The peewee Pirates won the championship. They won it convincingly. And they created one of the most wonderful where-are-they-now moments a sports fan could hope to see.
Nanaimo’s AAA all-stars captured Baseball Canada’s Peewee Western Championship on Sunday, defeating the Abbotsford Angels 7-0.
“We’ve been to a lot of tournaments and we haven’t won anything this big before,” said Lenn Nakatsuka, Pirates catcher.
Not that they haven’t come close. Nanaimo fans might remember these young ball players as the same group that was controversially disqualified from provincials in 2009 for having too few players on the roster.
“It’s good to get a win here because we got ripped off there,” Nakatsuka said.
Co-coach Scott Leaf said he thinks the experience of two summers ago has motivated the players ever since.
“It’s been in the back of their minds since that happened,” he said. “Their hearts were ripped out a couple years ago and this helps to put those hearts back where they belong. And it brings a tear to my eye.”
Where better to find redemption than in their home park, in an even more high-stakes tournament? On Sunday, the hottest day of the summer, a terrific turnout of fans gathered to watch Western Canada’s best peewee baseball teams go for gold.
“The kids loved it, there was so much support,” Leaf said. “With the music, the announcing, the fields were incredible, the production, the organization, we couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The Angels were wearing Team B.C. jerseys, a reward for beating Nanaimo and the rest of the province’s top teams last weekend at the B.C. championships.
Pirates players felt they didn’t play their best at provincials, and knew they just needed a second chance at Westerns.
“All we had to do was get psyched and not make any errors and have our bats going,” said Owen Yarocki, Pirates third baseman.
It all came together in the big game. Alert baserunning and small ball gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead in the third inning, then Yarocki broke the game open with a three-run home run in the fourth.
“As happy as we were, we didn’t want the kids to get too high, we wanted them to remain responsible and they did,” said Leaf.
Pitcher Josh Burgmann brought the heat all afternoon and ended up with a complete-game two-hitter with 10 strikeouts. Brandan Kingsbury scored three runs and Dylan Coghlan had an RBI single. The Pirates didn’t make a single error in the championship game.
Yarocki was the tournament’s Top Offensive Player with a .700 average and teammate Colin Borrelli was close behind with a .636 average. Nakatsuka was chosen Top Catcher.
Sunday’s shutout capped a perfect tournament for Nanaimo’s peewees. The Pirates defeated Manitoba Midwest 10-3 on Thursday, beat Saskatoon 10-5 and shut out Red Deer 14-0 on Friday, then got past Winnipeg South 9-6 on Saturday to qualify for the final.
“They were up all the time and as a coach, that’s all you can ask for,” said Leaf. “To be able to continue that throughout the whole weekend, and then come into the gold-medal game and continue to stay up and be so consistent, it was amazing.”