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Heading into last weekend’s 2023 Baseball Canada 21-and-Under Women’s Championship, Newfoundland and Labrador’s athletes were hoping to be a bit more prepared for what they found.
It was going to be their second consecutive appearance in the tournament, and second time hosting the event in St. John’s, so they had a better idea of what was coming their way in terms of competition and skill level.
“From a team perspective, our target this year was to be a little bit more prepared in terms of understanding the level of competition and get some more work in through the winter and the summer, which we thought we did,” said Team NL head coach Mark Healy. “We were hoping to get a win or two, which we did.
“We had a target in our mind that we wanted to be playing on Sunday and that worked out as well.”
That’s exactly what happened as Team NL had their best showing in the two years they’ve hosted the event.
The team went 2-3 and found themselves in the 5th-6th placement game against Saskatchewan Sunday afternoon at St. Pat’s Ball Park in St. John’s.
Team NL fell 13-11, but that loss didn’t put a damper on how the team felt about their performance.
On top of that, Grand Falls-Windsor’s Holly Russel was named the tournament’s top hitter. She hit .545 for the tournament.
“I think we can compete, and I think it’s a strong message for the girls moving forward towards the Canada Games and to this event in the future that Newfoundland is closing the gap and it’s very evident,” said Healy.
A smooth event
This year was the second time in as many seasons that St. John’s has hosted the event at St. Pat’s Ball Park and like anything, you’re going to adjust from year to year.
With that in mind, the host committee had an idea of what to expect and after learning from last year, and outside the weather which caused delays Thursday and Saturday, put off a smoothly run event that drew rave reviews from players and coaches.
The key to that, according to Healy, is a strong volunteer base. Along with that, the committee had some volunteers taking a larger role in the leadup to the event and the tournament itself.
“Obviously there’s risks to hosting, especially when the weather gets bad, but the positives outweigh the negatives.”
— Mark Healy
That made things easier for Healy and allowed him to focus more of his energy on coaching.
“Our host committee and our group were fantastic,” he said.
That work came in the comments from tournament visitors.
“I got lots of positive comments and feedback from parents,” said Healy. “It seemed like everybody was enjoying the atmosphere and all the amenities, our host hotel, our transportation and the playing facilities.”
Canada Games primer
In a way, the two 21-and-under championships hosted by St. John’s the last two summers serve as a primer for an event coming in 2025.
That’s when the city will host the Canada Summer Games and, for the first time in the history of the Games, female baseball will be included as an official sport.
Having a national tournament in town gives officials the chance to find the answers to any logistical questions they may have by watching the event unfold.
That could be things like athlete transportation, venue parking, how the field handled high-volume usage and even how it handles bad weather.
“All of those logistical items will help the Games, for sure,” said Healy.
It remains to be seen if St. John’s will host the event again next year. As of yet, there isn’t a host for that event and Healy said that should they be asked, he’d consider hosting it again.
“It helps build your sponsorship pool, your community, and you’re promoting the game,” he said. “Obviously there’s risks to hosting, especially when the weather gets bad, but the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Nicholas Mercer covers sports for The Telegram.