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Late-game rally gives Alberta team Canadian junior fastball title
Posted: August 17th, 2014 @ 9:00pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
In the blink of an eye the game turned on the Napanee Express.
Nursing a one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning Sunday afternoon, it appeared the threat being mounted by the Irma, Alta., Tigers might be stymied when Ty Sebastian got Ambrose Firkus to hit a ground ball up the middle.
Firkus just beat the throw to first base, however, to avoid an inning-ending double play. The tying run scored on the play and three straight base-hits followed, producing two more runs that led to a 4-2 victory for the host team in the gold-medal game of the Canadian junior fastball championship.
It's the second year in a row that Napanee has won the silver medal at the national tournament, which the Express will be hosting next August.
Pitching his third game in a row for Napanee, Sebastian had allowed just one hit through five innings, a solo home run by Firkus in the fourth inning.
Firkus led the tournament with five home runs in the preliminary round and he hit another in Irma's 16-7 win over Napanee in the first game of the playoff round. It was the best possible outcome, therefore, to get the Tigers shortstop and No. 3 batter to hit a potential double-play grounder.
"It could have been but it was just too late. Just missed," Napanee coach Brent Mills said.
"From there they got a couple of hits and took over the momentum and we just couldn't get the hits in the final inning. They would have had another at-bat but (getting the double play) would have been a big boost for us."
The next three batters, Carson Soucy, national junior team catcher Taylor Schubada and Ronald Paulson, all singled and by the time the inning was over, Irma had a two-run lead.
Though Sebastian was pitching his third consecutive game, Mills said at no time was there any thought of replacing him.
"We gave him the ball last night and he threw great. We gave it right back to him to work today and he threw real well this morning," Mills said. Sebastian threw a five-hitter to beat the Saskatchewan Diamondbacks Saturday night to clinch a medal and he threw a four-hitter in a 3-0 win over the Owen Sound Selects Sunday morning to put Napanee into the championship game.
"It was a lot of pitching for him but we'd given up a lot of runs and he was the guy who was able to shut people down," Mills continued, "so we were looking at it as being his game. He still threw well, he just gave up a few runs and we couldn't battle back from it.
"Unless we got into serious trouble there wasn't going to be a lot of thought about taking him out. We always talk to the pitcher and catcher and both said he was good to go. He still had lots of energy left in the tank and if he was throwing that well we were going to stick to that."
Steven Normand retired the side in order in the seventh. He ended the game by getting the last eight outs in a row, four of them by strikeout. He struck out eight and walked two in posting his fifth win of the tournament.
"I felt like we could have got some more hits but he hit his spots pretty well and kept us off balance," Mills said.
Napanee scored its two runs in the top of the fourth inning. The first batter, Sebastian, walked and he was sacrificed to second by Cody Brooks. With two out, Tyson Zehr singled to drive home Sebastian, and Sloan Creighton hit the next pitch for a double that scored Zehr.
Sebastian, who was a member of gold-medal teams at Canadian championships in 2011 and 2013, ended with a five hitter. He struck out four and walked two. In his three playoff games he struck out 24 and allowed just 14 hits in 20 innings. Only two of those hits were for extra bases.
Mills said he was most proud of the team's resilience throughout the tournament. The Express lost two of its first two games but won four of its next five to earn double life in the playoff round. After being hammered in the first game by Irma, Napanee rallied to defeat Stratford, Saskatoon and Owen Sound - the latter two teams that had beaten the Express in the preliminary round - to get to the gold-medal game.
Sunday afternoon's contest was Napanee's fourth in a little more than 24 hours.
"As the week went on we did a great job of staying positive," Mills said. "(Losing the first playoff game) was tough. Things fell apart on us, but it was just one game and the guys did a great job of not letting one game affect the next game. They did a great job of letting it go and moving on to the next one and that's why we ended up playing them again today."
Winning the silver medal at a national championship is still a great accomplishment, Mills said. It's the sixth medal won by a Napanee team at a Canadian junior championship in the last seven years.
"The boys deserve it for sure, but having finished second last year they're all pretty disappointed because they wanted that gold," Mills said. "Everybody played a role, everybody pulled their weight all their way through.
"What we wanted was to be playing in the game we were playing today, with a chance to win, and that's where we were. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way."
Napanee 000 200 0 - 2 5 0
Irma, Alta. 000 103 x - 4 5 0
Ty Sebastian (L,2-2) and Cody Brooks; Steven Normand (W,5-0) and Taylor Schubada. HR: Irma - Ambrose Firkus (7).
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