This stands to be a historic few weeks for Red Deer softball.
On Friday, the U16 girls fly out to Ontario for nationals in Brampton but it was the U14 girls that broke new ground this past weekend, securing the city’s first Western Canadian Softball Championship for any age group.
The Red Deer Rage mercied Carnarvon, out of Victoria, 7-0 after five innings in Lloydminster on Monday to secure the title.
It’s a rare championship to be won, not just by Red Deer but in the province, as the U14 banner has only been won twice before by Alberta teams.
“It’s a pretty unbelievable feat,” said head coach and president of Red Deer Minor Softball Clayton Cassidy. “It means a lot to the association as far as where we’re at and how far we’ve come, to be able to do that on such a large scale.
“It speaks volumes with where the depth is at in our association and program. And it speaks volumes about what we’re doing and we’re going in the right direction.”
The championship was far from easy, despite the blow out in the gold medal game.
The Rage played 10 games in four days and needed a little good fortune along the way.
They opened on Friday with a 2-1 win over the Y2K Wildcats out of Vancouver, the B.C. provincial champions, scoring both of their runs with two out in the seventh inning. They only got that chance after a call on an attempted stollen base was changed from out to safe earlier in the inning.
In the second game they crushed the Saskatoon Phantoms 15-4, after scoring eight runs in the first inning.
They finally suffered a setback in the third game, losing 7-3 to the Lumsden Cubs, the Saskatchewan provincial champ.
Red Deer bounced back with a 9-2 win over the Manitoba Angels out of Winnipeg, and then an 11-2 win over the host Lloydminster Rebels.
They went into their final round robin game needing a win over Carnarvon to clinch a spot in the playoffs, but were blown out 12-0 after both their starting pitcher and catcher left the game in third inning with sun stroke.
The loss dropped them into a tiebreaker game with Saskatoon, who also had a 4-2 record.
The Rage went into the top of the seventh inning with a 5-4 lead then put 11 runs up on the board to roll to a 16-4 win.
Their bats did not cool off the rest of the tournament.
They crushed Lumsden 14-5 in the first round, despite having to switch stadiums after the third inning due to darkness. It was their fourth game of the day.
In Monday’s semifinal, they mercied arch rival Calgary Adrenaline 12-1 in five innings. Calgary had upset Red Deer in the provincial final after the Rage rolled through undefeated.
This set up the showdown with Carnarvon in the final.
Red Deer led 4-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning and Kailyn Smalley came around to score early. Then with two out and two on, affiliated player Mackenzie Clark hammered a two-run triple to right field to end the game and secure the championship.
“We’ve gone on runs like that before … but when you’re on a grand scale like that, maybe you just don’t believe it is going to happen at that time,” said Cassidy.
Their pitching staff was almost untouchable, especially in the playoffs. Rylee Cassidy led the staff, including pitching four strong innings in the championship before Clark pitched the final inning. She was also started against Saskatoon before giving way to Allison Vesely late, who pitched a solid final three innings to keep Red Deer in the game. Clark started against Lumsden and Cassidy closed it out, while Isabel Gogich shut out Calgary in the semifinal.
“All three phases of the game came together,” said Cassidy. “The bats obviously were the leader of it all, but our pitching was absolutely outstanding — the final two games I think we only gave up three hits — and our defence was absolutely rock solid.”
At the core of this team was four girls who have played together for five years — Smalley, Cassidy, Spencer Beaudoin and Caleigh Meraw. Three of them — Smalley, Cassidy and Meraw — completed an impressive set of medals at Westerns, adding gold to the provincial silver and Alberta Games bronze they’ve won in the last couple of weeks. They will remain together as they go up to U16 next year.
“It was outstanding to see all of their hard work come through for them, and just to see them achieve such a lofty goal,” said Cassidy. “I’ve coached them for the last five years, so to be able to witness that is pretty unbelievable. If you look at the 2000 born kids in the province, I would put those four up against anybody.”
But this championship was about the players, the coaches and the process.
Making history had been on the minds of the coaches for a few years, and Monday they were finally able to celebrate it.
“My vision of this team was this moment, four years ago,” said Cassidy. “Four years ago after this team won U-10 provincials, I saw how potentially good they were and where they could go.”