By CLAUDE SCILLEY
NAPANEE, Aug. 11—It’s sometimes said that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Napanee Shoeless Joe’s Express turned the old adage on its side for the Softball Canada junior men’s fastball championship: If you let them join you, they can’t beat you.
Two players the Express added for the tournament delivered big hits for Tuesday afternoon, as they beat the cross-town rival Napanee Abundant Insulation 12-4 in a game shortened by the five-inning mercy rule.
Mackenzie Pringle hit a pair of home runs, and Jeff St. Pierre banged a home run and a double, driving in four runs, as Shoeless Joe’s improved to 2-1 at the nine-team tournament.
St. Pierre, who also gained the pitching win in relief, comes from Port Perry, and has been a thorn in the side of Napanee teams for years.
“He’s always been a really tough out,” Express coach Brent Mills said. “He hit a home run here to beat us in bantam. Even on the mound, he throws the ball real hard and our guys have always struggled to get hits off him. When we had the opportunity to have him play for us, it was really nice that he was still there for us to pick up.
“It’s great to have him on our side, instead of watching the ball leave the yard from the other side.”
Likewise, Pringle, from Owen Sound, was familiar to Mills for having hit a home run against his team at the provincial elimination tournament in July. “It was pretty impressive,” Mills said. “He had a good tournament.”
The other pickup, Josh Maguire, comes from Grafton and, like St. Pierre, played this year for Oshawa. He had a single and stole a base against Abundant Insulation.
Though it came against a team that remains winless at the tournament, the victory for Shoeless Joe’s was an important one for the fact it allowed the team to get past a crushing extra-inning defeat earlier in the day against the Ontario champion Stratford (nee New Hamburg) Cubs.
In that game, Napanee blew a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh but rallied to score three times in the first extra inning. Then they proceded to give up four runs in the bottom of the eighth, three of them scoring after two were out.
That game had been originally scheduled for Monday night but was pushed back to Tuesday morning when rain halted play around suppertime. That meant that instead of a break after that game, the Express went right back on the field to play what was originally their first Tuesday game, against the other Napanee team.
“It was good to get it going (right away),” Mills said. “We were able to get up and win the game, get the bats going (and) move on quickly, instead of having to dwell on it overnight or through the day to the next one. It’s nice to get it over with.”
Still, the Express was in tough against the rookie-laden Abundant Insulation team, which had four base-hits and scored three times in the third inning to go ahead 3-0, its first lead of the tournament.
Shoeless Joe’s got a spark in the bottom of the inning, however, when Jordan Mills and Brandon Blunt, the 8-9 hitters, each delivered a single. Cole Bolton’s triple scored them both, Brett Irwin plated Bolton with a single and then, with two out, St. Pierre and Pringle hit back-to-back home runs.
Six more runs in the fourth inning, two on St. Pierre’s double and two more on Pringle’s second home run, gave Shoeless Joe’s the requisite lead to end the game early.
“We’ve played those guys all year, we know we can hit the ball, so we knew that we were going to get our hits,” Coach Mills said, “but you go almost through the order the first time with nothing and then they get some runs. It’s just nice to have guys who can step up at any point in the order. They did a real good job getting two guys on base and then the top of the order batted them around.
“The bottom of the order is just as important as the top. They set the table once you’re coming back through.”
Napanee, whose only two losses at the elimination tournament came against the New Hamburg-Stratford team, were in a good spot when the teams met Tuesday morning. Cole Bolton had a no-hitter through six innings, and a two-out single by Barry Hogeboom in the fourth inning and solo home run by Bolton and another two-out single, by St. Pierre, in the fifth, had staked him to a 3-0 lead.
The first Stratford batter in the bottom of the seventh reached on an error, however, and he was followed by Greg Hammell, who singled, and Craig Lyons, who doubled. A two-out single by Johnny Baker delivered the tying run.
Hogeboom’s three-run home run with two out in the top of the eighth appeared to give the home team a comfortable margin but the Cubs weren’t finished. Eric Morgan, working in relief of Bolton, walked the first batter he faced and a single by Cody Werner drove in a run. Mitch Green, who walked, was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a passed ball and then Hammell drew a base on balls on a 3-2 pitch.
Steve Lyons then ended a nine-pitch at bat by belting a three-run home run that won the game.
“There was a hiccup there in the seventh inning; we let them get back in it but kept the game going,” Mills said. “We didn’t let them finish us off in the seventh.
“They’re good hitters,” he continued. “We made a nice play at the plate to get two out then they just put a good swing on the ball to finish it off. It was a 3-2 count and we thought we had the guy struck out and then the next pitch went over the fence.”
Through mid-afternoon play, Stratford is the only remaining undefeated team, at 3-0. Napanee Shoeless Joe’s, Quebec and the Saskatchewan Diamondbacks are both 2-1 while Alberta, Tavistock and Newfoundland-Labrador are 1-1. Napanee Abundant Insulation and the Saskatoon Bullets both languish at 0-3.
After making up the rain-delayed games, organizers now have the tournament on schedule, meaning Shoeless Joe’s next game, against the Saskatoon Diamondbacks, is expected to start as scheduled, at 7 p.m.