Friday, July 10, 2015
Oh Canada! Jays win 18u BCS
By Jeff Dahn
Perfect Game USA
FORT MYERS, Fla. – It would seem safe to assume this would be a matter involving a flag that wouldn’t be controversial or produce any kind of heated national debate and may, in fact, create a sense of unity unlike that other matter involving a flag that has dominated news cycles in recent weeks.
It’s just a suggestion, but this seems to be the perfect time for Lee County, Fla., officials to raise the Canadian flag over venerable old City of Palms Park near historic downtown Fort Myers, for just one day, at least. History was made at COP Park Friday afternoon, and it’s time to salute our good neighbors to the north.
The Ontario Blue Jays from the Toronto-area in Ontario, Canada, captured the 18u Perfect Game BCS Finals PG national championship after a solid 4-2 victory over Tallahassee, Fla.-based Next Level 18u in the tournament’s championship game Friday. The Blue Jays became the first elite travel ball team based in Canada to win a Perfect Game tournament championship in PG’s 20-year history.
The closest the Blue Jays had gotten before was making it to the semifinal round at the 2003 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.
“This is unbelievable; I can’t describe what’s going on (in my mind) right now,” Blue Jays’ right-hander and 18u PG BCS Finals Most Valuable Pitcher R.J. Freure (Burlington) said. “To be the first Canadian team to win a Perfect Game event, it’s a huge honor to just be a part of this team. I really can’t describe all the emptions right now; it’s unbelievable.”
The No. 3-seeded Blue Jays, under the guidance of director of baseball operations and head coach Dan Bleiwas, completed an 8-0-0 run through the tournament with the championship game victory. Along the way, this proud group of Canadians beat six teams from Florida and one each from Georgia and Colorado, and often did so in dominating fashion.
“It’s an absolute source of pride and I think it’s a reflection on the growth of our game – our organization first, but the game in Canada as a whole,” Bleiwas said. “There are a lot of good teams up there now that are starting to come down here and do all this. We take a lot of pride in being Canadians and representing our families and our country by extension where ever we go.”
The Blue Jays built a 3-0 lead after 3 1/2 innings in the championship game and it ultimately proved to be enough. Ryan Rijo (Barrie) hit a leadoff double in the top of the second and eventually came around to score on an infield double-play, and the Jays added two more in the top of the fourth on a two-run double from Reese O’Farrell (Burlington). They added their fourth run in the fifth on a fielder’s choice groundout.
Tony Hrynkiw (Brampton), Rijo and O’Farrell each had two hits to lead the Jays’ nine-hit attack. 2015 right-hander Nathan Arruda (Brampton) allowed two earned runs on three hits in six innings of work, with six strikeouts and two walks. 2015 righty Dan Roderick (Oakville) came in to work the seventh, and while he allowed a triple to Next Level’s Andrew Williamson, he struck out two of the other three batters he faced and picked up the save.
Next Level 18u (7-1-0) came into the championship game as the playoffs’ No. 1 seed after outscoring its five pool-play opponents 41-1 earlier in the week. But it squeaked by with one-run victories in both its quarterfinal game Thursday and semifinal game Friday morning, before falling short against the Blue Jays. It is the second straight year Next Level finished as runner-up at the 18u PG BCS Finals.
Next Level scored its two runs in the championship game in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out, two-run, line-drive double to leftfield off the bat of Bo Seccombe. One of the runners that scored on the double was Brendan Donovan, who doubled and tripled in the championship game.
That was a perfect capper to a monster tournament for Donovan, a 2015 South Alabama recruit from Enterprise, Ala. Donovan was named the Most Valuable Player after hitting .538 (14-for-26) with six doubles, a triple, five RBI, 10 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 1.418 OPS.
Alec Aleywine (11 hits, 2 2Bs, 3B, 9 RBI, 7 runs) and Oliver Tajeda (8 hits, 2B, 2 HRs, 8 RBI, 7 runs) were also productive at the plate for Next Level throughout the tournament.
While the Blue Jays received plenty of offensive firepower from guys like Rijo (10 hits, 3 2Bs. 4 RBI, 5 runs), Hrynkiw (9 hits, 1 HR, 8 RBI) and Greg Carrington (Scarborough) who had nine hits, two 2Bs, seven runs, it was their pitching staff that put them over the top. Bleiwas used 10 pitchers that allowed four runs on 28 hits in 48 innings (0.58 ERA) with 52 strikeout and 22 walks.
