Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart – ISN
Victoria, BC (ISN) – After a thrilling few weeks of softball that saw the Victoria Devils 96A Fastball Club capture the Gold Medal at the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Tournament, and then the Silver Medal at the U16 BC Provincial Championships, the squad of talented young ladies will now get a crack at Gold at the 2012 Softball Canada U16 National Fastpitch Championships in Brantford, Ontario August 8th-12th.
ISN’s Christian Stewart caught up with the team and Head Coach Brian Wallace at an exhibiton game against the Cordova Bay Cyclones Midget B team on Thursday evening to see how the team was coming along in their preparation for their first foray to a Nationals tournament.
“It’s been a pretty crazy few weeks for us,” said Wallace, “starting with the huge Canadian Open tournament where we won 11 out of 12 games to grab the Gold there. I think it was about half-way through that tournament that the girls really started to believe in themselves and learn that they could do so much more than what they had accomplished up to that point.”
Devils 96 Head Coach Brian Wallace (at left), addresses his squad prior to their exhibiton game Thursday evening in Cordova Bay (Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“That then carried over to Provincials, and after some tough losses knocked us into the loser’s bracket, we found ourselves in a position where we had to play, and win, 5 games in a row on Sunday to capture gold. Well we almost made it, losing a heart-breaker in the final, but that Silver medal put us into Nationals, so it was still a pretty exciting weekend.”
Victoria Devil player Megan Lee works on her batting with Assistant Coach Carly Aspden prior to Thursday’s game with Cordova Bay (Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
This year the 2012 Softball Canada U16 Nationals take place in Brantford, Ontario August 8-12 and for everyone on the team, including Wallace, it will be their first trip to the big show. “I am so proud of these kids. Many of them have been with us since they were Squirt age and they have waited 5 years to get to a Nationals. That has been my goal as a coach – to get them to one – and it is really exciting for both them and myself to finally get there.”
The Devils success this season has come from solid pitching and a true team effort. “Our pitchers have certainly performed well,” noted Wallace, “but when I look back at all our games this season, everyone at some point contributed something to each of our wins. Our pitchers pitched well enough that we were in every game that we played, and they gave our team the chance to win.”
Ashley Penney (left) and Jasmine Strandlund (right) are two of the three Devils pitchers that will see the bulk of action at Nationals (Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The Devils will head to Nationals as the second ranked team out of BC and as a result, should have a good draw and resulting schedule for the tournament. In addition, having won the high profile Canadian Open, the Devils might just be heading to Ontario as one of the favourites to win it all.
When asked about the team’s chances, Wallace was cautiously optimistic, “I gave up years ago having expectations about anything, but I really like where the girls are right now and how they’ve done over the past few weeks and I think they believe at this point, that they can come out of this with a medal.”
If the Devils are to in fact succeed in Brantford, much of it will ride on the backs of their workhorse pitchers who include Jasmine Strandlund, Chey Delaronde and their one pick-up for the tournament, Ashley Penney, who in fact hails from Victoria, but plays for the White Rock Renegades.
Victoria Devils 96A sluggers Brooke Wallace (left), Lei Stevens (centre) and Emma Entzminger (right) are gearing up to do some damage at Nationals in Brantford, Ontario in August (Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
As the Devils know from the Provincial tournament, teams may find themselves in a position to play a number of games in a row in a single day and the conditioning and focus of the pitching staff on such a day could mean the difference between winning and losing.
Offensively the Devils have a number of weapons in their arsenal, including team batting leaders Sam Pearson, Emma Entzminger, Brooke Wallace, and Lei Stevens, but can pretty much generate offence from any part of the line-up when the team is playing well.
If Devils like MacKenzie Preece can keep their eye on the ball, they can generate offence from anywhere in the line-up (Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
As to the outcome of Thursday night’s match-up with the Cyclones? Well suffice it to say that the Devils came up a bit flat on the defensive side of things and ended up with a loss to the older Midget B girls.
Fortunately, the exhibition game meant nothing in the standings, but it did serve as a good learning experience for the girls. “Well, we certainly need to work on some things over the next week or two,” noted Wallace, “but I’m confident the girls will be ready to go when it’s time to play.”
Caleigh Coels (left) and Ashley Penney (right) are two more tools in the Devils offence that could help the team to victory at Nationals (Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The awesome opportunity that the 96 Devils have to go to Nationals, as one might imagine, comes with a significant cost. To be able to participate, the team will need to raise over $15,000 to help pay for travel expenses. As such, they are asking individuals, local business and organizations in the community for sponsorship. This is a great opportunity to show your support for local youth sports in the communities and to promote your business or organization. If you would like more information, or would like to sponsor the Devils, please contact Head Coach Brian Wallace (Bwally1@shaw.ca) or Assistant Coach Darryl Pearson (firstname.lastname@example.org)