Two Islanders are home after helping a group of teenagers win an international softball championship.
St. Lawrence’s Jeff Ellsworth was the head coach of the under-17 national team while Cardigan native Mark Quinn was one of the assistant coaches. The squad defeated Mexico 4-1 on Saturday in the gold-medal game of the Pan American softball championship in Guatemala.
Canada has only played in three gold-medal games in the past 15 years at the senior or junior men’s level.
“Playing in a gold-medal game for Canada in the men’s program is not an everyday occurrence,” Ellsworth said. “We told the boys this is something very special.”
The top four teams in the tournament also qualified for the World Baseball Softball Confederation World Cup in February in New Zealand. Joining Canada will be Mexico, Argentina and Guatemala.
“They’re fired right up. They know what’s at stake,” Ellsworth said of his players. “They know we have great pitching; they know we have great defence; it’s the hitting department that has to be more consistent to hit the top-level pitching. . .
“They were 15 professional young men that at the end of the day they want to win a gold in New Zealand now.”
Amazing day today winning Gold at the WBSC Pan American Championship in Guatemala. Fantastic group of young men to coach, awesome coaching staff to work with, and the chance to share it with my dad. @SoftballCanada @WBSC @SportsGuardian pic.twitter.com/04E7Pe0s4o— Mark Quinn (@quinner1975) November 10, 2019
The qualifying tournament was the first time the Canadian team had been together. They played a few exhibition games when they got to Guatemala. It enabled the coaching staff to test players in different positions. They then met with the players individually to explain what their role during the championship would be.
“The boys really bought into it,” Quinn said. “They bought into the program and the system and what we were trying to achieve.”
He recalled Mason McKay, a shortstop from Ontario, agreeing to go to the outfield for the first time.
“He’s really flourished in that role,” Quinn said, noting he became the squad’s centre-fielder. “The kids were a lot of fun to work with.”
Fourteen of the 15 players are from Ontario or Western Canada. Brody Fraser from Upper Nine Mile River, N.S., is the lone player from Eastern Canada.
The tournament didn't start as hoped for the Canadians.
Leading the Americans 3-0, Canada found itself behind 4-3 in its final at-bat in a seven-inning game. Canada scored the tying run but gave up six runs in the top of the eighth to take a loss. It would be the only defeat of the tournament.
“I think it was a really good eye-opener for us,” Ellsworth said, noting sometimes in youth sports minds can wander and people not be fully dialed in for the duration of a game. “This just proved that you just have to be in it for the seven innings, you can't take an inning off at this level.”
Quinn said the team rebounded well from the adversity, and playing in some close contests helped them. He noted there were contributions up and down the lineup with guys coming off the bench with pinch hits or running the bases.
“Everybody is an important piece of the puzzle to have success at the world stage,” Quinn said. “We have three months now to do everything we can to prepare the kids to get ready for the (World Cup).”
The recent tournament was a special trip for Quinn. His father, Kevin, who coached him numerous times growing up, was the technical director for the Pan Am championship.
“It was really nice to share that moment with him,” he said.
Kevin is in British Columbia to preside over his final annual general meeting as the president of Softball Canada. He has been involved with the association for 31 years, 18 as president.