Team effort leads to national bronze for Bantam Express

The Napanee Spud’s Restaurant Express bantam boys had to win two straight playoff games to reach the medal round at the U16 Boy’s Canadian Fast Pitch Championship, held this past weekend in Innerkip, Ont.

Adam Prudhomme
Beaver Staff

At the start of the season the Napanee Spud’s Restaurant Under-16 Express weren’t even sure if they would be able to field a team.

By the end of the season they had nationals bronze medals draped around their necks.

Napanee went 8-4 at the 2018 Under-16 Boy’s Canadian Fast Pitch Championship this weekend, seeing their run for gold halted by the host Innerkip Junior Eagles with an 8-1 loss.

“We played as a team, you can’t ask for much more than that,” said Napanee Spud’s Restaurant Under-16 Express coach Chris Boutilier. “Even when you’re down, they still played together and were trying to build everybody back up.”

Innerkip, which finished as silver medalists, also bested the Express in their first playoff meeting on Saturday, topping them 6-2.

That left the Express in a must-win situation heading into their next game against Shallow Lake.

Trailing 2-0 after five, the Express came to life with a one out rally in the sixth. After Brock Fencott reached second on an error to start the inning, he came into score when Rob Barker grounded to first but was able to reach on an additional error. Dylan Hehn cashed in pinch runner Kody McLaughlin to tie the game.

After a scoreless top of the seventh thanks to some strong defense at second from Madison Cronkwright and a big stretch at first from Carter Hillier, the Express walked it off when Fencott hit a grounder to short with Dawson Colazio sliding in safely at home as the ball popped out of the catcher’s glove during the tag attempt.

They followed that with a 6-0 victory over Nova Scotia’s East Hants Mastodons to clinch at least a bronze medal finish. Connor Brooks threw five shutout innings, striking out 11 Mastodons on the way with Fencott adding two more innings with four strikeouts for the win. Barker led the way with two RBI while Nicholas McGrayne, Cronkwright and Jacob Boutilier each drove in one.

Napanee rolled into the weekend’s playoffs on a high note after going 6-2 in the round robin to give them a double-life for the playoffs.

After opening the tournament with a 7-0 victory over the Saskatoon Selects on Wednesday, they capped off Day 1 with a thrilling 5-4 win over the same Shallow Lake Sting team they’d meet in the playoffs.

Hehn delivered the game winner, driving in Brooks in the eighth inning to break the 4-4 tie. Jacob Martin’s defense at third helped to keep the Sting at bay while the Express bats were able to chip away thanks to a triple from Barker and sacrifice fly RBI from Travis Phibbs, a pickup from Jarvis, to score Keegan Fischer, a pickup from Palmerston.

They topped Quebec 6-4 on Thursday before suffering their first loss of the tournament to Innerkip, losing 12-5. They closed out Thursday with a 3-0 win over New Brunswick.

On Friday they doubled up on Newfoundland 4-2 and beat Nova Scotia 7-4 before losing 8-0 to the eventual gold medal champion Tavistock Athletics to close out the round robin.

“Everybody got a chance to play,” said Boutilier of his team. “Everyone contributed one way or another either on the bench or in the field.”

Boutilier says the team played as a cohesive unit the entire week, highlighted by Connor Birdsell, who injured his knee in the final round-robin game. The coaching staff was impressed with his honesty heading into the playoffs, noting he was too sore to perform at the highest level and gave way to someone else. He was able to get one more at-bat in the final game, delivering a single off the bench. The team also called upon Zach Harry to play some third base for them as well.

Three Express players were presented with tournament awards as Fencott was an All Canadian shortstop, Barker an All Canadian centre fielder and Brooks the tournament MVP.

Though they didn’t finish with the gold they were aiming for, the 2018 season was still an extremely successful one for the Express. A young team, almost half their roster was made up of first year bantams with two second year peewees. The coaching staff saw their team develop throughout the summer, particularly McGrayne who had never caught before heading into the season. By the time nationals arrived, he was a key member on the infield with his leadership.

The coach also acknowledged call ups Bryson Gilpin, Gavin Brooks and Aiden Reddick for helping them qualify for nationals.

Boutilier says the parents, fans and sponsors provided great support throughout the week as well, as did Brayden Cassells, a mite aged player for Innerkip who served as the team’s bat boy.

Boutilier says the team wishes best of luck to the Express peewees (Aug. 8-12 in Stouffville) and midgets (Aug. 14-19 in Napanee) as they prepare for their national tournaments.

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