Weeks after earning silver at the 2017 U-18 Men’s Fast Pitch Championship in O’Leary PEI, the Napanee AFW Express learned two things-that their entire roster would be eligible to compete at the U19 level and they’d get a chance to do so on home turf.
Since learning they’d be host of the 2018 U19 Men’s Fast Pitch Championship, they’ve had Aug. 14-19 circled in their calendars as they looked to earn the gold medal they felt got away last summer.
“Our boys have been waiting for a year to get a chance to improve on our finish last year,” said Express head coach Bryan Brooks. “To get a chance to do that at home could give us the boost to put us over the top. This year has been an extended season with the eliminations in June, provincials in July and nationals in August. We’ve been putting in the work the last few weeks to make sure we’re in tip top shape.”
Napanee will be led by the battery of Riley Manion (P) and Brendan Hagerman (C) who represented Canada at the WBSC Junior Men’s World Softball Championship earlier this summer in Prince Albert, Sask. Manion delivered a no-hitter at the tournament while Hagerman hit .381 with a triple and four RBI.
Call-up Connor Brooks, who just last week led the Napanee Spud’s Restaurant U16 Bantam Express to national bronze, can also be called upon to pitch.
Kael Frendenburgh (OF) will look to pick up where he left off at last year’s tournament, where he hit .385 with a team high eight RBI. Kyle Weese (2B), Jason McCracken (3B), and James Martell (SS) form a dangerous infield for the Express, as all hit well over .300 at last year’s nationals, as did outfielder Cal Doyle.
Along with hitting for average, the Express also have their share of power threats as well with the added comfort of familiarity with the dimensions of the Robert Paul and Richard Dickson diamonds at the Napanee Fairgrounds.
The Express will have the added incentive of wanting to finish their season strong after suffering early exits at both the provincial qualifiers and provincial championships.
“This is the first time we’ve ever been in a situation that we were granted a berth rather than earning a berth,” Brooks said of being the host team. “As a coach I think our effort represented that situation. We didn’t have that sense of urgency and we didn’t show that kind of resilience to fight back when things got a little rough. We know our backs are against the wall at nationals. There’s no tomorrow, so to speak, and we’re looking for a significantly different outcome.”
This team has shown what they can do when it’s do-or-die in the past, as last year they rattled off four straight victories in must-win situations just to reach the finals before falling 5-0 to Chepstow.
Along with looking to avenge that loss, they hope to help to continue to grow softball in Napanee. More so than any other team in the tournament, their roster is made up of home grown players representing the community they grew up playing softball in.
“It’s exciting,” Brooks says of playing at home. “These players get to look in the stands and see their mom, dad, brother, little sister that are all part of Softball Napanee. They truly get a chance to prove their ability and be mentors. They’re strong community kids, very active in the community. We’re expecting big things out of them not only on the field but off the field.”
They’re hoping for plenty of support next week as they look to end their season on a high note.
Napanee AFW Express roster