With dominant pitching and a deep lineup, the Wellesley Wildcats captured the first ever Under-16 Boys Canadian Fastball Championship in Fredericton, New Brunswick on August 10.
A tight-knit group, the Wildcats enjoyed a historic season on the back of a team effort, the coaches said.
“You always hear that on winning teams the players all buy into the system, are dedicated and that everybody knows their role,” assistant coach Todd Schneider explained. “That describes these kids. It started back when hockey was still going and they came out to practice indoors at the school in Linwood. They all just bought into the team system.”
It’s a special group of players, assistant coach Brad Dietrich added.
“The truth is they work hard. We practice more than any team around and we practice even more than we play.”
That’s saying a lot, since the group played more than 50 games this summer, including the regular season where the Wildcats took top spot while competing against older players.
“None of (our players) are Midget age (17-18),” Deitrich explained. “The other teams would be a year or two older and some even have over-age players, as old as 20 years of age in some cases.”
Yet the Wildcats excelled, in part, Schneider said, because much of the team has been playing together with the same coaching staff for seven years.
But that doesn’t mean winning a national championship was easy.
“When you go to a tournament like that you don’t know what the competition is going to be like,” Deitrich said. “But once we saw what it was like, the boys gained confidence and knew that they could play with them and the confidence kept growing as we went.”
The team got off to a shaky start, falling to Quebec and provincial rival Cambellford during the round robin.
“Our bats just kind of went to sleep those two games,” Deitrich said. “So we ended up finishing third in our division. If you finished first or second you earned a double life, meaning you could lose twice in the playoff round, but we ended up finishing third so we needed to keep winning because if we had of lost we would have been done.”
The intensity picked up for the playoff round, and the boys responded, he noted.
“The first game in the playoffs we played against British Columbia and the (team) knew that they couldn’t lose so they came out hard and we ended up mercying B.C. 11-0. Then we played Kitchener, which was a tough game. We beat them 5-2 and our pitcher threw a four-hitter and we got some clutch hits at the right time to beat them. We had beat Kitchener all year long and they had only beat us once so the boys were sure they could win that game.”
Those two clutch wins put the squad through to the final day of competition, with just four teams remaining.
In the first Sunday match, starting pitcher Dylan Lemold shut out Newfoundland and the bats put eight runs on the board.
Next up was a rematch with Quebec.
“After losing to them earlier in the tournament the boys wanted revenge so they came out firing,” Deitrich said. “Our leadoff batter (Brenden Schneider) hit a home run right to begin with and that just set the tone for the game and we ended up beating them 11-2. The boys were pumped.”
The finals would prove much more difficult.
“It was a back and forth game,” Deitrich explained. “We went up 1-0, then they tied it. Then they went ahead 3-1 and we came back and to go ahead 4-3 when our number nine batter hit a two-run homer. The next inning we added another run in to make it 5-3. They managed to squeeze another run in so it was 5-4 in fifth inning, and then we shut them down the rest of the way,”
It took a “strong lineup from one through nine,” Deitrich said, adding that pitching depth also played a big role.