By CLAUDE SCILLEY
NAPANEE, Aug. 14—They are, without question, very good. If anyone needed additional proof the Stratford-New Hamburg Cubs are the best team at the Softball Canada junior men’s championship tournament, they provided it in a 12-5 win over the host Napanee Shoeless Joe’s Express tonight.
It will undoubtedly take an almost perfect performance by an opponent to deny the Cubs the Canadian championship Sunday afternoon. Anything less won’t do.
That was proven tonight, too, as the Express played a game that was anything but perfect, and as a result got smoked.
Napanee committed six errors, errors in the strictest statistical spirit of botched grounders, poor throws or base-hits an outfielder couldn’t pick up on the first try. There was also a run scored on a passed ball, two others on wild pitches—and then there were the brain-cramp type errors that scorekeepers can’t tally but are especially displeasing to coaches—not to mention hometown fans.
• The tailor-made double-play ball in the first inning that Napanee parlayed into a mere force out, leaving two out instead of three and the opportunity for seven more men to come to the plate—and score six runs—before the inning finally ended.
• The fly ball to left field that, to be sure, was over the outfielder’s head but left people wondering if, had it been played more adroitly, might have been the third out, instead of an RBI triple.
• The wild pitch that scored a run on a close play at the plate, a call the Napanee pitcher and catcher chose to discuss with the umpire rather than worry about the fellow going all the way from first base to third.
You get the idea.
It was hardly a performance befitting a team with silver medals from the last two Canadian championships that entertained serious designs on the big prize with the tournament being played at home.
Oh, and by the way—Stratford played error-free ball.
Thankfully, on the final day of the preliminary round Thursday, Shoeless Joe’s won twice to earn what is known as the double life, meaning that, by virtue of finishing among the top four teams, they would have to lose twice before being eliminated. The ease with which they discarded the first of those ‘lives,’ however, makes a person wonder how much hope there is for the other.
We’ll find out Saturday afternoon, when at 1 o’clock Napanee plays Quebec, which won two games Friday afternoon to break the three-team tie for sixth place.
Friday’s game began well for Napanee. Josh Maguire hustled to first when he struck out on a pitch that went to the screen, and, with two out, he scored when Jeff St. Pierre drilled a no-doubt home run over the fence in left field.
Stratford answered by scoring six times in the bottom of the first, a rally fuelled by three Napanee errors, but the Express came back in the second, scoring three times, with two runs coming home on a home run by Sloan Creighton, to cut the gap to 6-5.
The ability to hit the long ball is one thing Napanee has going for it; Shoeless Joe’s hit 11 home runs in the preliminary round, most of any team here, and Creighton was the ninth different Express player to do so.
Napanee couldn’t stop the Stratford juggernaut. The team that was undefeated at the provincial elimination tournament and undefeated through the preliminary round this week was retired in order in the bottom of the second but the Cubs scored twice in the third and once more in the fourth.
In the fifth, leading 9-5, two singles and a walk loaded the bases. With the run that would invoke the mercy rule on first, St. Pierre, working in relief of Napanee starter Cole Bolton, sent two pitches to the screen, each one allowing a runner to score. St. Pierre walked the batter, and, still with no one out, Tyler Pauli sent a rocket down the right-field line, a sure extra-base hit had Stratford needed more than just a single to score the run that would end the game early.
After leading 3-0 after six innings of the game when the teams met in the preliminary round, Napanee has allowed Stratford to score 19 runs in the next six-plus innings.
Friday night the Cubs had 12 hits, including two each from Steve Lyons, Derek Elliot and Jake Moulton, the latter two the seventh and ninth batters in the order.
After a shaky start, Cubs pitcher Greg Hammell, who allowed two home runs and a double in the first two innings, settled down to allow just two singles and only three balls to be hit to the outfield the rest of the way. He retired 10 of the last 13 batters he faced, and only one Napanee player got as far as second base after the second inning.
Earlier, Napanee’s other team at the nine-team national championship, the Abundant Insulation Express, was beaten 7-5 by Newfoundland-Labrador in the first round of the consolation playoff.
Napanee scored three times in the top of the first inning and the Express led 4-0 going into the bottom of the third, when Newfoundland scored six runs in a rally highlighted by two-run singles by Brandon Pomroy and Phil Corbett, both coming with two out.
Brandon Tucker’s two-run single was the key in the Napanee first but it was one of just six hits Napanee would muster in support of pitcher Luke Severson. Marcus Rice drove in two runs for the Express with a ground out and sacrifice fly. He also doubled, as did Grant Fry, who scored two of the Napanee runs.