It took six hours on Sunday for Delta Heat ‘01 to win gold.
Their jerseys streaked with dirt from sliding into base, the players stood proudly in line, waiting to receive their medals. Several girls had already taken off their cleats to ease their aching feet.
Rawnie Weststrate, a pitcher who only played a few moments of the Sunday games, was crying. Bill Olexa, head coach for the team, was smiling.
“It’s awesome for them,” Olexa said, his voice hoarse as he watch the White Rock Renegades ‘02 receive their bronze medals.
“Me, I’m alright.”
Sunday, Aug. 13 was the final day of the 2017 U16 Canadian Fastpitch Championship, hosted this year by the Delta Fastpitch Association at the North Delta Community Park and Tsawwassen. The Heat had won all but one of their round robin games in the preceding days — they lost 9-8 against Alberta’s Rivercity Hornets — ranking them in the top eight teams for the finals.
But that one loss meant they had to struggle all through Sunday, playing against the Oakville Angels at noon to advance to the semi-finals, where they defeated the White Rock Renegades in a 3-2 game. Then they played a nail-biter against Surrey Storm ‘01 for gold.
“To win three games in a row like that…” assistant coach Bob Houtman said, his voice trailing off.
“You know what, they’re warriors,” Olexa added, completing Houtman’s thought. “They deserve it.”
Just before the gold medal game, Olexa handed a stick of gum to the each of the assistant coaches.
“The last one of the season has the best flavour,” he said. It was a pre-game ritual, one he’d completed before every game of the tournament.
A few chews later, the championship game began.
It was tense from the start. In the first innings, the Storm were up three runs. Delta Heat assistant coach Doug Harris was whispering about Storm player Grace Messmer, a short stop who played on Canada’s Junior Women’s National Team and had recently returned from the WBSC Junior Women’s Softball World Championship in Florida.
Messmer tagged out Heat player after Heat player, while she and her teammates stole base after base.
In the dugout, the Heat grew quiet. Their chants and New Years Eve noisemakers diminished as the game wore on.
Then, in the final innings, the tide turned. Delta got three runs in one inning, followed by another two in short succession the next time the Heat was up to bat.
The team’s sixth run, scored by pitcher Megan Hendrickson, saw her duck beneath the ball as it was thrown over her head from home to third base. There was a brief pause as she let the ball fly over before sliding into home.
The Storm rallied, scoring two more runs in the final inning. But they couldn’t manage the sixth, and Delta Heat took home the gold in their own backyard.
In the end, it was a south of the Fraser trifecta: Delta Heat with gold, Surrey Storm with silver and the White Rock Renegades with bronze.
During the awards ceremony after the game, throphies were given to the best players in the qualifying rounds, included players from Ontario and Manitoba. But mostl recipients were high performers from B.C., including Surrey Storm outfielder Kennedy Galley, Delta Heat second baseman Amyee Godmaire, Surrey Storm batter and all-around MVP Hayley Grice and White Rock Renegades catcher Lauren Benson.
But the top player, the all-star for the championship series, was Heat pitcher/third baseman Megan Hendrickson. She batted .430 during the final three games — going 3-for-4 in the gold medal match — and allowed only three runs in the two games she pitched.
“They never died. Never died,” Olexa said.
The girls were still smiling, pounding fists with the silver and bronze medalists as they ran down the line.
“I told them in the fall, the first time they ever played last fall,” Olexa said. “We circled up, we looked at each other and said ‘This is the first step on the road to our gold medal.’”