Host U17 Express place second at eliminations, qualify for Nationals in Saskatoon

Ty Kemp drives in a run to help the U17 Express to an 11-2 win of the semifinals of the OASA Eliminations, held this weekend at the Fairgrounds. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Hosting their first major tournament in over two years, the Napanee U17 Express didn’t disappoint the hometown crowd at the fairgrounds by capturing silver at this weekend’s OASA Eliminations.

Their second place finish was more than enough to qualify them for Softball Canada’s U17 Canadians, which will take place Aug. 10-14 in Saskatoon, SK.

After going 2-1 to open the tournament on Friday and Saturday, Napanee entered Sunday’s action needing four straight wins to capture gold. Following a hard fought 2-1 win over Dumbo at 9 a.m., they were back on the diamond at noon to play for a trip to the tournament’s finals. They were up to the task as they scored early an often en route to an 11-2 win over New Hamburg.

That victory earned them a re-match with the Chatsworth Longhorns, who had earlier beat the Express 5-4 on Saturday for their lone loss. Chatsworth meanwhile went unbeaten, meaning the Express would need to win two times to capture the title while the Longhorns needed just one victory.

The Longhorns showed why they had been tough all tournament, picking up a 9-2 victory to claim gold. Despite the loss, the Express accomplished their main goal of earning a spot in the U17 Canadians. The Longhorns, New Hamburg Thunder and Drumbo Lightning will also represent Ontario by virtue of their top four finish. The top eight teams at the eliminations also qualified for provincials, which will take place the weekend of July 22 in Mississauga as part of the Ontario Summer Games.

The Napanee U17 Express were finalists at the OASA Eliminations. Photo from U17 Express Facebook page.

“We were really happy with the result and how the team played,” said Express coach Stephen Paul of the Canada Day weekend. “We had an amazing Sunday winning two games to get to the finals and to qualify, we were happy with the performance and the competitiveness and that’s really going to position us well as we get ready over the next month and a half to head to the Canadians in Saskatoon.”

Express player Jack Madden was named the tournament’s MVP.

Jack Madden of the U17 Express drops down a bunt for a base hit. He was named the tournament’s MVP after hitting .600 for the weekend. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

“To hit .600 over the weekend against some of the best pitchers not only in Ontario but Canada, that’s a pretty special weekend,” Paul said of Madden.

After two years of uncertainty, the Express were glad to be back on the diamond and picking up where they left off as U15s.

“Last year we had kind of a shortened season but it really allowed us to get prepared for what our hope was for 2022 to be a regular season and it has been so far,” said Paul. “Our team, particularly this year, did a lot of training indoors throughout the winter and we’ve been really preparing for this tournament with the goal to qualify for the nationals and to continue to get better as we move towards the middle of August and heading west. A real testament to the athletes on our team and their family members who have kept them in to the sport and their commitment to continue to play as well as they can. It was exciting to be back in the ballpark on Napanee to be playing in front of family and friends. We haven’t done that in quite some time so that was pretty special for everybody.”

Luke Paul of the U17 Express rounds second on his way to a lead off triple against New Hamburg. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Last weekend’s eliminations was just the start of a busy summer of ball for Softball Napanee, with the U20 Nationals set for Aug. 2-7. Prior to that will be the U15 Novice Girls Qualifier, July 22-24.

“We saw it this passed weekend there were athletes all age groups of our Softball Napanee teams that were there volunteering but most importantly just watching the ball games,” said Paul. “As a coach or player that’s on the field that’s certainly appreciated but I think it just shows the strength of our organization and the love for fast pitch in Napanee and we’re so lucky to have some kids that are playing the sport in our community and they’re all out there all weekend and they’re out at the ballpark every night of the week playing and practicing. We’re pretty fortunate to have a strong culture of softball right here in our own community.”

-Ontario’s entries into the U20 Nationals will have their chance to punch their ticket this weekend at the U20 Eliminations in Wilmot. The AFW Express will also take part in the tournament, though they’ve already qualified by virtue of being the host team.

-Napanee’s U15 Express will be in Grafton this weekend for their eliminations as well, looking to book a spot in the Canadians, which take place Aug. 3-7 in Wilmot.

-Softball Napanee graduate Riley Manion, now with the U23 Owen Sound Selects, helped his team to gold at their eliminations, which were held in Woodstock. Manion was named the tournament’s top pitcher.

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