Little League·Preview

Canadian kids staying classy, keeping cool under pressure at Little League World Series

Dancing before an elimination game? Tipping your cap to the guy who just smacked you for a game-tying homer? No moment is too big to keep Canada's Little League World Series team from having fun.

Sportsmanship and joy shine through as team from Whalley, B.C., continues its run Wednesday vs. Puerto Rico

Cole Balkovec and his Canadian teammates face Puerto Rico Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET in the quarter-finals of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa. (Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press)

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — When the young sluggers from Whalley, B.C., took to the field last Friday night to begin their baseball quest at the Little League World Series against Panama, the moment almost seemed too big for them.

Mike Marino admitted after the team's 8-3 opening-game loss that his team was nervous and off its routine — the bright lights, ESPN cameras and massive crowd intimidating and daunting. 

Since that loss, the Canadians haven't allowed any pressure-packed moment to become too overwhelming. And there have been many stressful moments during their last two thrilling victories to stay alive in Williamsport.

Marino credits the entire Whalley program for its ability to bounce back under any circumstance. He says the parents have taught their sons how to be competitors but also to show grace in the heat of the moment. Marino says the coaching staff continually preaches positivity.

Take, for instance, this incredible moment during Monday night's elimination game. With Canada leading Mexico 6-4 and needing just one more out with the bases loaded to win the game, the team called a timeout. Pitching coach Lucky Pawa walked calmly out to the mound to chat with the pitcher, Nate Colina.

The crowd was roaring. It was one of those moments that could have gotten away from the young pitcher. But the team huddled around Colina. 

"Trust your defence. Trust your boys. Trust your stuff," Pawa said. "That's why you're here. There's no one better for this right now. Let's go."

On the very next pitch, the Mexican batter hit a line-drive directly at Colina, who corralled the ball in mid-air to get the final out and secure the win for Canada. 

Watch highlights of Canada's win over Mexico:

Canadian squad wins 6-4, next faces Puerto Rico in another must-win game. 1:34

"They're a very resilient group of boys," Marino said. "They've been through out a lot of issues this year and every time something hits them they bounce back."

The Canadians have been getting stronger as the tournament rolls on. Now their toughest test comes Wednesday afternoon against Puerto RicoIt's another must-win game to keep their baseball dreams alive. The little Whalley team that could seems ready for whatever test is thrown their way.

Watch Devin Heroux preview Canada vs. Puerto Rico:

Devin Heroux has a preview of Canada's big match vs Puerto Rico at the Little League World Series from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. 4:11

Tip of the cap

Not only have the Canadians been keeping things relaxed and calm since losing their first game against Panama, they're also putting on a display of sportsmanship that is catching the attention of fans and opponents at the Little League World Series.

Before the game against Mexico, the Canadian youngsters ran out of the dugout moments before the first pitch and started dancing to the music blasting over the loudspeakers. Their opponents raced out to join them. 

And then there was a moment in Saturday's marathon thriller against Spain that people are still talking about. 

With Canada leading 1-0 in the final inning, Zaeden Pleasants was on the mound trying to close out the game for his team. But a dramatic Spanish home run tied the game. It could have been a devastating moment for the Canadians, who thought they had the victory sealed. 

However, as the Spanish hitter rounded the bases, Pleasants took his hat off and tipped it to the batter. In the heat of the moment, the 13-year-old Canadian showed a rare display of sportsmanship after giving up the home run.

Watch highlights of Canada's win over Spain:

Joey Marino supplied the heroics for Canada in a must win game against Spain with a walk-off single in the 10th to win 2-1. 2:45

Some people took to social media to say the Canadians were "too soft" for showing that level of sportsmanship during a must-win game. The parents of the B.C. boys disagreed. They were brimming with pride over Pleasants' gesture.

And so to honour his act of kindness, the Canadian parents now say that every time their opponents make a great play, they're all going to tip their caps to remind their sons that, in the end, it's just a game — winning and losing with poise and grace is the most important thing of all.

Weathering the storm

And for a little more perspective on what this Little League World Series is all about, consider the journey that the team from Guayama, Puerto Rico has been on.

Last fall, a horrific Category 5 hurricane ripped the country apart, causing a path of destruction that left many without homes. The rebuilding process has been a long one. 

Baseball was the last things on the minds of the young boys from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane. But once life slowly started returning to normal, the players from Guayama started shifting their focus back to the game they love.

In a lot of ways, baseball quickly became a sweet escape for the team, which needed something to lift its spirits. The Guayama players found a way to qualify out of the Caribbean Region and are now living out their baseball dreams at the Little League World Series.

After losing its first game, the Puerto Ricans have now won two in a row — just like their Canadian opponents.

Another resilient bunch.

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.


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