To be or no to be? 3Cheers takes to the Stratford stage

Kenn Oliver
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Defending Canadian senior softball champions have some significant roster changes, but still sport an impressive lineup

Jason Hill, shown warming up before a St. John’s senior game at Lions Park last week, is part of a 3Cheers roster looking to achieve the difficult task of defending a Canadian senior softball championship. The nationals begin Tuesday in Stratford, Ont.

 

At last year’s Canadian senior men’s fastpitch championship, 3Cheers Pub Bud Light dominated the competition en route to capturing Newfoundland and Labrador’s first national title.

3Cheers, essentially a provincial all-star team with a couple of mainland pitchers in the mix, was a perfect 9-0 and outscored the competition 74-4.

“It was just unbelievable,” says 3Cheers’ Jason Hill.

“What we did last year was something I’ve never seen before and we don’t exactly expect to duplicate that.”

But with that resounding success coming on the heels of repeated failures to deliver on championship Sunday — including 2011 and 2007 when teams representing this province steamrolled through the round robin only to settle for silver — there’s a well-cemented sense of humility among 3Cheers players who are returning to defend their crown when the nationals get underway in Stratford, Ont., on Tuesday.

“It got a huge monkey off our back, such that we now know we can win,” says 3Cheers coach John Hill, who will be joined in his duties by assistant Colin Abbott and player-coach Lee Cose.

Abbott was a player-coach last year, but retired in the off-season.

“It was a confidence-builder, but by no means are we going to be cocky about this process because we know that teams are stacking up and we know these teams, particularly from Ontario, are out to regain the title,” said John Hill.

Among the Ontario squads leading the charge in a bid is the Scarborough Force. While 3Cheers boasts two national team pitcher in Sean Cleary and Sean Whitten, the Force has three of  its own in Paul Koert, Andy Skelton and Don Scott.

“They know what we’ve got and they’re gearing their team up to have an opportunity to beat us,” said John Hill.

The bulk of last year’s 3Cheers roster returns this season, including slugger Stephen Mullaley, the Freshwater, Placentia native who now calls Toronto home. Mullaley was every pitcher’s bane at last year’s tourney, hitting 10 home runs and taking home the top batter award.

“It’s hard to top what he did at the end of last year, so everything he was going to do this year was going to look a little slow,” says his Jason Hill, who plays with Mullaley on the Hill United Chiefs in International Softball Congress (ISC) tournaments.

Nevertheless, in the last few weeks Mullaley became the first Newfoundlander to earn MVP honours at the ASA (Amateur Association of America) fastpitch tournament and last weekend, was named to the first-team all-world infield at the ISC World Tournament.

“His stick is coming around, he’s swinging well now, seeing a good ball and he’s playing good defence, too,” Hill says of his longtime teammate and friend.

All nine of 3Cheers’ starters have played on the ISC circuit this season, and both Hills agree the experience, along with a competitive league at home, makes for a well-prepared group of players.

“It gives some added experience and puts us on a level playing field with respect to talent as the rest of the country,” says John.

“You go down there for a week and when you’re in the winners bracket, you’re facing the best pitchers in the world.’ adds Jason. “How can that not prepare you when you’re seeing that every night?”

The coach says, while this year’s 3Cheers starting lineup will be as strong as it was last year, the roster doesn’t have the same depth.

In addition to Abbott going strictly as a coach this time around, role players Geoff Evely and Mark Lewis opted to join Don Cherry’s St. John’s (formerly Bull & Finch Bar & Grill) — the reigning provincial champs who are also in Stratford next week — while Ward Gosse has retired from the game.

Filling the openings are Liam O’Keefe, who plays for 3Cheers in club play at home, the Kelly’s Pub Molson Bulldogs John Farrell and Junior Canadians’ ace Colin Walsh. The rest of roster includes returnees Ryan Boland, Shane Boland, Blair Ezekiel, Brad Ezekiel, Justin Gill and imports Jeff Ellsworth and Ian Fehrman.

The goal, regardless of the parts, remains the same.

“We know we’re in for a battle and we’re prepared for it,” John Hill insists. “We’re not interested in finishing second. We’re interested in winning another championship.”

THE PROVINCE’S OTHER REPRESENTATIVE AT NATIONALS

Don Cherry’s coach says team doesn’t plan to be an also-ran at nationals

 

Joey Maynard agrees people wouldn’t be wrong in thinking of Don Cherry’s St. John’s as the province’s B-team to 3Cheers Pub Bud Light’s A-team status at next week’s national senior men’s softball championships in Stratford, Ont.

“But you don’t play the game on paper, you play it on the field,” asserts Maynard, who was part of a Newfoundland representative that proved as much in 2005.

“I was part of that (Impact Signs) team that shocked a lot of people by making it to the championship with all local players, no pickups whatsoever,” Maynard recounts.

“We got on a run on Saturday, got timely hits and pitching and made it to the championship (game).”

Maynard is confident this year’s team can turn in as good a result as Imagewear Custom Apparel did last year, when it won bronze.

“We know it’s going to be tough to get into that top spot, but our goal is to get that double life in one of those to four spots.”

Veteran hurler Donny King says the team will be just as much as a force as will 3Cheers.

“We’re not going up, by any means, to just play and lose,” King asserts. “I would expect that our team will compete hard every day we’ll be there for Saturday.”

Initially, the plan was to attend this year’s nationals only using the club team players but as time went on, it became clear work commitments would keep certain players from attending. Regular roster players unable to make the trip to Ontario are Craig Edmunds, Felix Squires, Leon Cantwell, Mike Noftall and Jamie Peddle.

So Maynard and company recruited NL Plumbing Hitmen ace Robbie Greene, Stephen Strapp and Jon Kelly from the Kelly’s Pub Molson Bulldogs, and junior players Mark Power, Jeremy O’Reilly, and Ryan Kirk. The team also picked up a pair of imports in Saskatchewan products Trevor Ethier and Brennan Pokoyoway. The latter played for Imagewear last year.

 

koliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter@telykenn

Organizations: ASA, Association of America, Molson

Geographic location: Stratford, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario Placentia Toronto United Chiefs Saskatchewan

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