By Randy Uens
The Napanee Express rolled into the Maritimes on time and prepared to play over the course of the last two weeks. Both times the train pulled into town it left with Gold.
Both the U16 and U19 squads won the Eastern Ontario Softball Championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick on back-to-back weekends.
The U16 group went 8-1 in nine games during its tournament from August 12-15, culminating in a 3-0 win over Chattsworth Longhorns from Grey-Bruce County in the final game.
Gavin Brooks was named MVP for the tourney after tossing a complete-game shutout for the victory in the championship bout. That game was the third game he pitched out of four in total for the team over the weekend.
Brooks also made an impact on the base pads with three runs in the final game. Ty Kemp and Brandon Barker were also big contributors to the victory with multiple RBI’s as well.
Brooks may have stolen the headlines but praise was directed at the entire team of dedicated young men who persevered through some difficult times and games to achieve this fantastic outcome.
The team roster consisted of Brandon Barker, Gavin Brooks, Finn Fisher, Kaden Fowler, Ty Kemp, Derek Li, Jack Madden, Will Myers, Anthony Nugent, Luke Paul, Caleb South, Coaches: Stephen Paul, Mark Kemp, Corey Fowler, Bill Madden, Brian Li. Congrats to all.
Appearing on The Total Sports podcast Coach Corey Brooks cited some strong team camaraderie and fortitude to overcome some adversity on the way to their U19 Championship.
On the surface going 5-1 in a six-game round-robin would seem more than respectable however the story is a little more dramatic than it appears on the surface. This was illustrated when the team fell behind 7-2 in the last inning of the semi-finals against a familiar Ontario foe, the Tavistock Athletics, who had also gone 5-1, and whom the Express crew would become even more familiar with.
With two out in the final inning the Express’s fortunes were pinned on Robbie Barker. Barker set the stage for the comeback with a dramatic grand slam to cut the Tavistock lead to one.
Brooks described the dramatic comeback, “The next guy is Ty Branchaud and he hits an inside-the-park homer and now we’re tied going to extra innings,”
“We ended up going 10 innings and we were basically hoping that they faltered before we did and fortunately enough, we did come away with the win.”
In extra innings the teams played international rules which means each team starts with a runner on second.
The two teams traded runs until the tenth inning when Joe Mick pounded a two strike single to stake a 10-9 lead.
The 12-9 victory was secured with a Ty Franklin double and a Bryson Gilpin RBI single with Express pitching once again shutting the door when it counted most.
The Express victory in extra innings was a short celebration as the Express would roll into the championship game against those same peskyTavistock Athletics.
Connor Brooks, the Napanee ace, was dealing with blisters that made it impossible to consistently throw risers in both the semi final and final games, a staple in his pitching arsenal.
Coach Brooks said ”Connor threw drop balls and change ups in most of the early innings to try to keep his blistered hand from ripping apart.” The humid weather played havoc with the young hurler and the Tavistock team took advantage of their opportunities to take an early lead.
Napanee regrouped to take an 8-4 lead then Branchard sealed the win with a bloop two run double to make it 10-4 in the sixth inning The Express would tack on three more runs and the pitching of Brooks locked down the Athletic hitters in the final innings to secure the victory.
Connor Brooks was named MVP for the tournament
“We have a very good group of guys that look out for each other on and off the field,” Coach Brooks said, “Our attention to detail and determination were keys to the success of this club. Whether they make an error or whether there’s an issue or if somebody’s in a slump, they really do go the extra mile to pick each other up and make sure that we keep the game fun.”
The U19 Team Roster consists of
Bay boy Austin Reynolds
Both teams are expected to largely stick together to defend their titles next season at the U17 and U20 levels, respectively, as Softball Canada has extended the age bracket to make up for a lost 2020 season.
Napanee has always been known as a softball/ fast pitch hotbed but the coaches involved with these teams are hopeful these victories within the successful U14 program will attract more players to continue the success.
These two gold medal wins were also supplemented by the U14s claiming a silver medal at the Easterns.
Despite all of the success on the field there was one standout moment that really illustrated the quality of these young men and how they represented not only Napanee but the Quinte area.
After defeating Cape Breton in the first game the Express were asked by the Cape Breton coach to allow for one more batter.
The batter was named Caleb and he had been a big volunteer helping the Maritime club. Caleb, who has Downs Syndrome stepped up to the plate a made good contact on a ball that the Express players were able to mishandle long enough for Caleb to score an in the park homer.
The Express team rewarded Caleb with their MLB style “home run celebration” ball and chain set up which was quite emotional for those in attendance.
Congrats to all involved on all three teams. You can hear the entire podcast interview by going to the Total Sports Podcast.