The Laurentian Voyageurs basked in the drench of a steady rain that would soon turn into a downpour Saturday night at the Terry Fox Sports Complex.
And why not?
The relatively upstart crew had kept their hopes of earning a berth at the OUA Championships alive, scoring three times in the top of the seventh inning and posting a come-from-behind 5-3 win over the York Lions.
Just over twelve hours later, the Voyageurs would feel the Lions’ pain.
Needing one more victory to have a chance at taking a crack at the powerful University of Toronto Varsity Blues in the Division D Regional Tournament, a spot that automatically moves on to the provincial playdowns the following weekend, Laurentian rode a strong performance from starter Callum Belshaw to a 6-2 lead after four innings of play against the Ryerson Rams.
But much like their namesake moniker, the Rams lowered their heads and kept butting, scoring at least a single run in each of the last five innings and a total of five in the sixth and seventh, outlasting the Voyageurs 8-6.
“When we went into the season, with a brand new coaching staff, with everything that happened at the school, our expectations weren’t that high,” acknowledged first year head coach Kirby Smith. “Our big thing was figuring out what we had and how do we develop it.”
“But our guys came out and they competed, which was awesome, phenomenal for what they had. They put everything on the field.”
After leadoff hitter Kian Bukala pretty much broke the ice single-handedly versus the Rams – single, stolen base, tagged on a deep fly and scored on a passed ball – the home side really got rolling in the second.
A walk to Reid Deibert and back to back singles from Andrew Weber and Matt Obradovich would set the stage for a bases loaded walk to Bukala, with senior sparkplug Tyler Gysbers following up with a two-run single.
Leading by four with three innings to play, Laurentian was looking good. In the end, it was not to be, but not before the Voyageurs had enjoyed the thrill of a dramatic victory, as local product Liam Socransky held York in check, allowing just two runs and three hits over five innings, including a no-hit performance through the opening four.
L.U. had, once again, started quickly as Gysbers, Ethan Murdy and Justin Dineen all reached base in the first, with the latter and Deibert both delivering RBIs. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Lions would draw even at 2-2, taking a 3-2 lead with a go-head run in the bottom of the sixth.
But with their season on the line, the blue and gold got things going in T7 with free passes to both Weber and Bukala, the former scoring on a single by Gysbers, who then crossed the plate with Bukala on a double from Murdy.
Where the York side had been vociferous, at times downright chirpy as the tides turned in their favour, things were now quite silent. “It helps when you make a good play and it goes quiet on that side,” said Murdy with a smile, immediately following the game. “You know that you’ve deflated them.”
Leaving the on-deck circle, walking towards the plate, the freshman from Hunstville knew enough to stay out of his own head.
“I can’t go out there and over-think,” said Murdy. “You’ve got way too much going through your head when you guess what the pitcher’s throwing. You just have to go up there and hit the ball like you can. You’ve done this a million times.”
“To have a big at bat at that time, to help us pole vault into the lead, it was an exciting moment,” added Murdy.
Gysbers may not have recorded seven figure at-bats during his four years as a Voyageur, but he is among the very first graduating class in program history, a fact that he alluded to following the Saturday evening heroics.
“Every year, you’re trying to leave it all out there, but especially in fourth year,” noted the native of Orillia. “This is your last chance, any at bat might be your last. You just want to do everything that you can to help your team win.”
That he did, as the Voyageurs and OUA returned following a cancelled 2020 campaign. It all made for a season of questions to be answered as the lads made their way back to the diamonds.
“The thing about this year is that it was so hard to tell,” said Gysbers. “We missed last year (with COVID), and every team is the same way. We’re seeing new and different players on every team, so we had no idea who was going to be good, we had no idea who was going to be bad, we had no idea what to expect from ourselves.”
What ensued was some pretty memorable performances, including an impressive start on the mound for a graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School who, earlier this year, earned himself some recognition as one of three Pitchers of the Week in week two.
“We came out, off the hop, got two runs, but then we had a long run of zeros until the last inning,” noted Gysbers. “But Liam (Socransky) was also putting up zeros, so that was keeping morale up for us. We couldn’t have asked for a better outing from him.”
With a full day to reflect, Kirby Smith was even more optimistic about the direction of the team that he recently played for.
“Our average lineup would see anywhere from four to six people who were playing in the OUA for the very first time,” he said. “We had three or four players, sophomores or freshmen, who had never played a single inning of OUA baseball and ended up playing every single inning for us.”
“They showed real well.”
They did indeed. And they will learn from the heartbreak of Sunday afternoon. They will be back, stronger and even more determined. “All in all, they showed very well for the years to come,” said Smith. “They’re going to know how close they came, how close they came to playing for something bigger.”
“We were one out away from being in the finals of our regional tournament.”
The Varsity Blues, who tripled the Voyageurs 12-4 in the tournament opener on Friday, eventually ran the table, bouncing Ryerson 13-3 in the championship final.
Laurentian will graduate seven players this year: Kian Bukala, Tyer Gysbers, Braedon Whalen, Brayden MacEwan, Jacob Savage, Jackson Kingshott and Justin Dineen.
Joining Obradovich, Weber, Belshaw, Socransky, Deibert and Murdy in the returning core are Liam Clarke, Keegan McArthur, Ethan Bérubé, Noah Warkentin, Noah Casault, Carter Magee, Miya Waldron, Josh MacNeil, Christopher Ross, Owen Anderton, Benjamin Baydock and Brayden Grech.