©Telegram file photo/Keith Gosse
Throughout the preliminary round of the Canadian men’s fastpitch championship in Saskatoon, the defending champion Galway Hitmen of Newfoundland got offensive contributions up and down their lineup.
In fact, every one of the 17 players on the Hitmen’s roster had at least one RBI as the team racked up an amazing 77 runs in winning all six of its round-robin contests, five which were shortened by the mercy rule.
But Saturday morning, in its first game of the playoff round, it was the bat of a single player that carried the defending champs to a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over the Sooke, B.C., Loggers.
Outfielder Brad Ezekiel drove in all seven runs, hitting three homers, including a two-run walk-off shot in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Judging what stands as a career-best game for a player can be subjective, but even Ezekiel , a national team outfielder, couldn’t come up with a better one for himself.
“Yeah, probably,” answered the 30-year-old from Harbour Main, when if that was his top single-game performance, especially given the stage and the circumstances, “at least I can’t think of another one right now.
“You always want to step up in the big games, to be a player your team can count on when the game is on the line. It feels good when you actually do it.”
All 12 runs in the game were delivered via homers,
Through his first three innings of work, Galway pitcher Colin Walsh had only allowed three hits by the Loggers,, but a couple of them were two-run blasts by Blake Hunter, staking the British Columbia team to a 4-0 lead.
Galway clawed back in the bottom of the fourth when Ezekiel slammed a two-part, three-run homer, Sooke made it 5-3 on a solo home run in the top of the fifth, but the Hitmen tied it up when Ezekiel homered in the bottom the same frame with Shane Boland on base.
It was a similar situation in the bottom of the seventh as Boland reached base on a leadoff single. With Boland on base with none out, it made it difficult for Sooke to consider walking Ezekiel to put the winning run in scoring position.
“I didn’t know if I was going to see a pitch to hit, but Shane had a great at-bat just ahead of me and I think that put some pressure on them,” said Ezekiel, who took advantage of the Loggers’ quandary, delivering on a one-ball, two-strike count, launching his sixth homer of the tourney and recording his 12th and 13th RBIs.
Walsh went the distance on the mound, allowing just five baserunners on four hits and a walk, and survived the three Sooke homers as he struck out seven.
It was a far different game than any of the other the Hitmen played this week, but in some ways that might not be a bad thing. It was the first time the team had truly been tested, and it passed, thanks to Ezekiel’s diligence.
“To be honest, we saw good pitching this week, In years past at nationals, teams would often hold their top pitchers to the end of the week, but our bats have been going every game,” said Ezekiel.
“So for sure, it’s good to know we can come through in a game like this. Not that there was any doubt. Even after Colin gave up those two homers, there was plenty of confidence on the bench in both him and in our bats,.
“We’ve been hitting all week, and we knew if we got one hit, that could lead to another and we’re get back in it, which we did.
“Now we need just two more wins to accomplish what we came here to do.”
Which would be winning a sixth straight national men’s title for Newfoundland.
Next up for is a rematch tonight (midnight NT) with the Mastodons of East Hants, N.S.
A win in that one would put Galway into Sunday afternoon’s final. A loss means they would have to use their double life and look to take a longer route through what would amount as a semifinal earlier Sunday.
The Hitmen downed the Mastodons 13-7 in round-robin play.