Junior national success begins and ends with pitching

Robin
Robin Short
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SOFTBALL

Kelly's Pub Junior Canadians general manager Ross Crocker is convinced his charges can contend again this summer at the national junior men's fastpitch championship, providing the team plays smart, fundamental ball beginning this weekend in Owen Sound, Ont.

Of course, nobody has to tell Crocker, one of the game's best chuckers with Hall of Fame credentials, the fastpitch game generally begins and ends with pitching.

Kelly's Pub Junior Canadians general manager Ross Crocker is convinced his charges can contend again this summer at the national junior men's fastpitch championship, providing the team plays smart, fundamental ball beginning this weekend in Owen Sound, Ont.

Of course, nobody has to tell Crocker, one of the game's best chuckers with Hall of Fame credentials, the fastpitch game generally begins and ends with pitching.

"That," said Crocker, "is our big question mark."

Kelly's, which leaves for Ontario Saturday, winners of the Canadian silver medal in Summerside, P.E.I. last summer. In 2006, Kelly's won Canadian gold in Drummondville, Que.

The common denominator to both teams was ace Sean Cleary, the top pitcher and MVP in last year's nationals.

Cleary's moved on from junior and, well, nobody's moved in to fill his cleats.

"There's going to be a lot of pressure on these guys because there's no Cleary or (Jason) Hill around."

Picking up the slack on the mound will be returnees Sheldon Keough and Wayne Bruce, joined by newcomers Andrew Murphy and Trevor Heffernan.

Crocker admitted there was some talk in the spring of bringing in a pitcher, chatter that was quickly quashed by Crocker, a staunch opponent of parachuting outside players into the lineup.

"We've seen what's available at the junior nationals and there might be one or two guys," he said, "but other than that, they're no better than what we've already got."

To best support the pitching staff, Crocker says Kelly's will have played sound, fundamental softball - making the routine plays, executing sacrifice bunts, throwing to the right base, not to mention getting timely hitting.

Ultimately, he said, the team has to play flawless defence.

"Don't forget," he said, singling out shortstop Justin Gill, centrefielder Brad Ezekiel, catcher Ryan Boland, third baseman Shane O'Brien and Keough, whom he said is a "great" leftfielder, "we've got five position players who are as good as anybody."

Newfoundland has a taxing schedule with nine games through the first five days. Their first five games are against Nova Scotia, Owen Sound, Saskatchewan and two Ontario teams.

The tournament opens Sunday.

rshort@thetelegra.com

Geographic location: Owen Sound, Ontario, Summerside Drummondville, Que Newfoundland Nova Scotia Saskatchewan

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