Newfoundlanders power Canada to 8th straight gold in men's softball
Home nation defeats Venezuela in Pan Am title game
Canada won the gold medal in men's softball Saturday with a huge assist from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Five of the 10 starting players in the lineup for Canada at the Pan Am Games hail from Newfoundland, and one of them, Brad Ezekiel, crushed a sixth-inning two-run home run to spot his team a 2-0 lead in what turned out to be a 2-1 victory over Venezuela.
The victory gave Canada its eighth consecutive Pan Am Games title and two major championships in two weeks. Team Canada captured the world championship in Saskatoon earlier in the month; a tournament in which Ezekiel hit four dingers.
By his own high standards he said he struggled at the plate in the Pan Am Games, but came through in the crunch.
"The whole game they were pitching me outside and he managed to leave one over the middle of the plate and I got a good piece of it," Ezekiel said. "It wasn't my week at the plate and I am thankful to the coaches for sticking with me. I managed to get one out on the last at-bat of the week."
Ezekiel, pitcher Sean Cleary (who threw a one-hitter in the semifinal Friday to get Canada to the gold medal game), first baseman Stephen Mullaley, catcher Ryan Boland and designated hitter Jason Hill did Newfoundland proud.
Ezekiel said he was seeing the ball well all week, but couldn't buy a break.
"I was hitting balls at people," he said. "I finally managed to catch a break and it couldn't have come at a better time."
Team Canada coach John Stuart said he had no thoughts whatsoever of taking Ezekiel out of the lineup despite his batting struggles and told the player before his last at-bat if Venezuela gave him something on the outside of the plate to crank it.
Stuart also paid tribute to the great softball that is played in Newfoundland.
"Newfoundland does it right," Stuart said. "They have a great league there and they don't let guys go to any team they want. They have a draft system so when the junior players come up they can't just go and play with their brothers or dads. They make it equal and all the top guys on this team play against each other."
Boland said the players from Newfoundland are driven and won't stop until they achieve the success they have set out for. He said there are 10 more players home who are on the cusp of making the national team.
"There's great competition at home," he said. "We're dogs for it, I guess."
Mullaley, the hard-hitting first baseman, said people in Newfoundland have a passion for the game.
"We have probably the best senior league with a great developmental system that keeps kids interested in playing softball during the summertime," Mullaley said. "The people of Newfoundland just get behind the sport and support it. It's in the newspaper just about every single day and we're just incredibly proud to be from Newfoundland."
Stuart said not winning the Pan Am gold after winning the world championship would have been perceived as a failure for the team. All season they have viewed winning both tournaments as a single goal.
"It would have left an empty hole in our stomachs for sure," Stuart said. "We really wanted to put the pressure on ourselves to win this one, too, to make it complete."
"It just goes to show what kind of a team we are," Ezekiel added. "We are a band of brothers and we all stuck together through highs and lows. The success speaks for itself."
After the final out of the game, the Venezuelan team left the dugout and rushed at the umpires while Canada was celebrating its victory on the field. The Venezuelans had issues with the umpiring right from the first inning when a player and coach were ejected from the game after arguing a call.
Although it looked for a while like it might get nasty, the umpires left the field and things eventually calmed down.
"They are an emotional team, as are we," Boland said. "It is unfortunate it had to happen, but nothing came of it."