Team refuses to return home empty-handed; battle the elements in a memorable weekend of fastball
By Joseph Gallo
The Sr Men’s team had all cylinders firing over the September 10th weekend in Fredericton, NB to ultimately bring home their first Eastern Canadians Men’s “C” Championship.
The Kodiaks, who compete in the GHFL, earned their Eastern Canadian berth by winning their 6th ORSA championship at the tournament hosted at the Aberfoyle Community Centre in July 2015.
After a heart-breaking 3rd-place finish in 2014, the Ontario representatives (coached by Tom Jefferson and Mark Slade) exploded for 90 runs over an 8-game stretch – culminating in a whopping 47 runs crossing the plate on the final day of the tournament.
The team would like to thank the Township of Puslinch for their support over the years and to the Aberfoyle Community Centre (Glen Leachman + Crew) for the continued upkeep of a truly picturesque home field.
A very special thank you goes out to the families, friends and fans who cheered the team on this season, and especially to the fans who made the 1500km trek to New Brunswick. Without your overwhelming support over the years, this accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible.
Game-by-Game Tournament Recap:
Game 1 on Friday afternoon featured the Kodiaks facing off against the hometown Fredericton Twins, with veteran Scott Gordon taking the mound for the green and grey. Gordon (7 IP, 12 H, 5 K’s) kept a scrappy U21 team in check until the 3rd inning when the Twins scored 4, leaving a man stranded at 3rd. Puslinch answered right back putting up 3 of their own in the bottom frame, and tacked on 2 more in the 4th inning on back-to-back doubles by DH Todd Parkinson and C Kyle McCaig. Gordon cruised until the 6th, when a leadoff walk led to the Twins plating an additional 4 runs. With the game at 8-6 heading into the 7th for the Twins, SS Brandon Viol and CF Mike Lajoie each reached base before 2B JJ Gallo sent a 3-1 offering over the fence in right field to regain the lead. The greenmen scrapped together an additional 2 runs later in the frame, resulting in the 11-8 final and starting the tournament off with a tense, but hard fought win.
Unfortunately, Game 2 didn’t have the same dramatic finish. A tough 7-4 loss to the Sydney (Nova Scotia) Sox on Friday evening brought the boys back down to earth in a hurry. After leading 2-0 in the first inning behind the steady leadoff combo of RF Matt Haines (.500) & 3B Brian Jefferson (.423), the Kodiaks bats began to cool and the momentum started to shift. Rookie right-hander Troy Cox (3.1 IP, 3H, 1BB) kept the Sox off-balance early on, inducing multiple ground ball outs to a veteran squad. The Sox finally broke out in the 4th inning, plating 4 in that frame to knock Cox out of the game early. OASA Pitching Award winner Erik Rasmussen (2.2 IP, 5 H, 1 K) relieved Cox and limited the damage, but the veteran squad ground-out their at bats and scored 3 more in the 5th. Unfortunately, a sac fly by C McCaig and solo homerun by 2B Gallo wasn’t enough for the Kodiaks to recover. Veteran SP Robert Bernard (7 IP, 4 K’s, 1BB) was able to settle down after the shaky first to earn the win. Though the boys finished the day 1-1, they knew it wouldn’t be the last time they faced off against the Sox.
Even though the Kodiaks had played the night game the day before, they were slated to play 3 games on a very humid Saturday of ball. SP Rasmussen (7 IP, 9 H, 8 K’s, 4 BB’s) kept the Doaktown (NB) Dodgers in check after they scored 3 in the bottom of the first. Puslinch answered back in the 2nd, plating 4 to extend their lead to 5-3. The veteran Kodiak batters continued to play selfless baseball, combining for 6 sacrifices throughout the matchup, all of which resulted in runs, and ultimately, a 10-7 win. Rasmussen contributed with the bat as well, going 3/4, while Jefferson, Parkinson and DH Erik Horner chipped in with 2 hits apiece.
