The Caps — sponsored by the The Bigs — got big performances from the youngsters being eased into the lineup, en route to their fourth straight Molson provincial senior baseball championship over the weekend in St. John’s.
The Caps defeated the Corner Brook Barons in six games, culminating with a 7-5 win Sunday afternoon at St. Pat’s Ball Park.
The Barons last won the all-Newfoundland senior baseball title in 2013, and prior to that, one would have to go back to 1999.
St. John’s, in total, has won the championship 17 of the past 18 summers.
Prior to the series featuring the two long-time rivals, Caps coach Sean Gulliver said he was maintaining his plan of inserting youth into the St. John’s lineup, a process that started last summer.
The youth was on display Sunday as series MVP Dan Connors scattered two hits over six innings to register the win. Southpaw Ryan Morgan, who helped St. John’s win the provincial midget qualifier for the right to attend the Atlantic championship this month, pitched an inning of relief.
Dylan McKenzie, another youngster added to the St. John’s lineup, was three-for-three at the plate.
“Pitching, at the end of the day,” said Gulliver “was the big difference.
“Dan Connors has a lot of experience, but he’s only a couple of years out of junior. He’s already had three quality starts at nationals. Every time he puts on a Caps’ uniform, he gives us a chance to win.
“He’s a power pitcher, and his command has gotten a lot better. Plus, he’s matured emotionally. Corner Brook scored four runs in the first inning (in Game 6) with a hit batter, a walk and a couple of errors and a couple of hits.
“Dan wasn’t too happy when he came off the field, but I told him, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t control how the guys play behind you. Now go out and put up some zeroes.’
“He didn’t allow a hit for the next four innings.”
Gulliver also had a heap of praise for Morgan, who pitched six strong innings in a 5-2 St. John’s win in Game 3 last weekend in Corner Brook. Morgan also closed out a pair of games in relief.
“I coach the Junior Caps program,” Gulliver said, “and I know what’s coming through. These kids filled in some big pieces of the puzzle. Danny Rice is only 19, and he’s our starting centrefielder. Redmond Hunt caught a game Saturday night.”
In the decisive Game 6 win Sunday, veteran Gerry Stone joined McKenzie with a three-for-three game. Connors finished with four strikeouts, a hit batter and three walks.
Morgan allowed two free passes in his inning of relief.
Nobody on the Barons had more than one hit.
Adam Lawlor started for Corner Brook (5IP, 9H, 7R, 3ER, 2W, 0K), which had a big infusion of players from the St. John’s senior league. Riley King (1IP, 1H, 0R, 0W, 0K) also saw mound duty.
Players of the game were Connors and Aaron Flood for the Barons.
Saturday night at St. Pat’s, the Barons forced a Game 6 with a 6-4, 10-inning decision. A.J. Whiffen, also known for his puck-stopping skills during the hockey season, pitched a gem (9IP, 4R, 0ER, 7H, 2W, 7K), and young Matt Colbourne (1IP, 1H, 1W) recorded the save.
Lefty Greg Barry, one of four St. John’s pitchers (Mattie Murphy started, followed by Sean Janes and Morgan), was tagged with the loss.
Flood was four-for-six with a pair of singles, two doubles, two runs scored and two RBIs. Peter Madden was two-for-three for the Caps.
In Game 4 Saturday afternoon, Scott Goosney (7IP, 4H, 0R, 0W, 0K) spun a shutout in a 4-0 Caps win. Colbourne (6IP, 5H, 4ER, 2W, 8K, 1HB) took the loss.
Nobody in the game had more than one hit.
The Canadian championship is scheduled for Victoria, B.C. this month, but St. John’s will not be travelling. The nationals are actually set for Victoria the next two summers, making it too costly for the Caps, who will be attending the 2018 championship, to travel to British Columbia twice.
In the meantime, the Gonzaga Vikings from the St. John’s Molson Senior Baseball League will be heading off to this year’s nationals, with the addition of a few strengthening players.