Gold Express: Napanee strikes U20 gold on home dirt

Express starter Connor Brooks celebrates after Napanee defeats Tavistock 2-0 to win gold at the U20 Canadian Fast Pitch Championship, held in Napanee in August of 2023. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Redemption, thy name is the Napanee AFW U20 Express.

For over a year Napanee had waited for a second shot at the Tavistock Athletics and when that opportunity came up on Sunday afternoon they made good, defeating the A’s 2-0 to win the 2023 U20 Canadian Fast Pitch Championships.

Aiden Reddick squeezed the final out-an infield pop-up, sending a packed Richard Dickson diamond crowd into a frenzy as the host Express celebrated their long awaited national title.

Connor Brooks earned the complete game shutout, earning tournament MVP honours in the process.

Connor Brooks got the start and delivered a seven inning shut-out. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

“Shortstop and third were yelling for it and I was just waiting for the clear communication and when it finally landed in Reddick’s glove, it was an unreal feeling,” Brooks recalled of watching the final out.

Napanee got on the board early when Ty Franklin led off the bottom of the first with an infield single. He advanced to second on a sac bunt by Gavin Brooks, scampering to third on a sac fly by Connor Brooks, almost attempting to score when the throw home missed its mark, but he wisely retreated to third.

He completed his small-ball journey around the bases just a few pitches later, coming in to score on a wild pitch.

Nic McGrayne scored Napanee’s second run via a solo shot in the fifth. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Napanee’s second run scored in a polar opposite method as Nic McGrayne cranked a no doubt solo blast to left-centre, instantly doubling the Express lead to 2-0.

“Not chasing the whole game was huge, especially after that solo shot,” Brooks said of the Express scoring early then tacking one on late in the game. “A little more insurance is always nice to have. It was in a big moment too so it was really nice.”

That second run was timely indeed as the Athletics made things tense in the sixth, loaded the bases with two outs.

“I’ve got the best defense behind me,” Brooks said of his mindset when he ran into trouble. “Throw strikes to get out an inning type deal, try not to over throw and just let it unroll.”

He did just that, ending the inning with a strike out to preserve the slim lead. Tavistock was able to get the tying run to the plate with one out in the seventh, but Brooks slammed the door.

A few times the Athletics had him on the ropes, such as the second inning when they had two on with two outs, but Brooks was always able to reach back and deliver the clutch strike out to deny any two-out rally.

Aidan Yarde smiles after escaping a pickle to make it back to second base safely. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

For Napanee the gold medal win was just that much sweeter in that it came against the same Tavistock team that bested them last summer in the gold medal game.

Aiden Reddick settles under the final out. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

This time around the Express earned their way back to the gold medal game after a 5-1 win over the Haldimand Heat on Saturday night. They then had to await the winner of the Heat and Athletics game on Sunday morning to find out whom they’d play for gold. While the Express would have gladly played any team for a shot at gold, the fact it worked out to be the Athletics made for an extra fun storyline.

“Everybody had it in the back of their minds that we needed a redemption shot. Pretty nice to be on this side for sure,” said Brooks. “Both teams are very strong coming at us but I think we stayed with the same mindset and came out with the right out come.”

Napanee AFW U20 Express celebrate after clinching Canadian gold. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Napanee finished the tournament with the best overall record, going 6-1 in the round robin before sweeping their two playoff games. Their lone loss came at the hands of the Rostock Braves on Thursday.

Napanee had three players earn tournament awards as Aiden Yarde was named to a tournament all-star for outfield. Ty Branchaud was the Top Hitter while Connor Brooks was tournament MVP as well as playoff MVP.

This marked the ninth time Napanee has hosted a national championship and once again they delivered a top-notch event, earning praise from Softball Canada. The home crowd support was constant throughout the week while volunteers worked behind the scenes to make for another smoothly run event that will certainly have Napanee at the top of mind for future major tournaments.

The Napanee AFW U20 Express with their gold medals. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.





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