A win shy of national gold last August, the Under-19 Napanee Express men will have the added bonus of home-field advantage this summer as they look clinch the championship that eluded them in 2017.
Softball Napanee learned this week they have secured the rights to host the U-19 Men’s Canadian Fastpitch Championship, which will take place Aug. 14-19, 2018. Every member of last year’s U-18 team is eligible to return, as Softball Canada voted to up the age limit by a year.
“It’s one thing to host nationals, but it’s that much better when you can load up on local talent,” said Bryan Brooks, who will return to coach Napanee’s U-19 team after guiding the AFW Construction Express to silver last August. “We have a strong base of Softball Napanee product that’s come through, to see them get a chance to play at home is pretty exciting.”
When it comes to nationals the Express are a bit of an anomaly in that their roster is almost exclusively made up of players from within the Greater Napanee boundary, with players who grew up in the Softball Napanee system. They’ve often outperformed club teams that have drawn from much larger centres and even some from across a province.
Along with the national tournament, the town was also awarded the 2018 U-19 eliminations which will take place June 15. That tournament will see the top teams from across Ontario battling for the right to represent the province at Nationals. Napanee will take part in the tournament to see how they measure up against their Ontario rivals, though they have an automatic berth at Nationals as the host team.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Brooks. “Not only to host for a single team, but it also provides some motivation for the younger age groups as well, getting the opportunity to see the best Under-19 softball players in the country. It really helps motivate them. We get to utilize young kids as bat boys. We get numerous groups out during the week and there’s a huge volunteer base. It’s just a wonderful coming together so to speak and it’s all surrounded by softball.”
Brooks says many players on the current team served as bat boys when Napanee hosted the U-23 Men’s Fastpitch Championship in 2011. Napanee last hosted a national championship in 2015, when the U-21 tournament came to town.
The rest of the field that will take part in the 2018 event is yet to be decided, though Brooks says he expects it will be a similar format to last year, which was held in O’Leary, PEI. That tournament saw 12 teams with representation from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland.
“Our boys are getting back into work out mode and trying to avenge that final loss last year,” said Brooks. “Having that boost of your home town is pretty exciting and it’s a little bit more incentive to push.”