Defending champs will be in tough

Darcy MacRae
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Manager isnt pleased with recent play of Kellys Pub Junior Canadians

Ross Crocker, manager of the Kellys Pub Junior Canadians, is looking for the same sort of chemistry that helped the team win the national junior softball crown last season. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Ross Crocker doesnt mince words when it comes to the recent play of the Kellys Pub Junior Canadians softball team.

Crocker, the teams general manager, isnt happy with the way the Junior Canadians have played lately and recognizes the club has to improve quickly, since it begins defence of its 2006 national junior title this weekend in Summerside, P.E.I.

The way the guys are playing now, its going to be a tough battle, said Crocker, the Canadian Softball Hall of Fame pitcher. Theyre not playing well as a team ... theyre going to have a battle on their hands.

The Junior Canadians leave Saturday for the 2007 national junior championships, but judging by results this week, they have a ways to go before theyre ready for the competition waiting for them at that tournament. Kellys Pub was spanked 10-4 by Molson Grumpy Stump in St. Johns senior softball Tuesday, hardly the sendoff Crocker was hoping for.

One thing we really had going for us last year was great team chemistry, but that hasnt been the case this year, Crocker said. I dont mind admitting that. The boys just havent spent as much time together this year as they did last year.

No surprises

Another problem facing the Junior Canadians is the fact they wont catch anyone by surprise this time around. They entered the 2006 tournament in Drummondville, Que., as an underdog before going on to upset a few teams and claim the national title. As the defending champion, Kellys Pub is a tournament favorite and clearly has a bulls-eye on its back.

What were struggling with, from a management point of view, is getting them to change their mindset, Crocker said of his players. Last year, we went to nationals ranked No. 7. This year, were going there ranked No. 1.

Junior Canadians ace pitcher Sean Cleary agrees with Crockers assessment. He said some of the teams problems can be fixed with minor adjustments, but indicated the biggest problem the club faces is periodic lapses in concentration.

Were definitely not in the same position we were in last year, said Cleary. Hopefully, when the tournament starts, well be able to turn it around. Weve got to tweak some things, but mostly its our attitude that has to change.

When asked whether being ranked No. 1 is helpful or hurtful to the team, Cleary said its an question the Junior Canadians shouldnt spend much time thinking about.

I know we have to put that out of our minds, Cleary said. We have to go there with the same attitude as last year.

Plenty of pitching

One thing working in the Junior Canadians favour is that theyre going to Summerside with a deep and talented pitching staff. Led by Cleary, the staff also includes Wayne Bruce, Sheldon Keough and Jason Hill, who pitches for Iceberg Rum in local senior ball, but is joining Kellys Pub for the nationals.

Our pitching is as strong this year as it was last year. It might even be better than last year, said Crocker. Sean is as good as anyone when hes on. Hes been our ace the past two years and, hopefully, will be again this year. Jason will be our No. 2 pitcher and he certainly strengthens our pitching staff from last year.

Sean pitched eight of our 12 games at nationals last year, but this year, we have Jason, too, so that should take some of the load off Sean.

The only concern with Cleary is a lingering problem hes had with shin splints. The injury bothered him throughout the nationals last year and has affected his pitching in recent St. Johns senior games. He has sought treatment, but in the short term, theres not a whole lot that can be done since the injury is the result of playing and pitching so often.

Clearly admits hes concerned his ability to perform might be limited in Summerside.

Yes, unfortunately (it could be an issue), Cleary said. Doctors tell me the only recommendation they have is to stop doing what is causing (the shin splints), but thats not really an option for me. You try to ice it as much as you can, but you really just have to work through it.

Cleary limped with regularity when pitching against Grumpy Stump Tuesday, bringing a look of concern to the face of Crocker.

He got through it last year for us and did a great job. Its a wait and see thing right now ... hes a gamer, Crocker said of his ace.

The Junior Canadians leave for Summerside Saturday and play their first round-robin game against Quebec Sunday morning.


Kellys Pub Jr. Canadians roster for 2007 national junior softball championship in Summerside, P.E.I.:

Players: Ryan Boland, Gary Bruce, Ken Gosse, Jason Hill, Jon Kane, Brad Ezekiel, Mark Lewis, Wayne Bruce, Shane OBrien, Sheldon Keough, Justin Gill, Felix Squires, Stephen Strapp, Sean Cleary, Steven Pittman and Matt Hill

Coaching staff/team officials: Hughie Clarke, Jim Dunphy, Kelly Thompson and Ross Crocker

Junior Canadians schedule

Sunday, 4:30 p.m., vs Quebec

Monday, 2:30 p.m., vs New Brunswick

Monday, 6:45 p.m., vs Ontario Two

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., vs P.E.I.

Wednesday, 12:45 p.m., vs Nova Scotia

Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., vs Saskatchewan

Thursday, 12:45 p.m., vs Ontario Three

Thursday, 8:30 p.m., vs Ontario One

Geographic location: Summerside, Drummondville, Ontario Quebec New Brunswick Nova Scotia Saskatchewan

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