Story by Dale Marshall and Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
Winnipeg (ISN) – The Cordova Bay Midget B Cyclones have come home with the Silver medal from last weekend’s Western Canadian U18 Softball Championships that were played in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Cyclone’s cruised through the tournament with a 6-3 record overall, losing a rain shortened final to Manitoba 5-0.
The Cyclones began the tournament in tough fashion last Thursday, having to play three round robin games on the first day. In their first game, an 8:30 am start against Prince Albert, the Cyclones were in tough, up 1-0 until they broke it open in the 5th and 6th innings with 7 runs to take the opener 8-1. Jessica Audette pitched a complete game and Katie Gamble started things going in the 5th with a 2 run double.
At 12:30 the Cyclones played Manitoba 2, represented by Winnipeg Lightning. There was some controversy at the tournament when Manitoba decided to not send any teams to the A national tournament in Montreal and allowed their top 3 teams in the province to participate in the U18B Westerns. Usually the top 2 teams go to the A Nationals and the 3rd and 4th go to the B westerns. As such, the Lightning were a very strong team with solid pitching and jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 1 inning. After a shaky start, Shelby Thornton settled in and pitched very well and held the Lightning to those 3 runs until the 6th when they scored 2 more to prevail 5-0 in 7 innings. The Cyclones were unable to get our bats going against the tough Winnipeg team and were held to only 2 hits.
Capping off their long first day with a 7:00 pm game, the Cyclones would face Manitoba 1, represented by Smitty’s Terminators, the top A team in the province lead by 10 girls with fastball scholarships to US University and colleges. They had won their first 2 games by 20-1 and 17-3 scores. The Cyclones were undaunted by this however and jumped out to a 2-1 lead after an inning, and were tied 2-2 after 2, but the Terminators were very strong and wore down our pitchers, Jessica Audette and Shelby Thornton, but not without a scare.
The Cyclones march into opening ceremonies in Winnipeg (Photo Courtesy Cordova Bay Cyclones)
The Cyclones got back to 8-3 in the top of the 5th with runners on second and 3rd when they brought in their number 1 pitcher, Brooke Seneshen, (the tournament MVP and off to Galveston Texas on a 4 year scholarship in sept) to close things down and eventually beat the Cyclones 10-3.
Facing probable elimination from the medal rounds with another loss, the Cyclones began the day Friday facing their third consecutive Manitoba opponent, the Manitoba Angels (who eventually finished the round robin at 4-2) in another early morning draw. The Cyclones were held scoreless for 5 of 6 innings, scoring all 4 runs in the bottom of the 3rd, when the game was tied at 0-0. Shayla Aspden started things off with a single and a stolen base and the top of the order came through with four consecutive hits to supply all the runs we would need. Jessica Audette got the win and stellar defence up the middle by Jenna Hoy, Paige White and Amber Stephens kept the Angels off the scoreboard whenever they threatened to come back, scoring only the one run in the 4th.
In the second game Friday, the Cyclones faced the 3-0 Saskatchewan Predators. Taylor White squelched a Saskatchewan rally in the top of the first with one out and runners on first and third when she threw out a runner at second, and Jenna Hoy prevented the runner from third from scoring. A 3 run bottom of the first inning gave the Cyclones breathing room but a diving catch by Paige White at second ended one Predator threat and a 2-out, running catch over her shoulder by Katie Gamble in deep right field prevented at least two runs. Nicole Shea lead the way with 3 RBI, a run scored and 3 hits. Those two wins brought the Cyclones back to 3-3 and within reach of a playoff spot.
On Saturday, the schedule was a little kinder to the Cyclones, and with a 1:00 pm start against Calihoo Erins from Alberta, the bats were well rested. Needing a victory to advance to the 4 team playoff, the Cyclones combined 7 hits with patience at the plate drawing some key walks. Taylor White lead the way with 3 hits and Jessica and Shelby combined for a 5 hit, 10-2 victory.
With the win, the Cyclones finished the round robin at 4-2 and in 3rd place behind Smitty’s (6-0) and the Lightning (5-1). The Predators and Manitoba Angels were also 4-2 but because the Cyclones had beat both teams in round-robin play, they were tied for fourth and had to play each other in a tiebreaker.
At 8:00 pm the Cyclones again faced the Predators in the first playoff game and won by the same 8-1 score in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Ten hits in total and a four run 4th inning, again led by Nicole Shea’s 2-RBI double, broke open a close game and the defence again took over with some spectacular plays putting out several Saskatchewan attempts to come back.
That put the team into the semi-finals, where they faced the Winnipeg Lightning again for the chance to play for gold. The team would come out determined to win in this one, scoring one run in each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th innings, the latter to tie the game at 3 after a 2-run home run for Winnipeg in the bottom of the 3rd.
The game remained deadlocked at 3 through 7 innings and went to extra innings with the international rule in effect. Katie Gamble was bunted to third by Nicole Shea, who was safe at first and later stole second base. Ashley Schenk drove home the go-ahead run with a long sacrifice fly to left field, advancing Nicole to 3rd who then scored on Amber Stephens 2 out single. Jessica Audette held the Lightning off the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning that ended with a great defensive play by short stop Jenna Hoy on a ball up the middle, reaching to her left and throwing on the run to narrowly get the batter at first base and clinching the 5-3 victory.
The Cyclones pose with their Silver Medals (Photo Courtesy Cordova Bay Cyclones)
The win put the Cyclones up against the Smitty’s Terminators in the final and the Terminators appeared determined to take no chances, starting their number one pitcher (Seneshen). She would not disappoint and threw a gem, giving up only 2 singles to Samantha Cox and Arianna Thornsbury-Wood. Shelby Thornton did her best on the mound to limit a very strong team to 5 runs through 4 innings when the skies opened up, leaving two Cyclones on base and flooding the infield in a matter of minutes, ending any chance of a comeback. The game was called and the 5-0 win awarded to the Terminators after 4 1/2 innings.
Despite the loss in the final, Head Coach Dale Marshall was extatic about the Silver, “I don’t recall ever being more proud to be a part of any team than I was of this exceptional group of young women” noted Marshall. “As a player, I was fortunate enough to represent BC in 12 Western Canadian Championships and 1 National Championship, collecting medals in all but 2. While I have great memories from all of them, this Silver medal meant more to me than any other.”
“The skill and effort that was so obviously a large part of their success was secondary to the sportsmanship, character and togetherness demonstrated by these girls all season, and especially this past week” added Marshall. “There were a lot of unhappy people at the tournament over the decision by Manitoba Softball to allow their top two teams to skip the A Nationals and play at home in this tournament. These girls decided on their own to ignore that distraction and put all of their energy out on the field and remain positive.”
“They did that and more, as evidenced by the tournament director’s text to me describing them as the class of the tournament on and off the field and thanking them for making it fun to be a part of. I couldn’t agree more. My co-coaches Dave Gamble, Rob Stephens and I could not be more proud of them and we thanked the girls for taking us with them on a terrific ride.”