It took an extra inning, a gutsy play call and a perfectly executed squeeze play, but it all worked to perfection Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg to give the White Rock Renegades ‘02 a national under-16 softball title.
The Semiahmoo Peninsula fastpitch squad didn’t lose a game all week at the tournament, and captured the Canadian crown with a 3-2 extra-innings victory over Ontario’s Vaughan Vikings.
In the final, the teams were tied 2-2 after seven innings, and after Vaughan failed to score in the top of the eighth, White Rock loaded the bases with just one out, at which point head coach Ted Birdsall called for the squeeze play – a sacrifice bunt that would, if executed correctly, score runner Caitlin Bradley-Tse from third base.
Done incorrectly, however, and the Vikings could easily turn a double play to end the inning.
With Bradley-Tse waiting to dart home, Renegades’ batter Emma Parry laid down a perfect bunt, and Bradley-Tse slid in safely at home ahead of the tag to end the game and give the B.C. team the gold medal.
“It absolutely could have (gone poorly)… it was a gutsy move, but we had speed at third base, so we went for it, and came out on top,” Birdsall said.
“It was a chance we took… we had a great person at the plate, and it worked out.”
The win was White Rock’s ninth in a row at the tournament, with many games in the early stages of pool play being off the lopsided variety – 20-0 over the Winnipeg Lightning; 13-0 over the Saskatoon Hustlers and 14-0 over Alberta’s Rivercity Hornets.
However, Birdsall said he was never concerned that his team would lapse in focus when the competition was tougher, and the games were more important. On the weekend, the Renegades played three much closer contests, defeating the host Smitty’s Terminators 7-0, before beating the B.C. No. 2 seed Tri-City Titans ‘02 by a 2-0 score to advance to finals, where they won by one.
Birdsall pointed to his squad’s experience in big games as a reason for their success as the tournament progressed. The Renegades were third at last year’s U16 nationals – despite being one of the youngest teams in the field – and also won a national title as U14 players in 2016. This year alone, they won two of three games against a team of Japan U16 all-stars at the Canada Cup in July, and finished the season with a record of 90-14-2 (win-loss-tie).
“From our very first practice, our goal was to win nationals, so we’re so excited,” Birdsall said.
“To be able to achieve this goal, it’s a special thing for these young ladies.
“Once you get into the championship round, every game is tight, but this team is so accomplished, they know when to go to work – they know the big games. They can stay focused in those lopsided games, too, but when they know it’s going to be tough, they go to work. They’re a special group.”
In the gold-medal tilt, pitcher Kate Korstrom got the start, pitching three-and-a-third innings until she was relieved by Amanda Pillkahn, who took the ball for the final four-and-two-thirds innings. The pair combined to strike out nine Vikings, while allowing just five hits.
Korstrom came up big with the bat in semifinals, too – her two-run home run in the sixth inning broke what had been a scoreless tie against Tri-City and propelled the Renegades into the final.
Madison Dewitt was the winning pitcher in that affair, throwing a complete-game shutout, striking out three along the way.
Two other White Rock Renegades teams – the ’04s and ’05s – were in Montreal last week, at U14 nationals.
The 2004-born squad, who were B.C.’s third seed heading into the tournament, finished with a 4-3 win-loss record, which was good for 10th overall out of 24 teams.
The Renegades ’05 – one of the youngest teams at the event – finished 16th, with a 3-3 record.
The ’04s opened the tournament last Wednesday with a 5-4 loss to Manitoba’s Central Energy, and dropped to 0-2 after a loss to the Victoria Devils, but by end of day Friday they had bumped their record over the .500 mark, with three consecutive wins – over the Windsor Wildcats, Kitchener Klassics and Saskatoon Hustlers.
On Saturday afternoon, they defeated B.C.’s Tri-City Titans in their first playoff-round game, but were eliminated from contention that evening after a 9-5 loss to Ontario’s Brampton Blazers.
The younger Renegades, meanwhile, opened Wednesday with a loss to the Prince Albert Aces, but rebounded Thursday with a 10-0 win over Nova Scotia’s Sackville Surge Crush. Later Thursday, the Renegades lost to the top Ontario seed, the Toronto Lady Mets, but on Friday defeated another Ontario team, the Port Perry Angels, 10-9.
Also on Friday, White Rock edged Ontario’s Lucan-Ilderton Athletics 6-4.
In playoff rounds Saturday, the Semiahmoo Peninsula squad lost 4-3 to the Quebec Rebelles.
The Fraser Valley Fusion ended up winning the national title, defeating Manitoba’s Smitty’s Terminators 4-3 in the gold-medal game Sunday. The Victoria Devils were third.
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