Their spot in nationals already secure, Napanee’s AFW Construction U19 Express still have plenty to play for at this weekend’s OASA U19 Eliminations in Carp.
The Express, who gain an automatic berth to the Canadians by virtue of being the reigning champions, have every intention of winning this weekend’s 13 team tournament just outside the nation’s capital.
Carrying a roster boasting several returning players from last year’s championship squad mixed with graduated bantam players, the Express are gunning for the top.
“We have a lot of players that expect to start,” Express coach Bryan Brooks said of his team. “There’s 15 players on the roster, everyone one of them believes there’s a place in the starting lineup for them. It’s a good problem to have as a coach.”
Brock Fencott, Tom Hanna and Connor Brooks make up the pitching staff with Alex Li, Cal Doyle, Ethan Winter, Carson Shuttleworth, Rob Barker, James Martell, Kael Fredenburgh, Seth Barton, Finn Pierce, Kyle Weese, Tucker Firth and Brendan Hagerman rounding out the position players.
Napanee’s depth will be an asset as they get set to play upwards of five games in the three day span.
Brooks says despite the fact they don’t have to qualify, they’re eager to make a statement this weekend to show the rest of the province they’re not resting on their laurels from last year. A first place finish at eliminations would also give them first choice at pick-ups from any team that doesn’t qualify.
Belmore, who will play as host team at nationals, is the other team in this weekend’s field that already has their ticket punched. The other 11 teams will be vying for a top two finish to earn a spot in the 2019 U19 Men’s Canadian Fast Pitch Championships, Aug. 6-11 in Owen Sound.
This will mark the first tournament of the season for Napanee, who has been playing in a Kingston’s men’s league this season to prepare for eliminations and nationals. That means the U19 team is sometimes matched up against experienced fast pitch players sometimes twice their age.
“We’ve fared pretty well in the Kingston men’s league,” said Brooks. “We find ourselves demanding respect. There was a time when front line starters didn’t have to pitch against our midgets. We’re at a point where if you let your foot off the gas we can put some runs up in a hurry. Likewise, we’re not always easy to score runs against.”
Napanee opens the tournament Friday against Jarvis at 7 p.m.