The Sudbury Rookie Ball Shamrocks have not often had their backs against the wall, but when they do, they sure can come out swinging.
The young Shamrocks captured back to back tournaments earlier this summer, cruising through round robin play, for the most part, but relying on some seventh inning heroics in both final encounters before returning home with the hardware.
Competing at the Dorchester Baseball 2019 Summer Slam to kick off their tournament schedule, the Rookie Shamrocks relied on their offensive prowess to forge their way past the Lasalle Titans (25-11), Halton Hill Eagles (18-11) and Whitby Blue (21-10), working their way through to the final eight.
The bats kept booming as the Sudbury lads disposed of both the Kawartha Cubs (19-13 in QF) and the Tilsonburg Otters (24-16 in SF). But up against the powerful St. Catharines Cobras in the gold medal encounter, the Shamrocks clung to a 22-20 lead heading into the final inning, before exploding for nine runs in the top of the inning.
And to punctuate the victory, the locals held the Cobras off the board in the bottom of the frame, a performance that was capped off by a terrific line drive catch from second baseman Dacey Dupuis to close out the game.
Armed now with the information they needed to fine-tune the defensive aspects of their game, the Rookie Shamrocks looked even more dominant in beating up on their first four opponents at the Bradford Storm 2019 Rookie Select Tournament.
The northern crew bounced, in succession, the Newmarket Hawks (15-0), Waterdown Wolves (21-8), Whitby Blue (16-1) and host Bradford Storm (17-4), reaching the final for the second time in as many attempts.
Once again, a challenge would await. The Ancaster Diamondbacks were up 8-5 as the Shamrocks came to bat for the final time.
Ten runs later, the scoreboard had been flipped, with the champions flashing the leather in the bottom half of the inning, ending the encounter on a perfectly executed run down between third baseman Seamus Murphy and catcher Zacharie Paul, capping off a 31-20 triumph.
"We have a good hitting team, and a good defensive team too," said nine-year-old Ryan Thompson, one of three returning players to the team this summer.
"Normally we take the first pitch to see where it is, and then you just put your bat back up there and swing."
Such is the approach that can be used when facing the pitching machine, a device that pretty much ensures a great deal of consistency in terms of the look and placement of every single ball a given batter will face.
Looking every bit the part of a confident returnee to the roster, Thompson has clearly taken to the role as one of the team leaders, assisting where he can with a lineup that was largely competing in a rep baseball environment for the very first time this year.
"We played rep last year, so we know what it's like and all that," said Thompson. "It's a little harder than house-league, the defence is better and the hitting is better. I help out by telling people where to play. If it's somebody that we played against last year, I might know where they hit, so I would tell our guys to move over a little bit."
It's no secret that with the majority of these kids, given the option, the opportunity to bash the ball would be prioritized ahead of getting a chance to defend in the field - though there are exceptions.
"I think we're good at offense, but I kind of prefer to play defence more," said nine-year-old shortstop Bradley Eady, who lists Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians as his favourite middle infielder at the major league level.
"I get lots of action. I like going to my left, because it's my glove side and I can reach out my glove." And when the time comes to make a big play, the grade four student at Carl Nesbitt Elementary School is ready.
"In the first game of our first tournament, a guy hit a line drive up the middle and I jumped and caught it to end the game. I work on that. At home, I will throw tennis balls up in the air and then I just catch it."
It is this type of devotion to the sport that most pleases rookie head coach Richard Spadafora, who served as an assistant coach last year.
"We have a really strong hitting team, which has obviously carried us to this point," he said.
"What we have understood now, after playing in a few tournaments, is that our focus is really on our fielding. Whether it's working on fly balls, or infield situational play, knowing where the right play is going to be, the fact is that they might need to actually make a baseball play now, rather than just being granted time."
Hence the huge appreciation, on his part, for the precise manner in which the curtain closed in both gold medal games to date.
"It was awesome to see," he said. "The final play last weekend was a run down between home and third. I'll be honest, the kids had never really done that. They were trained just to get the ball to the infield and call time, just don't throw the ball around."
But much like their skipper, the youngsters are growing their knowledge of the sport in leaps and bounds at this time of year.
"This is all new to me, I am a soccer player by background," said Spadafora. "I'm of European descent, played soccer my whole life. It's a lot of learning for me as well."
The 2019 Sudbury Rookie Ball Shamrocks team is comprised of Adrien Cecchetto, Dacey Dupuis, Bradley Eady, Liam Mahoney, Seamus Murphy, Zacharie Paul, Andrew Roney, Jacob Roy, Arielle Roy, Matteo Spadafora, Ryan Thompson and Owynn Vaillancourt.
Providing assistance to head coach Richard Spadafora are the coaching quartet of Joey Dupuis, James Eady, Jeff Paul and Craig Thompson, with Adam Cecchetto handling scoring and stats and Curtis Roy taking care of the muscial accompaniement in his role as team DJ.