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Newfoundland softballers are back, with medals on their minds

The first contingent of Newfoundland and Labrador athletes competing in the 2017 Canada Summer Games left St. John’s International Airport this week. Among those winging their way to Winnipeg were members of the province’s male softball team, including (from left) coach Paul King, Mitch Stack, Daniel Byrne, Mark Stack, Gerald Wall, manager Dave Feener, Eric Healey, coach Donny King, Jordan Noftall and Brent Hatfield. Healey was also the province's flagbearer for the Games opening Friday night. The Games, which run until Aug. 13, feature 16 sports and some 4,000 athletes and coaches, 400 of them from this province.
The first contingent of Newfoundland and Labrador athletes competing in the 2017 Canada Summer Games left St. John’s International Airport this week. Among those winging their way to Winnipeg were members of the province’s male softball team, including (from left) coach Paul King, Mitch Stack, Daniel Byrne, Mark Stack, Gerald Wall, manager Dave Feener, Eric Healey, coach Donny King, Jordan Noftall and Brent Hatfield. Healey was also the province's flagbearer for the Games opening Friday night. The Games, which run until Aug. 13, feature 16 sports and some 4,000 athletes and coaches, 400 of them from this province.

When men’s softball was reintroduced to the Canada Summer Games program for 2017, it is a good bet those who comprise the province’s Games mission staff were as overjoyed with the announcement as those who govern Softball Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s because men’s softball teams from Newfoundland have a history of being in the thick of things for Canada Games medals.

In fact, the last time men’s softball appeared on the Games schedule — 2005 in Regina, Sask. —Newfoundland won a bronze.

Prior to that, the province finished fifth in 2001 (London, Ont.), won bronze in 1997 (Brandon, Man.) and placed fourth in 1993 (Kamloops, B.C.) and 1989 (Saskatoon, Sask.).

However, the sport was pulled from the Canada Games schedule after 2005, much to the chagrin of Softball Canada, and certainly Softball Newfoundland and Labrador.

The primary reason for its expulsion was that men’s softball was not — and still isn’t, by the way — an Olympic sport.

But Softball Canada lobbied hard to have the sport reintroduced to the Canada Games program, and softball scored high marks on the re-entry test, thanks mainly to the Canadian gold-medal win at the 2015 world senior men’s championship.

The Canada Games Council also liked the fact there are strong registration numbers across the country, and the Council was buoyed by the fact Softball Canada’s coaching evaluation came in with high marks.

So here we are, at the 2017 Winnipeg Game and men’s softball is back on the program.

And keeping with tradition, Newfoundland and Labrador co-coach Paul King fully expects his charges to be playing on the final day.

“Our goal from the outset was to be in the gold-medal game, and that hasn’t changed,” said King, who is handling the coaching chores with his brother, Don.

“Regardless of who thinks we can or can’t achieve that is immaterial,” he said. “That’s the mindset of our team, and has been since this program started.”

Softball in the Canada Games is an under-21 sport, and the Kings have a veteran pitching staff with a trio of 21-year-olds and a 19-year-old. That’s important, given how critical pitching is when iot comes to the sport.

Eric Healey of Chapel’s Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador’s flagbearer at tonight’s opening ceremonies, might be considered the ace of the staff. Despite being only 21, Healey has pitched in the St. John’s senior men’s league for five years, and he has national and international experience, having played for Canada in the world junior championship in 2014.

The son of former C.B.C. pitching standout Glen Healey is 2-3 in the senior league, but has a 3.69 ERA and is averaging a strikeout an inning.

 “He’s big and burly like his father,” Paul King said. “But’s he not fat. He’s 6-5 and in shape.”

There’s another hurler of pedigree in Nick Pittman, he of the Placentia/Fox Harbour Pittmans.

“He comes from good stock,” King said. “He’s actually an all-around ball player … a five-tool ball player.”

And then there’s Jordan Noftall, the 19-year-old who was MVP and top batter in the recent provincial intermediate championship.

Newfoundland and Labrador shouldn’t have much trouble generating offence. Jordan Pomeroy, who will be a key cog, is currently hitting .406 in the senior league, sixth overall in the circuit.

Pomeroy, from Placentia, and Mark Stack from Petty Harbour received tryout invitations for the 2018 national junior team.

Mark’s brother, Mitch, is also a member of the Canada Games team, and was a member of the Canadian team that won a bronze medal at the 2016 world juniors.

“So I think our team is really strong,” Paul King said. “We’ve been working with these guys for the past three or four years, and they’ve put the work in.

“They were at it five nights a week this past winter, whether it was in the gym lifting or working on their skills at the (Newfoundland and Labrador) Sports Centre.”

And fitness will be a factor in these games. Newfoundland and Labrador, like the other teams, will play nine round-robin games in five days.

So it will be a grind.

“But we have the horses to do it,” promised King.

Newfoundland and Labrador opens its schedule Saturday with games against New Brunswick and Quebec. On Sunday, there are dates with Alberta and Nova Scotia.

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

 

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NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR ROSTER

 

Players

Daniel Byrne (Ferryland)
Shane Dobbin (St. John's)
Brent Hatfield (Placentia)
Eric Healey (Chapel’s Cove)
Andrew Kelly (Placentia)
Ryan Kenny (St. John’s)
Mark King (Paradise)
Jordan Noftall (Kilbride)
Patrick O’Leary (Holyrood)
Nick Pittman (Dunville)
Jordan Pomeroy (Placentia)
Mark Stack (Petty Harbour)
Mitch Stack (Petty Harbour)
Gerald Wall (Harbour Main)
Jeremy Walsh (Holyrood)
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Coaches/manager
Paul King - Head coach (Paradise)
Don King - Assistant coach (Paradise)
* Jeff Kirk - Manager (Goulds)
* Dave Feener - Manager (St. John’s)
 *Jeff Kirk is unable to attend, so Dave Feener will his replacement.

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