Picking up their first win in the Premier Baseball League of Ontario was certainly a thrill for the members of the Sudbury 14U Voyageurs.
Doing it in dramatic fashion – well, that’s just icing on the cake.
Playing at home this past weekend as part of a three-team bracket (with the Ottawa Nepean Canadians and London Badgers) that also met in London last weekend, the Voyageurs dropped their home opener 6-0 to Ottawa.
But with Callum Baron taking the ball to start game two, the tides were turning.
The Voyageurs opened up a 3-0 lead thanks to an RBI single from Justin Dandeneau, an infield grounder from Félix Aubin that plated Devan Madore, and a double steal that would see Baron scamper home from third.
The Badgers rallied in the top of the fifth, chasing Baron who had retired 12 of the first 15 batters he faced. Sudbury tied it in the bottom of the inning, only to see the visitors regain the advantage, 5-4, in the sixth and final inning (with time limits in effect).
All of which meant that the locals had one final kick at the can.
Baron singled to get the rally going, coming around on a double from Ryan Spencer. Sitting on third with two out, the latter would score the game-winning run when an infield chopper from Colton Audette caused the London pitcher to hesitate just long enough as to not give himself a play at the plate ... or at first – 6-5 Sudbury!
“We had a lot of energy,” noted Aubin, who sparkled at shortstop in the outing. “We were down at one point and then we got the energy going. I think we kind of got in their heads, a little. You saw that on the last play, the pitcher didn’t know what to do.”
While there were many accolades to be shared on the day, Dandeneau definitely fulfilled his duties as an offensive catalyst at the top of the order, reaching base three times and scoring once. “I think the role of the leadoff hitter is to try and see the pitcher, hit the ball hard and just get on base,” suggested the 14 year old soon-to-be grade nine student at E.S. l’Horizon.
“When you hit the ball hard, it’s such a good feeling.”
That said, the most pleasant surprise of the weekend might lie in a very solid defensive effort that Sudbury coaches received. There were but three errors in the two contests that I took in, with several gems with the leather on both sides of the ball.
“For me, it’s about tracking the ball well,” said Dandeneau, who chased down a pair of flies in centerfield on Saturday and three more in left the next day. “I have to make sure I know if the wind is blowing or not. When it’s blowing, I really have to make sure to follow the ball, track it to where it’s hit.”
Aubin, for his part, sees it more as a mental challenge, rather than a physical one.
“My first game against Ottawa last fall, I made a lot of errors,” admitted the grade 10 student at E.S. Hanmer. “It’s really just a matter of being ready, mentally, knowing where I am going before I get the ball, knowing what’s going to happen and how I’m going to make that happen.”
The 14U Voyageurs closed off the weekend with a 4-1 loss to London in a very well played game. Prior to that, however, the team contested its closest and definitely wildest outing against the Canadians, bouncing back from a 9-2 deficit to grab a 10-9 lead, only to eventually succumb 13-10 to the powerhouse from the nation’s capital.
“I really like the way that we battled,” said Aubin. “We were down against Ottawa this morning, but we always stayed engaged in the game. I think that will really help us, especially at the 18U level.”
At this point, the 18U Voyageurs, for their part, don’t need a lot of extra help.
The locals completed a four game sweep of the visiting Ontario Yankees, stopping the southerners 9-0, 5-0, 10-9 and 7-4.
Pitching was clearly the story for the homeside in the first two games as Yanick Loiselle, Braedan Pakkala and Clint Corbett held the Yankees in check to the tune of just five hits scattered over 14 innings in posting back to back shutouts.
Coming off seven innings of no-hit ball a week ago, Loiselle looked especially dominant, striking out seven while walking only two in the series opener on Friday. Much in the same manner as Justin Dandeneau, 18U Voyageurs leadoff hitter Gavin Roy was right in the middle of much of the action.
The smooth-fielding shortstop came around to score in each and every game, finishing the weekend with eight runs scored after going 5/12 at the plate with three walks as well. The RBI brigade was nicely distributed with Pakkala, Matthew Obradovich and Alex McNiven driving in four runs apiece and Scooter Rienguette knocking in three of his own.
After leading almost from start to finish in games one and two, the Voyageurs were forced to come from behind Saturday evening, spotting the Yankees an 8-2 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. In fact, the team needed a three-spot in the bottom of the seventh to make it three straight, before busting open a 2-2 tie in game four with five runs split between the fifth and sixth innings.
Finally, the 16U Voyageurs may not have hit the win column just yet, but they are trending in the right direction. After being outscored 45-14 in a four game set against Ottawa two weekends ago, the Sudbury lads made their way to the Windsor area for a pair of games against the Tecumseh Thunder (a Sunday double-header was rained out).
The Sudbury squad let one slip away in game one, taking a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh before dropping a 5-4 decision. Starting pitcher Caleb Deschamps and reliever Justin Lancup each limited the Thunder to a run over three innings, the former aided nicely by a 4-6-3 inning ending double play that was turned around the horn by Martin Audette and Will Arsenault.
A six run inning and no less than 13 base on balls skewered the Voyageurs hopes in game two, as Tecumseh stopped the visitors 11-6. Lancup went 2/4 in the outing with three RBIs, while Chartier sparked the offense in the curtain-riser (2/2 - 2 RBIs). With a handful of players still getting adjusted to the PBLO, coach Shawn Paquette finds himself doing a lot of teaching, even breaking down the fundamentals of hitting.
“I always work from the bottom up, no matter what,” he said. “I always work from the feet, hips and then hands. If it starts wrong at the feet, it’s going to go up the chain wrong. The point of contact with the baseball is where the consistency has to come in. You look at 99% of major league players and at the point of contact, they all look the same.”
The 16U Voyageurs will look to register a win or two when they finally get a chance to perform in front of the home crowd, welcoming the Ontario Yankees to Sudbury this coming Saturday/Sunday for a four game series.