One out away from gold ended up being one too many for Canada (10-3) in Sunday’s finals of the International Softball Federation Junior Men’s World Fast Pitch Championship in Whitehorse.
Just as the home team was about to take a 1-0 victory, Australia (12-1) managed to drive home two runs to take the game, and the championship, in a 2-1 nail biter.
In a do-or-die situation, coming up to bat trailing by a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, Australia’s Drew Faulkner found a gap up the middle with a grounder, scoring Rahim Rohizat from third and Heath Wells from second.
Wells got on base with a line drive to right field and Rohizat was planted on second to start the inning, coinciding with the league’s rules to hasten the completion of games that go to extra innings.
“It’s all adrenaline,” said Faulkner, who, as a designated hitter, only had the one at-bat. “Can’t speak words about it … I’m stoked, absolutely stoked!
“Everyone thought that it was time to lose it,” said Faulkner, referring to how many did not think Australia would take the championship a fourth straight time.
“The ball almost touched (shortstop) Terrell (Walker’s) glove,” said Canada head coach Tom Doucette, speaking of Faulkner’s grounder.
“They say that softball at times can be a game of inches. If it was a foot more towards the shortstop, we’d field the ball, throw him out at first, and you (would be) talking to a world champion.”
Canada’s lone run came early in the eighth inning. With Jesse Potskin starting the inning on second, first baseman Cory Jones put the crowd into a frenzy with a grounder into centre field to score Potskin.
However, Canada’s newfound momentum quickly vanished. In a split-second double play, Jones was caught off the bag immediately after Aaron Long fired a laser beam of a line drive seemingly right into the glove of Australia’s shortstop, Ryan Lavers. A strikeout by second baseman Shane Boland brought in the third out.
Although the team was the defending champion and finished the round-robin stage of the tournament in first, Australia did not see itself as the overall favourite.
“It wasn’t all about winning the previous three,” said Australia head coach John Neilson. “It’s a new team. I talked to them this morning about it. I said to the boys that there is going to be a lot of pressure because everyone’s been saying we’ve won three.
“But really, this is the first time (this team) has competed in the championships. So I tell the boys to come out here and make their own history.
“It’s great to have four in a row,” admitted Neilson. “Now the fifth one becomes even harder.”
After three games on the bench, Canada’s starting pitcher, Devon McCullough, achieved what only one other pitcher did in the tournament: serve Australia seven scoreless innings. (The other was New Zealand’s Nikki Hayes in an unexpected 9-0 blowout over Australia on Thursday.)
“Keep the ball down,” said McCullough, who had three strikeouts in the game, explaining his strategy going into the pitcher’s circle. “We watched them a few times and they haven’t been hitting the ball when you keep it down. So I just focused on keeping the ball down.”
After the awards ceremony, the International Softball Federation announced that next year’s Senior Men’s World Fast Pitch Championship will also take place on Canadian soil. The senior men’s tourney will call Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, home in July of 2009.
Story of the playoffs:
Canada narrowly gets to
gold medal game
By Tom Patrick
When it comes to Team Canada’s star pitcher, Dustin Keshane from Norquay, Saskatchewan, it’s a toss-up determining what skill to praise first.
On one hand there’s his capacity as a workhorse, pitching three-straight successful games leading up to Canada’s final against Australia.
On the other hand there is his ability to keep his opponents’ offence in the dugout and off the bases.
“I’m not really worried about getting tired,” said Keshane, who amassed 12 strikeouts against Japan, when asked if playing consecutive games drains his pitching arm. “It just makes me try harder.”
After allowing two runs in the first, Keshane went on to deal Japan five consecutive three-up-three-down innings in Canada’s 5-3 win Sunday at the ISF Junior Men’s World Fast Pitch Championship in Whitehorse.
The win put Canada into the gold medal game where they lost 2-1 against the defending champs, Australia.
Trailing Canada 3-2 since the bottom of the second inning, Japan staved off defeat in the top of the seventh with a solo shot to right field by shortstop Shota Tsutsui. Japan had two outs at the time.
Forced to go up to bat a final time, Canada needed only three batters to take the game once and for all.
With one out, shortstop Terrell Walker got to first thanks to some speedy footwork and a fielding error by Japan’s shortstop, who mishandled Walker’s grounder.
Down 0-and-1 in the count at the plate, infielder Dylan Cunningham delivered the final blow with a two-run monster shot over the centre field fence.
“I was actually thinking he was going to throw a raise-ball,” said Cunningham, who went 1-for-3 at the plate. “But it was up high and I swung — swung hard — and it went over the fence. So that was good.”
Cunningham’s only other homer in the tournament also came from pitcher Kojiro Hamada, in Canada’s 6-2 loss to Japan Thursday.
Canada got on the board in the second inning with a two-run homer by Dan Mitchell and a solo home run by Walker.
Keshane had 11 strikeouts in his previous game against New Zealand and topped out with 16 Friday evening in a 1-0 win over the United States.
Japan’s loss meant a third-place finish for the team.
Seventh inning run
eliminates New Zealand
Canada’s 2-1 win over New Zealand Saturday was truly a taste of things to come for the team.
In Canada’s following two games, it faced a tight score from start to finish and the game-winning run came in the final inning.
With a flush score of 1-1, Canada put the game to bed in the bottom of the seventh inning when Walker drove home Shane Boland from second base on a grounder up the middle.
“”It was a flat-raiser — it was high,” said Walker of the pitch. “It was at my letters (on my jersey) so it was a ball normally. But I like those pitches today. It was right down the middle so I just drove it back up the middle.”
Walker explained that high-pressure situations are nothing new to the shortstop. In fact he favours them.
“I actually wasn’t that nervous, I’ve been in that spot before for the Canadian nationals,” said Walker, who batted 2-for-3 at the plate. “I’ve been in that exact same spot, so it really wasn’t that much pressure … I really thrive on the pressure, I like it. It makes me a better person and a better player.”
Canada’s first run came in the bottom of the fifth inning when outfielder Jesse Potskin stole home from third on a wild pitch. New Zealand scored in the next inning to tie the game.