Not even a lopsided loss in its final game could diminish what the Napanee Express accomplished at the Ontario Amateur Softball Association junior elimination tournament in Owen Sound.
“Overall, we had a great weekend,” coach Al Fenwick wrote in an email, after his team was eliminated by an 8-1 loss Sunday to Tavistock.
In one essential respect, the defeat was academic, however, since the Express, defying the odds, had already qualified for the Canadian junior championship tournament, Aug. 10-16 in Napanee.
“These lads have never been to a Canadians,” Fenwick continued. “As coaches, we said from the beginning if we all showed up to play, we have the team (to do that).”
What made Napanee’s success improbable was not only that the team is composed of players who didn’t make Napanee’s other team—which came second at the tournament—but its youth: of the 13 players, two are still of midget age, 10 are first-year juniors and only one, pitcher Luke Severson, is in his second year of junior fastball.
After winning its opening game 11-0 Friday night, the Express faced the New Hamburg Cubs in its second contest. Solo home runs in the first inning by Marcus Rice and Grant Fry stunned the Cubs, the pre-tournament favourite, which needed two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to prevail, 10-9.
After that pummeling, on its way to winning the tournament New Hamburg allowed just three runs in its last three games.
Napanee rebounded smartly with a 6-1 win over Innerkip, with Wyatt Fenwick and Alex Douglas each collecting two hits. That put the Express immediately into a game with the host team from which the winner would qualify for the national championship.
A diving catch in centre field by Braden Tucker, with a runner on second and two out in the seventh inning, preserved a 2-0 Napanee victory. Rice drove in both runs, with a solo home run and a double, and Severson gained the pitching victory, his third of the tournament.