Newfoundland team defends its Canadian senior crown thanks to walk-off home run by Brad Ezekiel
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Newfoundland’s 3Cheers/Bud Light successfully defended its Canadian senior men’s fastpitch championship Sunday, defeating Scarborough, Ont. 6-4 in the final of the 2013 national championship in Stratford, Ont. Members of the team include (from left), front row: Liam O’Keefe, Jeff Ellsworth, Brad Ezekiel, Shane Boland, Ryan Boland, Blair Ezekiel, Justin Gill and Stephen Mullaley; back row: Ken Fenwick (doctor/physio/trainer), Junior Bruce (sponsor, 3Cheers Pub), Jason Hill, Colin Walsh, Lee Cose, Sean Whitten, John Farrell, Sean Cleary, Ian Fehrman, Colin Abbott (coach), John Hill (coach) and Dave Anderson (sponsor, Murphy’s Fish and Chips).
After Brad Ezekiel clubbed a 1-2, up-and-in riseball out of the ball park for a walkoff home run in the seventh inning Sunday night, the 3Cheers/Bud Light outfielder scampered around the base paths and into the arms of teammates waiting at home plate for the big celebration.
For Ezekiel and the newest national senior men’s softball champions, it was a celebration that was a long time coming.
Granted, the 5-4 win over Scarborough, Ont., Sunday marked Newfoundland’s second straight Canadian crown, after breaking the ice last September in Fredericton, N.B.
While the first title last year was perhaps a relief more than anything — Newfoundland came close to winning for years, only to whiff in the playoffs — it wasn’t the perfect finish for 3Cheers, who toasted the victory at their hotel.
That’s because rain had forced a postponement of the 2012 final against Kitchener, Ont., in the fourth inning. The teams returned to their Fredericton hotel waiting for the weather to break, but it never did.
The game was finally called, and the championship awarded to Newfoundland.
“We got the call, that the game was awarded to us, and we’re sort of like, ‘Yay. Now what?’” Ezekiel said.
“The first win was special, no doubt, but this was special, too. We got to celebrate on the field.”
With 3Cheers and Scarborough, Ont. deadlocked 4-4 after six innings of play, Ezekiel led off the bottom of the seventh. After taking a ball and two called strikes from southpaw Paul Koert, who came on in relief of all-world starter Don Scott, the right-handed swinging Ezekiel lifted a solo shot that cleared the fences in Stratford, Ont. and put the exclamation point on a win-for-the-ages moment.
“I was just trying not to strike out,” Ezekiel said. “But I’ve usually fared pretty well against him (Koert). I had confidence.”
For Jason Hill, a force all week in Stratford, topped off with a two-hit, two-run home run final game, the win also settled the score on some unfinished business.
“You know, despite the win last year, there was an asterisk next to it because it wasn’t won on the field,” said Hill, who was nothing short of sensational in Stratford, winning the batting title and round-robin and playoff MVP awards. “There was always that question of ‘what if?’
“You can’t ask that anymore. And the fact we beat an Ontario team, well, that nails it home.”
Sean Cleary scattered four runs on two hits and five walks for the win. He struck out 10.
It’s been a very good year for Newfoundland softball, after Kelly’s Pub Junior Canadians won bronze at the national junior men’s championship last month in Owen Sound, Ont.
“We’ve enjoyed success at the junior level and at Canada Games (when men’s softball was part of the program), and the core of this team is under-30,” Hill said. “We’ve got a good thing going here.
“Me and boys were saying last night that we have the making for something special here. The sky’s the limit because we have the talent to stay on top for a long time.”
It was 3Cheers’ second straight win over Scarborough following a 6-4 playoff decision Saturday night.
In that game, Cleary gave up eight hits and struck out 12. Blair Ezekiel had three hits and Hill had a pair of hits and two RBI.
Another Newfoundland team, Don Cherry’s of St. John’s, just finished out of the medals with a fourth-place showing.
Cherry’s dropped a 5-3 decision to the Kitchener, Ont. Cubs in quarter-final play to finish at 5-6.
Hill wasn’t the only individual award winner in Stratford. Stephen Mullaley, Ian Ferhman, Ryan Boland and Sean Whitten from 3Cheers, along with Kyle Ezekiel and Jon Kelly from Don Cherry's were named to the all-star team.
Whitten, a Petty Harbour native living in Alberta, was the top pitcher in the round-robin, going 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA and 25 Ks in 18 innings.
In the round-robin, Hill hit .619 with five home runs and 13 RBI, and even went 2-0 on the pitching mound with a 0.00 ERA.
In the playoffs, Hill was all but unstoppable at the plate going six-for-eight.
As a footnote, Hill, Mullaley, Brad Ezekiel and Jeff Ellsworth capped off their personal triple crowns Saturday. The four are members of the Hill United Chiefs, who captured the 2013 ASA national championship and the ISC World championship, both in the United States, and now the 2013 Canadian national men’s championship.