Game 2 on Saturday afternoon pitted the boys against the Eel River (NB) Bar Hawks, and the Kodiaks did not waste any time in this one. Six singles in the first frame gave the Kodiaks a 4-0 lead and they batted around in the 3rd inning to plate another 7. In that inning alone, the Kodiaks had 8 hits, 3 walks and drove the Hawks pitcher out early. SP Gordon was steady yet again (7 IP, 5 K’s, 2 BB’s) and the Kodiaks cruised to victory. The Kodiaks tallied 18 hits in only 5 innings of play; middle infielders Viol & Gallo had 3 hits apiece while LF John Blair, Parkinson, Lajoie, Haines & Horner all had 2-hit games to lead Puslinch to a 14-7 victory.
After two long days of ball, the Kodiaks were clearly fatigued against the Nova Scotia based, Heatherton Warriors. The trouble started in the 3rd inning when the Warriors bats began heating up against SP Cox (4 IP, 1 K, 6 BBs), giving the Warriors a 6-3 lead heading into the 4th. Knuckleballer RP David Jefferson (2 IP, 1 K, 1 BB) pitched very effectively, limiting the damage and retiring the final 6 batters he faced. Puslinch continued to put up quality at-bats throughout the game (only striking out twice), yet hard hit balls always seemed to find the defensive gloves of the orange and black Warriors. Jefferson (3/4, RBI) did his best at the plate to rally the troops, while McCaig continued to display his patience (1/1, 3 BB’s, RBI) but the early lead proved too much to overcome as the Kodiaks fell 7-4.
As the round-robin portion of the tournament concluded, the teams record sat at 3-2, good enough for 3rd place. The Kodiaks knew they would essentially have to “win out” on Sunday and they left the diamond that night determined to do just that. A quarterfinal rematch against the Fredericton Twins was slated for 9AM.
A gloomy morning accompanied by dark skies surrounded the Fredericton ball fields; and even though the outfield grass was wet, the Kodiak bats were on fire. The greenmen delivered a consistent offensive attack from the onset, scoring in every inning of play. SP Rasmussen (6 IP, 5 H, 4 K’s, 1 BB) was tasked with cooling off the Twins bats and he did just that by retiring the final 9 batters he faced, inducing 7 ground ball outs. Viol (2/2, HR, 2 RBI, BB) chipped in with his first homer of the weekend to lead off the 3rd while clean-up hitter Blair (1/2, HR, 3 RBI, IBB) broke the game wide open in the 4th by launching a three-run homerun, giving Puslinch a 9-4 lead. With bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th and none out, Horner (1/1, RBI) delivered the final walk-off single to eliminate the scrappy Twins and secure a 12-5 victory.
The Semifinal game pitted Puslinch against Heatherton in a rematch of the Saturday night finale. The Warriors threatened early, with bases loaded in the 1st inning, but workhorse SP Gordon (5 IP, 8 H, 4 K’s, 3 BB) turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the threat and put the Kodiak bats to work. The offence did not disappoint, swatting 5 consecutive hits before LF Blair capped it off by launching his first of two homeruns, giving the Kodiaks a solid 7-0 cushion. It was all Puslinch from that point onwards, as they tacked on 2 more in the 3rd, 2 more in the 4th and 8 runs in the 5th to deflate the Nova Scotia squad. When it was all said and done, the Kodiaks finished with 20 total hits through 5 innings, led by SS Viol (3/3, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs) & LF Blair (3/4, 2 HRs, 6 RBIs), resulting in a lopsided 19-3 final.
As the maritime winds increased, the trees overlooking the diamond began to sway aggressively. The Kodiaks went through their typical pre-game routine; they jogged along the fence-lines to furthest reaches of the ball diamond, tossing a yellow ball until they reached their destination in centre field. As always, they stretched together as a team – despite the fact they didn’t need to. Some players discussed the previous games, reinforcing the positive aspects while addressing the keys to success that lead them to this point. Some discussed their strategy at the plate and their defensive adjustments. Others shared their knowledge of the opposing Sox ace who had shut them down on Friday evening. Some players were even humorous, keeping the mood light and the tension at bay; while others stayed completely silent and focused on the upcoming match.
