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Gonzaga Vikings carry Newfoundland's banner at national senior championship

In this file photo, Mike O'Neil of the Gonzaga Vikings connects for a base hit as Holy Cross Crusaders catcher Mark Healy looks during a St. John’s senior baseball playoff game St. Pat's Ball Park. O’Neil and the Vikings club team, augmented by some added-on players, are representing Newfoundland and Labrador at Baseball Canada’s national senior men’s championship, starting today in Victoria, B.C.
In this file photo, Mike O'Neil of the Gonzaga Vikings connects for a base hit as Holy Cross Crusaders catcher Mark Healy looks during a St. John’s senior baseball playoff game St. Pat's Ball Park. O’Neil and the Vikings club team, augmented by some added-on players, are representing Newfoundland and Labrador at Baseball Canada’s national senior men’s championship, starting today in Victoria, B.C.

Call it a cross-country pinch-hitting effort.

The Gonzaga Vikings from St. John’s are representing Newfoundland and Labrador at Baseball Canada’s national senior men’s championship beginning Thursday in Victoria, B.C., in what might be viewed as kind of a one-off.

In previous national senior men’s baseball championships, pitcher Dan Connors wore the colours of the all-star St. John’s Capitals. This year, he’ll be suited up as a member of the Gonzaga Vikings, his regular team in the St. John’s senior league.

Normally, it’s the provincial senior champions who represent Newfoundland at the nationals. However, the St. John’s Capitals all-star side, which has won 17 provincial crowns in the last 18 years, decided last fall that it wouldn’t be travelling to British Columbia (the Caps’ 2016 all-Newfoundland title had given them the right to compete in the 2017 Canadians). That’s because Baseball Canada has awarded the Canadian men’s senior championship to Victoria for both 2017 and 2018, and the Caps felt it Caps felt it would be impossible to come up with enough money for cross-country travel in back-to-back years.

That’s when the Roebothan McKay Marshall Vikings of the St. John’s senior league decided to fill the vacuum and began a fund-raising effort in order to represent the province in B.C.

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Gonzaga’s roster features players who have been longtime Vikings stalwarts, including player-coaches Troy Croft and Blair Rogers, second baseman Mike O’Neil, pitcher Keith Spurrell, catcher Gary Dymond, first-baseman outfielder Karl DeHart and the Maddens, Peter and Bernie.

While Spurrell and Rogers provide plenty of mound experience, it’s 22-year-old Dan Connors who is the Vikings’ pitching ace, proven by his being named the top hurler while playing for the Caps in the provincial senior final against the Corner Brook Barons earlier this month.

Gonzaga also bolstered its pitching with the addition of 20-year-old Matt Colbourne from the Barons; he’ll be the lone lefthander on the staff.

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Colbourne is one of six players who have been added to the Gonzaga roster. The others are pitcher/catcher Riley King; infielders Aaron Flood and Trevor Clarke, pitcher/outfielder Alex Walsh and outfielder James Walsh.

The pick-ups add to the team in a number of ways, besides simple depth.

Gonzaga gets badly needed right-handed bats in Clarke, who normally plays for OMT Shamrocks in the St. John’s senior circuit; and Flood, Alex Walsh and King, who are with the Fifth Ticket Feildians. The only other right-swingers on the Vikings who travelled to B.C. are Dymond, O’Neil and outfielder Buddy Forsey, along with Spurrell and Rogers, who are primarily pitchers.

The majority of the add-ons also provide youth to balance out what is a very much an older lineup.

The 44-year-old Croft, 42-year-old Rogers, 46-year-old Spurrell, and outfielder/assistant coach Ken O’Brien and O’Neil, both 47, were playing senior ball — in some cases, playing at nationals — before Colbourne and King, also 20, were born.

It would have been six 40-somethings on the team had Gerald Butt — who bats right, by the way — had travelled with the team to Victoria, but he remained in St. John’s to be with his expectant wife.

Alex Walsh and James Walsh, a former Holy Cross player now living in B.C., are 26.

The pick-ups also help give a provincial perspective to what is nominally a St. John’s club team. Colbourne is from Corner Brook as is Flood, who played for the Barons at the provincials and was the tourney’s top batter. King is from Gander and while Clarke now lives in Paradise, he’s originally from Carbonear.

Finally, Clarke, Flood and the two Walshes bring experience at the senior nationals — the four played with the Caps at the 2016 Canadian championship in Fredericton, N.B., as did regular Vikings players Dymond, O’Neil, Connors and Peter Madden.

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Gonzaga opens up against Nova Scotia

The Vikings’ first game Thursday will be against Dartmouth Moosehead Dry of Nova Scotia. The contest (1:30 p.m. NT) is actually one of two openers in the tournament as games are being played concurrently on two fields..

It’s one of four preliminary-round games for the Vikings, who take on Sherwood Park, Alta., Athletics on Friday, and the Mississauga, Ont., Twins and Burnaby, B.C., Bulldogs on a doubleheader Saturday.

The top three teams in each of the two five-team pools will advance to the playoffs, with the top finishers going directly to semifinals. The second- and third-place teams will play cross-over quarter-finals Saturday evening, leading to semifinals and medal games, set for Sunday.

At the 2016 national in Fredericton N.B., the provincial representatives St. John’s Caps were winless in their four preliminary-round games.

The last time a Newfoundland team advanced to the playoffs at the senior nationals was in 2011, when St. John’s made it to the quarter-finals. The province’s last semifinal appearance was in 2009 by the Caps.

The last medal win by a Newfoundland team at the event was delivered by the Corner Brook Barons, who won a bronze medal in Windsor, Ont., in 1992.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

 

Vikings’ roster

The roster for the Gonzaga Roebothan McKay Marshall Vikings, representing Newfoundland and Labrador at Baseball Canada’s national senior men’s championship, beginning Thursday in Victoria, B.C.:

 

Player              Pos

Dan Connors    P

Trevor Clarke   SS/2B

Matt Colbourne           P/OF

Troy Croft        1B/OF

Karl DeHart     OF/IB

Gary Dymond  C

Aaron Flood    IF/P

Buddy Forsey  OF

Ryan Hodder-Smith    OF/P

Riley King        P/C

Dave Lahey      P/3B

Bernie Madden           OF/C

Peter Madden 3B/OF

Ken O’Brien     OF

Mike O'Neil     2B/P

Matt Parsons  1B

Andrew Paul   OF

Blair Rogers    P

Keith Spurrell  P/OF

Alex Walsh      P/OF

James Walsh  OF/SS

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Head coach: Troy Croft

Coaches: Ken O’Brien, Blair Rogers

Managers: Kieran Buckingham

 

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