutch hits and 7 RBIs. Faheem Kotwal cemented his legacy as a clutch playoff performer and defender at 2B with The Catch, and 7 RBIs. Khurram Channa played lockdown defense in RCF and RF, living up to his reputation as a top 3 outfielder in the league, while claiming 6 RBIs. Aftab Khan secured the mound for Jerusalem, leading all playoff pitchers in all major statistical categories, while maintaining a batting average 0.556, and driving in 7 RBIs on an impressive 0.833 average for hits with runners in scoring position (H/RSIP). Shoaib Gaya was a conerstone defender in Jerusalem's playoff run, securing all his catches in LF, while driving in 5 RBIs and 7 runs. Zia Beg came clutch in the playoffs, batting a full 0.150 better than his regular season average. Saqib Alvi had a monsterous playoff campaign. He was the fourth best hitter on Jerusalem during the playoffs, improving his batting by a full 0.210 percentage points compared to the regular season, including an inside the park home-run and scoring 9 runs. Last, but not least, Jibran Khan came alive in the finals games, going an astounding 5 for 6, driving in 3 RBIs and scoring 5 runs in the finals games, earning himself the nod for finals MVP.
Overall, during a six game playoff spread, Jerusalem as a team batted 0.537, hitting 0.532 with RISP, with 31 extra base hits (including 7 triples and 21 doubles, and 3 home runs). Jerusalem led the league in all major statistical batting and pitching categories. Their hitting and defense led them to eliminate 4 of the 5 other teams in the playoffs (Cairo, Cordoba, Lahore, and Baghdad twice), as Cordoba was the only other team to eliminate another team from the playoffs (Medina). Jerusalem was the best team in 2023, and their strong showing in the playoffs leaves no room for doubt.
Everyone in Jerusalem banded together for this historic playoff run, bringing home the first CHIP in Jerusalem's history, in Aftab Khan's first year as GM.
After the finals games, the team went out for well-deserved pizza, wedges and wings, and celebrated late into the night.