The Eastern Express authored one of P.E.I.’s feel-good sports stories of the weekend.
The Express, last in the four-team P.E.I. Bantam AAA Baseball League with a 1-14 (won-lost) record, went 4-1 en route to winning the Summerside 15-under AAA baseball tournament that attracted 12 teams to Queen Elizabeth Park from across the Maritimes.
“It’s a great story,” said Duane Smith, who co-coaches the Express with Troy Worth. “They are a tournament team and we have always been that way. You can coach a tournament a little different than the regular season.”
The Express won two of three round-robin games, defeated the Mid-Isle Matrix 5-0 in a semifinal game and then doubled the host Summerside Chevys 6-3 in the final.
“We had great pitching from start to finish and we had even better defence,” assessed Smith. “That’s what wins tournaments – good pitching and good defence. We didn’t have many runs scored against and enough runs scored to win ball games.”
The Chevys, who pulled out an exciting 1-0 extra-inning win over the Fredericton Royals in the other semifinal, won their first four games of the weekend before meeting the Express.
“We won four tough games against good teams from across the Maritimes,” said Chevys head coach Mikeal Thomas. “Eastern had an unbelievable weekend and won some really tough ball games.
“They played good defence, had good pitching and it just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted. It was a good lesson for our guys moving into the provincial season and hopefully Atlantics after that. It was a good weekend, but there is still lots of room to improve.”
Eastern, which attracts players from Stratford to Souris, plays its home games in Stratford.
“We are stuck with a population crisis for this age group,” said Smith. “We weren’t going to have a team this year, but we took what we had, worked with what we have – and we have some really good ballplayers at the top – and they have to take a lot of credit for why this team is where they are at right now.”
In the final, the Express received a strong pitching performance from Reese McIsaac, who worked 6 2/3 innings to earn the win.
Offensively, the Express jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning and added a single run in the fourth. The score remained 3-0 until the top of the seventh inning, when Eastern scored three runs to open up a 6-0 lead. Donovan Arsenault’s three-run blast in the bottom of the seventh inning accounted for Summerside’s scoring.
Smith feels the tournament victory will serve as a big boost for the Express as the teams enter the homestretch of the 2019 season.
“What it means is it is an audition for the provincials, which is what matters at the end of the year on P.E.I.,” said Smith. “Everyone makes the provincials, so you can go in and coach the team the same way and anything can happen.”
Summerside 15-under AAA
baseball tournament score:
Eastern 6 Summerside 3
Eastern 5 Mid-Isle 0
Summerside 1 Fredericton 0 (8 innings)
Mid-Isle 9 Port City 2
Summerside 11 Tri-County 4
Dieppe 4 Kentville 2
Mid-Isle 11 Hammonds Plains 1
Fredericton 10 Halifax 4
Eastern 4 Port City 0
Kentville 9 Capital 0
Dartmouth 6 Dieppe 1
Summerside 9 Hammonds Plains 1
Capital 3 Tri-County 0
Fredericton 3 Dartmouth 2
Halifax 6 Eastern 1
Mid-Isle 2 Dartmouth 0
Capital District 4 Port City 4
Eastern 5 Kentville 0
Summerside 8 Halifax 4
Dieppe 12 Tri-County 7
Fredericton 6 Hammonds Plains 4