The Hitmen’s Robbie Greene delivers a pitch to the Bulldogs’ Mark Lewis in Game 5 of last year’s St. John’s Senior Softball League best-of-seven final at Lions Park. The series, which quickly turned into a pitching duel between Greene and Bulldogs’ ace Sean Cleary, went the distance with the Bulldogs prevailing in Game 7. The Hitmen will have their first chance to exact a measure of revenge against the defending champs when they meet to open the league’s 58th season on Sunday. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
St. John’s circuit begins 58th season Sunday at Lions Park
Last year’s Molson St. John’s Senior Softball League final couldn’t have been any closer.
NTV Hitmen came up just a little short of the mark, losing the 1-0 in Game 7 to the Kelly’s Pub Molson Bulldogs. This season the Hitmen (formally NL Plumbing Hitmen) are looking to take that extra step to the title.
“This team has one of the best core group of ball players in the country, in my opinion,” said coach Mark Dwyer.
For example, he pointed out that catcher Ryan Boland hit .426 in league play and was instrumental in leading the province to another national senior championship with Don Cherry’s 3Cheers Pub Bud Light.
Dwyer is lookign for his team to hit the diamond running this season.
“The time to start winning is right away,” said Dwyer, but he admits it’s going to be another grind.
He said the difficulty with the league is the fact there’s so much depth and “beating a guy like Sean Cleary on any given night is a challenge, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
It was Cleary who fanned 16 Hitmen batters in the championship game and Shane Boland’s first-inning home run that provided all the offence the Bulldogs would need to win the crown in the nail-biting final. It was only the third game in league history that saw the seventh game of the final decided by a home run.
If the Hitmen still have some lingering disappointment from that loss in the final game of last season — and they do — they’ll get the opportunity for a little revenge when they open the 58th season 1 p.m. Sunday at Lions Park against the Bulldogs.
“The Bulldogs not only beat us in the league final last season but the provincial semifinal as well,” Dwyer pointed out. “They had our number last year. They beat us in the most important games.”
Dwyer said his team’s focus this season is beating the Bulldogs “especially” when Cleary is on the mound.
“He’s the best pitcher in the league… best in the country. If we are going to do anything in our league, he’s the guy we have to beat. And, given our lineup, he has to be on the mound for them to beat us,” Dwyer added.
“I trust our hitters. Guys like Ryan Boland and Brad Ezekiel. They are up to the challenge against Cleary. They are buddies with Cleary, but I guarantee you they want to pound him.”
The second game of the double header has 3Cheers Pub Bud Light and The Bigs (formerly Don Cherry’s) playing at 3 p.m. The other team in the league is the Kelly’s Pub Junior Canadians.
It’s a 60-game schedule with each team playing 24 games with matches scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Dwyer, meanwhile, said off-island employment could be a factor for his team as work rotations will cause some problems.
He noted pitcher Robbie Green (9-3) is on a multi-week shift rotation between Alberta and this province, as is shortstop Justin Gill, the club’s lead-off man who hit .417 last season. Also on work rotation are outfielder Sheldon Keough and third baseman Chris Murphy.
With Green expected to miss a lot of mound time, the Hitmen made a five-player trade earlier this month to acquire veteran pitcher Ward Gosse. The 46-year-old owns most of the league’s offensive and pitching records. The Hitmen traded two young players, Johnny Doyle and Tyrone Fewer, to The Bigs.
The teams competing are:
Last season’s record: 14-10
Coach: Mark Dwyer
Who’s back: Ryan Boland, Brad Ezekiel, Robbie Green, Sean Cadigan, Fergie Griffiths, Brian Roche, Danny Mullins, Scott Dwyer, Kenny Gosse, and Alex Power
Who’s gone: Johnny Doyle, Tyrone Fewer, and Shawn Hefferan
Who’s new: Ward Gosse, Jamie Peddle and Leon Peddle
Kelly’s Pub Molson Bulldogs
Last season’s record: 17-7 (first place, championship)
Coaches: Jim Dunphy, Ron Ezekiel
Who’s back: Sean Cleary, Blair Ezekiel, Wayne Bruce, Liam Myers, Jon Kelly, Shane Boland, Stephen Strapp, Mark Lewis, Shane O’Brien, Warren Connors, Eric Healey, Gary Bruce, Andrew Wade, Wayne Bruce and Scott Myers
Who’s gone: John Farrell and Donny Cleary are up in the air for playing. They may retire due to work and family commitments.
Who’s new: Daniel Dalton and Stephen Dobbin from the Kelly’s Pub Juniors
Quote: “Our hope is to repeat, although we know the other teams are very strong and out to take the title. With last season’s final being so close and the strong draft this off-season, we know the parity and competition in our league is even higher than last season. The strength of our team is most definitely pitching with Cleary and Ezekiel. As well, our defence is sound and our hitting, which we hope will be timely, has improved.” — Stephen Strapp
(formerly Don Cherry’s)
Last season’s record: 10-14
Coach: Hughie Clarke
Who’s back: Geoff Evely, Stephen Jesso, Donny King, Joey Maynard, Keith Maynard, Felix Squires, and Mike Noftall
Who’s gone: Ward Gosse, Leon Cantwell, and Jamie Peddle
Who’s new: Arron Whalen and Mark Power
Quote: ”We’ve got a pretty good lineup with pitching and a good balance of offence and defence.” — Hughie Clarke
3Cheers Pub Bud light
Last season’s record: 10-14
Coaches: Jeff Kirk, Lee Cose
Who's back: Jason Hill, Cose, Kyle Ezekiel, Keith Coady, Doug Marshall, Paul Maher, Darrel Walsh, Trevor Carew, Liam O’Keefe, Sheldon Keefe, Steven Pittman, and Matt Hill
Who's gone: Kris Abbott, Billy Patterson, Travis Rideout, and Rylee Costello
Who’s new: Colin Walsh, Ryan Kirk, (both draft picks) Andrew McCarthy (via trade for Rylee Costello to The Bigs), and Jeremy Hickey (draft pick)
Quote: “We feel that we have added a lot to our group with our new additions. We have a great mix of youth and veterans. Our lineup is much deeper from 1-9 and our pitching staff has gotten a boost as well. Both Kirk (catcher) and Walsh (Pitcher) have provided us with more stability in these two key positions for years to come. Add Jeff Kirk to the mix, whose coaching résumé speaks for itself, and we are very excited about the upcoming season. Last season was very difficult, but we feel that we are in a much better position going into this year.” — Lee Cose
Kelly’s Pub Junior Canadians
Last season’s record: 9-15
Coach: Paul King
Who's back: Eddie Heffernan, Troy Leonard, Jeffrey Conway, Joel Whelan, Philip Corbett
Who's gone: Colin Walsh, Mark Power, Ryan Kirk, Daniel Dalton, Jeremy O'Reilly, Johnny Doyle, Jeremy Hickey, Stephen Dobbin, Aaron Whalen
Who’s new: Colby Murphy, Riley Kenny, Brady Lewis, Lukas Conway, Brandon Pomroy, Mike King, Pat Heffernan, Ryan King, Tyler Wells
Quote: “We’ve got strong pitching and solid defence.” — Paul King.
Note: The Junior Canadians will be playing in the 2014 Canadian Junior Championships Aug. 11-17 in Irma, Alta.
2014 Tournament dates
St. John’s Day: June 20-22
Swing Into Summer: June 27-29
Intermediate Provincials: July 18-20
Senior Provincial: July 25-27