Comox Valley talent helped hit and pitch the Parksville Royals to a gold medal at the Western Canada AAA Midget baseball championships.
After playing six games in four days the Royals, composed of 16-18-year-old players from various Vancouver Island towns, took top spot in a thrilling 11-inning final against the St. Louis Cardinals of Alberta.
The Parksville posse spent six days at Yorkton, Sask. representing B.C. at the Aug. 20-23 tourney. B.C. and Alberta sent single representatives while Saskatchewan and Manitoba both had two teams vying for top spot.
Parksville’s first game was Aug. 20 under the lights against the host Parkland Expos (Yorkton). The Expos handed the Royals their only loss of the tournament when, after leading for six innings, the Royals gave up two runs in the bottom of the seventh to fall 7-6. Some untimely errors (five) and the inability of the relief core to shut down the Expos in the last inning resulted in defeat.
The schedule saw the Royals get game one the next day so there was little time to mourn their loss. Owen Kelly (Nanaimo) was strong on the mound as he held the Northwest Pirates (Lloydminster) to four hits and three runs while striking out nine in 5 2/3 innings. Josh Anderson (Parksville) had a stellar shutout relief performance to nail down a 7-3 Royals win. Liam Ballance (Parksville), Adam McKillican (Comox) and Liam Janzen (Courtenay) each had two hits in the contest.
In their second game of the day Parksville matched up against a strong St. Albert Cardinals team. This was the pivotal game of the tournament and the game where the Royals came together as a team. They did not blink in a tension-filled match which saw them fall behind 2-0, get a run to make it 2-1, then put up two more and hold on for three more pressure-packed innings en route to a 3-2 win.
McKillican was outstanding in tossing a complete game, scattering eight hits and striking out five. Chris Vlaj (Campbell River), Ballance and Jacob Ingersoll (Campbell River) all had two hits with Ingersoll having a big game going 2-for-2, scoring two and adding an RBI.
Saturday began with the Royals defeating the Northwest Pirates (Saskatchewan) 6-1. The Royals scored six runs in the third inning and were shut out for the rest of the game. Zach Senay (Campbell River) was the winning pitcher as he didn’t give up a hit or a run in three innings despite walking eight.
Dean Leyland (Port Alberni) threw three shutout relief innings and Ballance was dominant in closing out the game in the seventh with two strikeouts and a pop out. The Royals were led once more by Vlaj who had two hits from his lead-off spot. Cory Bukauskas (Campbell River) and Zach Waddington (Duncan) also banged out two hits to fuel the offence.
In their second tilt of the day the Royals matched up with St. James A’s (Winnipeg). This proved to be another pressure-packed game as neither pitcher blinked while they matched zeros for six innings. The Royals scored two in the top of the seventh and blanked the A’s in their frame to take a 2-0 win. Hayden Scheck (Comox) was a”ground ball machine” as he hurled a complete game five-hit shutout. The Royals managed only four hits off Wyatt Kemball who was outstanding in a losing cause.
Both Royal runs came with two out in the top of the seventh. Ethan Fox (Campbell River) started it off with a shot into right field. Courtenay’s Janzen followed with a rocket to right centre that scored Fox. Jaret Knowles (Campbell River) then came up and sent a screamer into the right field gap that allowed Janzen to score from second. Comox’s McKillican made a key throw to the plate from right field to end the fifth inning, nailing an A’s runner who would have put them on the board first.
The two top teams, both 4-1, hooked up in the final in what was the best game of the tournament. This was a classic pitcher’s duel with a few other elements mixed in which took 11 innings to conclude. In the end the Royals prevailed and won the gold medal game 2-1 over St. Albert.
Colton Tuka (Courtenay) threw seven innings of two-hit ball and left the game with the score tied 1-1. Ballance came in and gave up one hit in four innings of shutout relief.
The Royals outhit the Cardinals 10-3 and left 14 men on base compared to the Cards’ five. Clearly the Royals had a number of opportunities to score but couldn’t. It was left to McKillican to stroke a clean single in the bottom of the 11th with the bases loaded, two out and two strikes on him, to plate Josh Anderson with the winning run. It was McKillican’s fourth hit of the game and second RBI. Fox had two hits in the victory.
Coaches Wes Dieleman and Lee McKillican were effusive in their praise for the Royals’ team effort. Both alluded to the long travel day on Thursday, the first game on Friday, and even a concentrated encounter with prairie mosquitoes for a couple of games…none of which could break the Royals’ resolve.
“The kids really came together, supported each other, picked each other up and did what they had to do in order to win,” said Dieleman. McKillican added, “This was a very satisfying team win. We didn’t have as many wins during the regular season as we would have liked and for the boys to play good pressure baseball against the best AAA teams in Western Canada, all of whom had multiple pick-up players from other teams (the Royals had one: Chris Vlaj…a former Royal) was really gratifying. We were deserving winners in this tournament.”
Manager Jim Seredick added, “As always in tournament play, he who has the pitching is the last team standing. Our starting pitchers, Tuka, Kelly, McKillican, Scheck and Senay along with Leyland and Ballance in relief were the difference. They were outstanding. I am very proud of this team and of how they played throughout the tournament and of how they represented the province, community and themselves.”
– Parksville Royals