Western winners prove they deserve it

The Nanaimo Diamonds midget B girls’ fastball team captured Softball Canada’s Western Canadian championship on the weekend.

The Nanaimo Diamonds midget B girls’ fastball team celebrates winning Softball Canada’s Western Canadian championship on Sunday in Medicine Hat

The Nanaimo Diamonds midget B girls’ fastball team celebrates winning Softball Canada’s Western Canadian championship on Sunday in Medicine Hat

Not everyone believed the Nanaimo Diamonds deserved to go to the Westerns. But the girls believed, and in the end, they proved they deserved it more than anyone else.

The midget B girls’ fastball team captured Softball Canada’s Western Canadian championship on the weekend.

“I never expected this,” said Julie Roberge, the team’s coach. “I was just happy to get there and just play the best that we could and go from there. And all weekend we kept winning.”

The Diamonds went undefeated over the four-day tournament in Medicine Hat, Alta., ending with a 7-4 victory over Saskatchewan’s Pilot Butte Storm in the final.

Getting through the eight games unbeaten was a challenge, but then again, just getting to the Westerns was a battle.

Nanaimo finished fourth at provincial championships last month at Beban Park, which in most years, wouldn’t have been good enough to qualify for Westerns.

But one team declined the trip and another failed to register properly, meaning the Diamonds squeaked into the big tournament. Roberge said one opposing club even campaigned unsuccessfully to get Nanaimo disqualified on a player-eligibility issue.

The kerfuffle meant the Diamonds went into Westerns with a chip on their shoulder.

“It was the conversation the whole way there,” Roberge said. “We did the whole team discussion and said, ‘You know what? You girls have done well for two years. We are a top team. You do deserve it.’”

They proved it right away, winning their first two games Thursday by blowout scores.

In the final the Diamonds fell behind 4-0 right away, but didn’t tense up or lose their confidence. Instead they started to chip away at Pilot Butte’s lead before breaking through with five runs in the fifth inning to take the lead.

Pitcher Cassi McCulloch struck out the last batter of the game and her teammates threw their gloves in the air, jumped up and down and embraced one another.

One year before, Roberge had seen her girls cry upset tears after missing the Western final by one run. So seeing tears of joy was an emotional experience for the coach.

She said she is proud of every Diamonds player.

“Every girl on our team elevated their game defensively and offensively and that is why we won – they all did it,” said the coach. “That’s the only way you’re going to win this level of ball.”

Hailey Conway won two game MVP awards, including one in the gold-medal game after she hit 3-for-4. Other game MVPs were Jessica Audette, McCulloch, Megan Newton, Alicia Stone, Taylor Doherty and Jordan Stotts.

Cody Hibbert batted .700 during the tournament with four home runs and Stone hit .480 while also leading the defence.

Kadie Washburn was another defensive standout and one of the team captains, Brittany Myhal, battled through heat exhaustion to hit better than .400 on the weekend. Erin Donnelly hit above .400, too.

BASE LINES … The Diamonds were the first midget team to go undefeated at Westerns in 25 years … Nanaimo and District Minor Fastball Association teams also claimed two provincial medals. The bantam Diamonds won silver at the B.C. championships while the peewees took bronze … To read an article on the team written last month, please click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com