He praised the efforts turned in by his entire staff and gave a special shout-out to his associate head coach and pitching coach Mike Steed. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never had a pitching staff perform like this, and that’s a credit to Mike and the kids and what they’re doing,” Bleiwas said.
Few were as good as Freure, who made two starts and didn’t allow a run on seven hits in 10 1/3 innings while striking out 17 and walking three. He was at his best in Ontario’s 8-0 win over No. 6 Palmetto Baseball Club in the quarter finals, throwing five four-hit innings and striking out seven without a walk.
“I was just trying to get outs, trying to pound the strike zone; I wasn’t trying to strikeout everybody,” Freure said of the effort. “All I wanted to do was get outs and help my team get to the semi finals and get to the championship. We deserve this, we work hard, and I just wanted to do anything I possibly could to get my team here where we are.”
The shutout in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs was the staff’s fifth of the tournament. It threw 23 straight scoreless innings in the first four pool-play games and ran the streak to 25 straight before giving up a run in the third inning of the fifth game.
“We tried to preach to them that it wasn’t all about shutting everybody out; it’s about winning games and playing good baseball,” Bleiwas said. “That was kind of the anomaly that we had four in a row … but we just played good ball throughout and the credit goes to our defense, which has not always been a source of strength with this particular group.
“They really cleaned that up and the kids stepped up,” he said. “We’re all really excited and quite honored to be the first Canadian team to win a PG event.”
Ryan Sandle delivered and a run-scoring single to forge an 8-8 tie with one out in the bottom of the seventh and an out later Justin Barr scored on a walk-off passed ball to lead Next Level 18u to a sloppy, back-and-forth 9-8 victory over No. 4 Nelson Baseball School 18u (5-1-1) in one of the semifinal games played Friday morning at the Player Development Complex.
Next Level overcame seven fielding errors – three of NBS 18u’s eight runs were unearned – to pull out the win, and it actually trailed most of the game. NBS 18u led 2-1 after the first inning; the game was tied at 3 after three; Nelson led 7-4 after five; the game was knotted at 7 after six and Nelson took an 8-7 lead into the seventh.
Aleywine doubled, tripled, drove in three runs and scored one, and Sandle finished 4-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored to lead Next Level 18u’s 10-hit attack. NBS 18u totaled 12 hits, with Jack Brannon stroking three singles, driving in a run and scoring two. Chandler Wold collected a pair of singles and Cole Buffington singled and drove in two runs.
RHPs Cole White (Barrie) and Dexter Coughtrey (Kingston -- Canada’s first capital), both 2015s combined on a complete-game four-hitter and the Blue Jays used six singles and a pair of doubles to push across four runs in a 4-1 victory over the No. 2 Jacksonville Warriors (6-1-0) in Friday’s other semifinal.
White, a Lipscomb University recruit, threw 4 2/3 innings, and allowed one earned run on three hits for the Jays. Carrington (NW Oklahoma St. U.) singled twice and was credited with Ontario’s only RBI, Rijo doubled, singled and scored a run and O’Farrell had a two singles and scored.
So go ahead, good people of Lee County, and raise that Canadian flag over City of Palms Park. These kids from Canada are ready to stand up and salute while also getting saluted themselves.
“First of all this speaks to the character of our players,” Bleiwas said of the championship. “These guys all stepped up and decided they were going to seize jobs and go out there and prove they belong on the field individually and collectively, and this is the result.
“We’re proud of these kids and we get complimented everywhere, not on their play, necessarily, but on their behavior and the way they conduct themselves,” he concluded. “The stuff on the field takes care of itself but we’ve got a good group of young men that are going to do well in life and in baseball.”
Ontario Blue Jays 5, Gainesville Naturals 18U 0
Ontario Blue Jays 12, Chain Gang 0
Ontario Blue Jays 3, Batters Box Baseball Academy 0
Ontario Blue Jays 11, PBA Under Armour 0
Ontario Blue Jays 7, Beast Mode Baseball 5
Ontario Blue Jays 8, Palmetto Baseball Club 0
Ontario Blue Jays 4, Jacksonville Warriors 1
Ontario Blue Jays 4, Next Level 18U 2