Many local baseball fans likely anticipated that the Sudbury Voyageurs might enjoy a degree of success in the PBLO (Premier Baseball League of Ontario) playoffs this summer.
Most would not have predicted that a league championship banner would come courtesy of the U16 Voyageurs, however.
After finishing the regular season with a record of 8-13, ahead of only the Tecumseh Thunder in the nine team loop (albeit just two points back of both the Midwestern Ontario Bearcats and the Ottawa Nepean U15 Canadians), the middle crew of the three Voyageur PBLO entries caught lightning in a bottle last weekend in London, stringing together four consecutive wins en route to the title.
“The kids played great,” beamed coach Joey Moher earlier this week after the locals capped off an outstanding weekend with a 4-0 whitewashing of the aforementioned U15 Canadians. “I think I’m happiest about the kids figuring it out and things clicking.”
Their unexpected run gathered momentum early as the Voyageurs opened post-season tournament play on Friday with a 5-3 win over the first place Oshawa Legionaires, a team which finished with slightly more than double the point total of the Sudbury squad (17-5 = 34 pts).
With pitcher Will Arsenault battling his way through 6 1/3 innings to keep his team in the game, it was the offense which perhaps surprised the most, even if it was the usual suspects who did most of the damage for the northern lads.
Devan Madore drove home a pair of runs with a timely single and two more came around when Félix Aubin reached on an error as the Voyageurs kicked off a trend that would see the team scratch and claw for every possible run. Alex Frawley served notice that he might have a big hit or two stored away in his arsenal as well, belting a double and coming around to score one of the Sudbury runs.
With surprises a plenty right across the board, the U16 Voyageurs kept rolling along on Saturday, edging the Ottawa Nepean U16 Canadians as starting pitcher Callum Baron went to distance, scattering a pair of hits and a couple of walks in the win.
Perhaps no player better exemplified the “do whatever it takes to win” attitude of the PBLO champs better than Noah Leveillé. Hit by a pitch on three separate occasions in game one, Leveillé was plunked again in the second outing, also drawing a walk along the way. Thankfully, he would come around to score on both occasions, providing the margin of victory for his team.
The drama wasn’t about to subside in the semi-final as the Voyageurs spotted the hometown London Badgers an early 2-0 lead.
Time and time again this summer, this group would be challenged when faced with overcoming adversity. “When we would go down, we would end up sliding three to four stories down,” said Moher with a smile.
"It was tough to come back in games.”
Not this time.
Chipping away at the lead, Sudbury trailed 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh after reliever Luke Foulds shut down the Badgers in the top of the frame. After Leveillé reached on an error following a sharply hit grounder, Devan Madore hit into a fielder’s choice, just barely beating out the double play throw at first.
But a base hit by Foulds and a walk to Félix Aubin would load them up, setting the stage for Alex Frawley. Just a couple of pitches into his at-bat, Frawley would rip a line drive down the left field line, plating a pair of runners and sending the locals into a celebration unlike few they have enjoyed this year.
“That was the toughest game we had, but also our best game,” said Moher. “I think this will help the kids because they now know how to win, they know how to work hard and they know that they can go out and play.”
From there, things were handed to North Bay native Liam Norman who went the distance in the final, touched up for only one hard hit ball all afternoon long. Rounding out the Sudbury roster are Noah Portelance, Liam McNiven, Jet Bertrand, Colton Audette, Dominic Pugliese and Ryan Kainola.
After finishing second only to the Oshawa Legionaires in regular season play, the Sudbury U18 Voyageurs picked a bad time to encounter a tough stretch of baseball, with neither their pitchers nor their hitters necessarily at the top of their games on the weekend.
The team opened with a 7-4 loss to the Kitchener Panthers/Midwestern Ontario Bearcats as the locals were limited to just two hits, with Ethan Morris providing much of the offense with a two-run home run.
Things went from bad to worse on Friday for the Voyageurs, beaten 6-1 by the London Badgers in game two and added only one extra single to their hit total from the opener. Out of contention to move on to the semi-finals, the Sudbury squad at least managed to post what amounted to a pair of consolation victories, taking out their frustrations on both the Kingston Ponies (8-1) and the Ontario Yankees (11-1).
Carter Gallivan went three for four, driving in three runs versus the Ponies while designated hitter Yanick Loiselle crossed the plate three times in the rout. Ryan Lacasse allowed just five hits, striking out seven and walking only a single batter in earning the complete game win.
Taking advantage of a five inning mercy win, Sudbury pitcher Nico Signorile managed to hold the Yankees to just one run despite giving up nine hits, offset in part by the seven whiffs he induced from opposing batters.
The offense was quite balanced with Scooter Rienguette and Yanick Loiselle driving in three runs apiece, with Alex McNiven, Gavin Roy, Jacob Larivière and Ryan Michaud scoring twice each, the latter also joining Cameron Bauer in the two-hit club in their season finale.
With many of the top-end U14 players in the province over in Niagara Falls for the 2022 Ontario Summer Games, the PBLO division playoffs for that age bracket was backed up to the weekend of August 12th to 14th in Kitchener.