When the Guelph Silvercreeks start playing in the Canadian 22U men’s baseball championship tournament at Stonewall, Man., Thursday, they’ll know one of the other seven teams in the tournament well. The other six, not so much.
The Creeks are making their first appearance in the national championship tournament since winning it as hosts at Pearson Park in 2006. As hosts, they were guaranteed a place in that tournament so this will be the first time they’ve played their way into the Canadian tournament and they’ll be one of two Ontario teams there.
The Guelph side goes in as Ontario 2 while the St. Thomas Tomcats are Ontario 1, having edged the Creeks in the rain-delayed final of the provincial elimination
tournament a couple of weeks ago. Both are members of the Inter County Baseball Association’s 22U league.
“We have a super-competitive loop this year,” Creeks coach Fred Loder said. “You know, any of these teams could win on any given day depending upon who they're pitching or who you're pitching. We just got super consecutive pitching in a row and luckily didn't have to play St. Thomas until the end.”
The Creeks had expected to play the Tomcats in their second game at the eliminations, but St. Thomas defeated highly-ranked Oshawa 6-2 and the locals were edged 2-1 by Tecumseh in their tournament opener. The Creeks rebounded from that loss with wins over Oshawa (2-1), Scarborough (6-2), Kitchener (6-0) and St. Thomas (5-1) to get another shot at the Tomcats in the eliminations final. However, St. Thomas won that game 3-2.
The Creeks were disappointed not to qualify for the national tournament last year so tempered their expectations this year.
“Originally when we were building a team through the winter, on paper we thought we were going to have a stronger team this year,” Loder said. “Then we ended up losing a few guys because of school and where they had to play, but we still thought we had a strong team. We weren't playing to our capabilities through the (ICBA’s) regular season and even in a couple of the tournaments, but when we got to (the elimination) tournament, they just clicked.”
Qualifying for the national tournament meant some scrambling by the coaches and players to make sure they could get the time off from work so they could go.
“All of us were like, okay, we've got to ask our employees for a week off,” Loder said. “Luckily, we're all able to get it off.”
“They’ve been very supportive,” fellow Creeks coach John Lannutti said. “One of our area supervisors defined it as trying to plan a wedding in two weeks. It's just been crazy.”
After getting the berth in the national tournament, the Creeks completed their league’s regular season four days later with an 18-8 loss to the Brantford Junior Red Sox.
“We had 11 guys,” Loder said. “We had our catcher playing third. We had another catcher playing second. We had our first baseman playing right field. We were doing okay, then we fell apart at the end.”
That game will go down as the Creeks’ final appearance in the ICBA this year.
“We had to opt out,” Lannutti said. “We couldn’t fulfill both obligations (nationals and ICBA playoffs) so they asked us not to participate. If we got to the end (of the national tournament) we wouldn’t be here for the (ICBA) finals and that wouldn’t be fair to the other teams. St. Thomas is doing the same thing.”
The Creeks will head to Manitoba having played only the league game against Brantford between when they finished as runners-up at the provincial elimination
tournament and the national tournament although they had a pair of low-key workouts on the weekend, one indoor due to Saturday’s rain and the other outdoor at Pearson Park Sunday.
“We didn’t have any games because just trying to find diamonds at this time of year is impossible,” Loder said.
“Plus we’re letting the kids rest a bit, heal up a little bit,” Lannutti said. “Everyone's got a few little aches and pains here and there.”
What do the Creeks know about the other teams at the national tournament?
“I would assume Quebec’s going to be strong,” Lannutti said. “I would assume the host Manitoba team was probably out there for a year saying ‘Hey, we have nationals, we’re guaranteed, come play with us.’ I would assume that team is going to be good. The other provinces, it's so hard trying to even gauge teams in Ontario when you're all playing in different loops in different levels. I don't really know what the ball's like in P.E.I. We'll wait and see it and we'll have to plan for everything.”
The Creeks head to the national tournament with modest goals.
“Obviously we'd love to win it, but it's also about the experience for us, too,” Loder said. “I think if the kids play the way they played (in the elimination tournament), we have a really good chance of making it to the final.”
“A medal of any colour would be great,” Lannutti said. “Top four would be a good result. It all depends, too, what's showing up from other provinces. There are six provinces coming, so it's going to be some good baseball.”
The Creeks are in Pool B with Quebec, Saskatchewan and the host squad. In the preliminary round, teams in one pool play the teams in the other pool. The Creeks are slated to play Nova Scotia Thursday morning and P.E.I. and Manitoba Friday and St. Thomas Saturday morning.
The Guelph squad will advance in the tournament playoffs depending on where they finish in the pool standings. Second- and third-place teams in each pool advance to the quarter-finals with the quarter-final victors joining the first-place finishers in the semifinals. The gold-medal game is set for Sunday night.