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Napanee Express bound for national junior fastball tournament
Posted: June 30th, 2013 @ 7:01pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Napanee Express is bound to play for the Canadian junior men's fastball championship in August, after finishing second on the weekend at the Ontario junior elimination tournament in Owen Sound.
Napanee played eight games in three days, and won six of them before being edged 9-8 by Wiarton in Sunday afternoon's final.
By then, however, Napanee had already secured its spot in the national tournament, which will be contested in Owen Sound in August.
"Our pitching staff and our catchers were very good, our defence was solid and our offence kind of took over, starting Saturday morning," Napanee coach Ryan Sharpe said. "All the credit goes to those kids. They stuck with the game plan and did an incredible job."
Of all the games Napanee played, two were pivotal for the Express: A 3-2 loss Friday night to Keady, a small village southwest of Owen Sound that actually will be the tournament host for the national championship. The other was a 7-3 win Saturday night over Owen Sound, traditionally one of the province's strongest teams, in a game on its home field.
The former sent the Express to the losers bracket in the double-elimination affair, and doomed Napanee to an arduous path back to the final. The latter actually propelled the Express into the Canadian championship, since by then there remained only four teams still alive.
One of them, Keady, is automatically entered as the tournament host. The other three teams surviving at that point - Wiarton, Napanee and Stratford - were therefore assured of advancing, regardless of Sunday's outcomes.
Sharpe said his players handled the Keady defeat well.
"We didn't really play badly but we left a lot of guys on base. We didn't get a timely hit," he said. "We were maybe a little tense in that game, we kind of got pushed, (but) they're a pretty mature group. They knew what was at stake, we took it game by game, inning by inning, and ultimately we got the result we were looking for."
Napanee's win over Owen Sound was something of an upset, Sharpe suggested.
"They were pretty shocked that we knocked them off," he said. "They were built to win this year. They have a lot of last-year juniors. Their thrower is arguably the best at our level, Michael Root, but we crushed the ball off him, put seven up against him, and played great defence.
"It was a huge win for us, a huge boost."
Napanee opened the tournament Friday with a 7-0 win over Fingal. After losing to Keady, the Express rolled to consecutive wins of 8-0 over Oshawa, 12-1 over Saint Marys and 7-3 over Owen Sound on Saturday. Sunday morning came an 11-5 victory in a rematch with Keady, an 8-1 win over Stratford and the 9-8 loss to Wiarton in back-to-back-to-back games.
In the final, Napanee jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, trailed 6-5 after four and then reclaimed the advantage at 8-6 before finally succumbing.
"We kind of hit the wall," Sharpe said. "It was pretty hot and the sun was shining. Ultimately we just ran out of gas but it's where we wanted to be. We wanted to finish in the top two and we got there so we're pretty proud of them."
Brandon Sands, from Battersea, Cole Bolton, from Flinton, and Braden Scott, from Napanee, shared the pitching. Bolton, who threw 27 innings, was named the tournament's outstanding pitcher.
In a span of barely 48 hours, Cody Brooks caught seven of the eight games.
With 55 runs in their last six games, however, it's difficult to deny the role played by Napanee's offence in the team's success. Seven players hit better than .300 in the tournament, two of them better than .500, and the team hit 12 home runs from Saturday on.
"We hit the ball incredibly well," Sharpe said. "Against Keady, when we lost 3-2, we left a lot of guys on base but then Saturday we just broke out. We crushed the ball. It was awesome to see.
"We had great at-bats throughout the tournament and we got hot at the right time. Offensively, we were fantastic."
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