Despite the pre-game differences, there was one common goal encompassing the minds of everyone donning a forest green hat emblazoned with a white “P” – not even a torrential downpour could stop this group. The clouds above became darker as the green jerseys jogged back to the dugout. The lineup cards were officially submitted and both pitchers were warm. It was time to play ball.
Kodiak righty SP Rasmussen (7.1 IP, 11 H, 6 K’s, 3 BB) pitched 2 scoreless frames, but in the 3rd inning, the Sox lineup awoke for 4 runs on 4 hits, tacking on an additional 1 in the 4th – extending their lead to 5-0. Puslinch answered back by scraping out 3 runs in the 5th frame on RBI groundout by Lajoie, a Sacrifice Fly by Parkinson and a RBI double by first baseman David Jefferson.
In the 5th inning, C Kyle McCaig walked to the mound to meet the infield. The rain was imminent and had been surprisingly held in-check despite the troublesome forecast. As the infielders encircled the pitching mound, the Captain looked at every player in the eye and proclaimed “We are NOT losing this game”.
He turned around, marched back to plate and Rasmussen responded with a “1-2-3” 6th inning. SS Viol lead the bottom half with a standup triple. Gallo, Lajoie, Parkinson, Haines and both Jefferson brothers combined for 6 hits against 3 different relief pitchers, scoring 5 runs and giving the Kodiaks the lead, 8-5.
Both pitchers shut down the offences up until the rain began in the 7th inning. Rasmussen shut down the Sox up to that point, but the Sox tacked on 3 to tie the game. As the rainfall turned into a heavy downpour, the field turned from clay to mud. A 2-1 pitch from Rasmussen hit the plate and skipped away to the backstop. As both runners began advancing, C McCaig decided to concede the lead runner advancing to third, and instead, fired the ball to second base to silence the Sox fans for the final out. A soaked Kodiaks team came back to the bench ready to begin extra innings, deadlocked at 8-8.
Kodiak RF Haines belted a leadoff triple for the in the top of the 8th, but was left stranded. Likewise, Sox Catcher Keough followed suit with a triple of his own. Coach Tom Jefferson called upon Gordon to relieve Rasmussen with 1 out and Keough on 3rd. In a gutsy move, Puslinch elected to intentionally walk two consecutive batters, loading the bases to set up a force play. Even though the hard rain continued to pour, Gordon was unfazed. He struck out his first opponent and induced a line-out to shortstop, ending the threat.
Any regular season game would have been called at this point; the infield was pitted and muddy. The outfield grass was dangerously slippery. Puddles of water began filling the batters boxes and many fans had already retreated for shelter. The game ball had to be tossed into the dugout and dried off nearly every pitch. But the Kodiaks refused to let the rain dictate the outcome of this game.
Their bats erupted in the 9th inning as the greenmen rattled off 3 hits around 4 walks, jumping out in front of a deflated Sox team 16-8. Gordon took the mound in the bottom of the 9th, inducing 2 groundouts and a flyout to seal the championship win for the Ontario reps.
As the celebrations settled from such a dramatic finale, the boys were awarded their gold medals in the shelter of their covered dugout. David Jefferson was awarded a much deserved finals MVP, after batting a solid .440, reaching base multiple times in every game that day. A whopping 10 Kodiak batters finished the tournament with an average above .300, while 3 players above .400 and yet another 3 batting above the .500 mark.
Offensively intimidating and defensively unmatched, the Puslinch Kodiaks put it all together that weekend to conclude their 2016 season. Every athlete contributed in some way, leaving everything on the diamond by exemplifying true grit, determination and leadership.
Most of the Kodiaks grew up playing Puslinch fastball together – they are a rare home-grown set of rural teammates in a very competitive southern-Ontario circuit. Some players flew back on Sunday evening. I myself, crammed into a rental vehicle and began the long drive home, reminiscing for hours along the highway.
But as I unpacked my water-logged equipment – my glove still soaked by the maritime rain – I couldn’t help but smile. The dark leather would dry out. The mud stains from the Fredericton diamonds would wash off my green jersey. The stench of sweat and dirt in my ball bag would have the winter months to air out for next spring.
Even though these visual reminders would be gone in due time – being part of such a historic weekend in Puslinch fastball is one memory that will never leave me.