Connor Brooks of the Napanee Spud’s Restaurant Bantam Express was a mere two outs away from a perfection in Sunday’s U16 Fast Pitch Canadians gold medal game before Nova Scotia’s Nick White doubled.
Brooks still managed to close out the game, securing a 6-1 victory to clinch national gold in Saskatoon, Sask.
“All you can do is smile and laugh about that after the fact,” Express manager Chris Boutilier said of just missing out on the perfecto, which is no hits, no walks and no errors allowed by the defensive team.
Napanee started strong in the gold medal game as their top four batters reached to open the bottom half of the first as part of a three run inning. Caley Whiteye singled home Tyler Franklin to open the scoring. A Mastodon error allowed another run to score before Gavin Brooks tacked on another with a sac fly.
Lachlan Stover continued to pile on with an inside the park home run to lead off the second to put the Express up 4-0. They added two more when Aiden Reddick ripped a two run double to score Gavin Brooks and Jacob Boutilier.
Connor Brooks finished the game with 14 strikeouts, surrendering just two hits and no walks. He was named the tournament’s playoff MVP, as well as the Top Pitcher of the preliminary round.
In many ways the gold medal game was the ideal metaphor for the Express’ tournament, as they may not have been perfect but still absolutely dominated the top teams in the country. Napanee went 8-1, their lone loss to the Shallow Lake Sting on Friday to finish the preliminary round.
Connor Brooks set the tone for the tournament right off the hop, delivering a no-hit performance against Team BC on Wednesday. A walk was the only thing that separated him from a perfect line score.
Whiteye drove in a pair while Nicholas McGrayne and Branchard each drove in one.
Napanee followed that game with an 8-0 win over Shellbrooke, 12-0 win over Fredericton and 4-0 defeat of Quebec, not allowing a run until their first meeting with Nova Scotia. While the Mastodon bats were somewhat able to solve the Express pitchers for three runs, they weren’t able to slow down their bats as Napanee plated nine runs for the 9-3 victory.
Shallow Lake halted their unbeaten streak, scoring four times in the third en route to a 5-2 victory. Napanee had lead 2-0 on the strength of an RBI from Reddick while Lucas Thompson scored on an error.
“It didn’t deflate us from the main goal,” manager Boutilier said of their first loss right before the playoff round.
Napanee bashed out seven hits in their next game, topping the Simcoe Braves 6-1.
That set up a rematch with Shallow Lake, where Napanee was more than up for the challenge, cruising to a 9-1 victory to advance to the gold medal game.
“Our sticks worked well all week and took us in to the championship round,” said Boutilier. “It was pretty impressive to put that many runs up.”
Facing the top teams in the country, the Express scored 61 runs in nine games while batting .329. Whiteye led the way with 10 RBI, Gavin Brooks had seven, Branchard six, Reddick five, Connor Brooks four.
From the pitcher’s circle Connor Brooks was 6-0, allowing just 12 hits in 40.2 innings while striking out 81. Whiteye threw 14.1 innings with an ERA of 2.44 while Stover struck out three in one inning.
Before they took the field, the U16 Express were able to watch their U14 counterparts capture gold on the very same diamond. Their coach said that gave them an extra bit of motivation to keep the train going and deliver another championship for Softball Napanee in what is quite possibly developing into the most successful summer in the history of the program.
“It was a great season,” said Boutilier. “We won eliminations which got us the Ontario 1 spot going into nationals. We battled back in our provincials when we lost our first game in our double knock out championship round and were able to come back and win the all-Ontarios then to finish it off with a national win, you can’t ask for a much better season than that.”