By Sean Rooney on August 8, 2017.
The playoff picture is coming into focus at the Little League Canadian Championships at McDonnell Field, but for those teams who won’t make the top four the key is not to get too down.
After all, the big picture shows they’re in pretty special company just to get to this point.
“These guys are probably getting treated better than they’re ever going to get treated at a sporting event in their lives,” said Port Arthur Nationals coach Mike Fonso. “The odd one might make a university or college team, but even that, they’re getting treated like royalty, like pros.
“They’re walking around with a grin on their faces 24/7. You couldn’t ask for a nicer setting to play a baseball tournament in, you really couldn’t.”
From the full broadcast coverage from CBC to a player’s lounge at the Medicine Hat Lodge and everything in between, this week’s championships have a high standard. Though the competition on the field is certainly intense, coaches are constantly reminding their players to smell the roses, too.
“To be able to play at home in Canadians is an amazing experience I hope all of them will look back on, many years down the road and cherish it,” said Medicine Hat coach Mark Seiller. “I have a motto on my lineup card that I write at the bottom every day, it says have fun, live in the moment, enjoy the ride.
“That’s what they need to be doing this weekend… it will go by really quick.”
Monday’s game between the Ontario champs and the hosts was a quick one, a 14-4 decision for the Nationals that ended after four innings due to the mercy rule.
Medicine Hat fought hard for two runs in their half of the third but couldn’t get any more in the fourth to extend the afternoon.
“It’s pretty fun out here, it was a little nervous going out to pitch in that inning when they’re up on you and if they got another run we were kind of done,” said Gavin Smith, who was the only Hat pitcher to slow down Port Arthur’s offence. “You’ve just got to stay strong in your mind, never say that you’re going to lose the game, just always have the feeling that you can come back.”
Smith struck out two of the three batters he faced in a perfect fourth, but the damage was done early for the Nationals, who got a three-run home run from Mike Danchuk in the first and a solo shot from Ethan Dyll in the second.
Evan Morrison led off Medicine Hat’s first inning with a home run of his own, but Danchuk kept his composure to go the distance, striking out four and not walking anyone.
Now 4-1, Ontario is all but assured a spot in Friday’s semifinals. Medicine Hat, 1-4, isn’t quite eliminated but would need a lot of things to go right to sneak in.
“I think the baseball gods have to be completely on our side,” said Seiller. “Now it’s just have fun, play baseball against Atlantic on Wednesday. We’ll see how it all happens.”
True to form, players from the opposing teams are striking up friendships. The player’s lounge seems to be the best place to do that, but smiles are easy to come by at the diamond as well.
“I’ve got four or five friends from Ontario, meeting all the players, playing with the best in the country,” said Medicine Hat catcher Marek Schlenker. “We were expecting to have fun, meet other players and that’s I think what we all did.”
White Rock (B.C.) 27 Regina Kiwanis Nationals (Prairies) 4
A 17-run second inning ensured the B.C. champs wouldn’t need long to dispatch their Prairie counterparts in the opening game of the day Monday.
White Rock went through their order three times and forced four pitching changes from Regina in the second, then ensured none of their pitchers threw too many pitches as they can already consider saving arms for the playoffs.
Seven different players had at least three hits for White Rock, led by a 4-for-5 afternoon by Ty Fluet.
That said, Regina’s Lucas Bzdel was the only player to hit a home run. Bzdel went 2-for-2 in the four-inning, mercy-rule shortened game.
Now 4-0, White Rock faces Lethbridge today at 2 p.m. The 0-4 Kiwanis side plays Quebec at 5 p.m.
Mirabel Diamond Academy 14 Glace Bay Colonels 7
Trailing in a game critical to the standings, Quebec’s Mirabel Baseball Academy flipped the switch.
A nine-run inning was the turning point in a 14-7 win over the Martimes’ Glace Bay Colonels, after they’d fallen behind 6-3.
The big fourth inning featured five straight doubles by one of last year’s national semifinalists, then the knockout blow — a three-run home run by Alexis Brault.
Glace Bay had taken an early lead thanks to Brady Doucette’s two-run home run in the second, and had the bases loaded with a 6-3 lead in the fourth. They couldn’t break the game open and Mirabel pounced after that.
Now 3-1, Mirabel next plays Regina at 5 p.m. today. The 1-3 Colonels need to win their last two round robin games to have a shot at playoffs.
Glace Bay now faces Port Arthur in a must-win 11 a.m. game today if they want to wind up in the top four.
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