They played just one bad inning in the entire tournament, but it couldn’t have come at a worst time for the Avalon male baseball team.
Filled with confidence after posting an unblemished record in the round-robin portion of the tournament at the 2012 NL Summer Games, the Avalon team went into the final against St. John’s as the odds-on favourite to claim the gold medal.
But a costly sixth inning proved to be the team’s undoing as St. John’s rallied late in the game to double Avalon — a team comprised mainly of players from Conception Bay North — 6-3 at Moriarity Park in Harbour Grace Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 21).
Early on, Avalon looked to be in control, and jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of a timely hit to centre field by Zachary Parsons of Bryant’s Cove that drove in two runs.
Blake Fudge of Conception Bay South then placed a looping fly ball into centre field the next inning to single in another run and put Avalon up 3-0.
The momentum was clearly on the side of the home team for much of the game, with starting pitcher Chris Smith of Spaniard’s Bay seemingly having his way with the St. John’s batters, with the help of some timely defence, including two solid plays at first base by Bradley Riggs of Upper Island Cove to shut down potential rallies.
But the St. John’s team did not fold, and erupted in their half of the sixth inning for six runs, beginning with a two-run blast off the bat of Andrew Paul that sailed over the centre field fence, narrowing the gap to 3-2.
That’s when the wheels completely fell off for Avalon, with relief pitcher Nick Parsons of Bryant’s Cove struggling to find the plate, giving up a handful of walks that allowed St. John’s to bust lose with another four runs in the inning.
It was more than enough to secure the victory.
Winning pitcher David Edwards was steady throughout the game, and was just two outs away from pitching a complete game victory.
With Avalon threatening in the bottom of the seventh, reliever Redmond Hunt took to the mound and overpowered the Avalon hitters, blowing fastballs over the plate and nailing down the win.
“This is probably the best thing that’s happened to me so far in baseball,” Edwards said as he waited to receive his gold medal.
St. John’s coach Brian Fitzpatrick praised his young charges for staying focused, despite failing to make good on some opportunities early in the game. He said his players were patient and steady, and pounced when the opportunity arose in the sixth.
“These guys are battlers all the way,” said Fitzpatrick.
The mood among Avalon players was understandably downcast.
“I feel a bit mad, but it’s a silver medal. It’s a big accomplishment,” said Chris Smith, who carried much of the load on the mound for Avalon throughout the tourney.
Avalon coach Scott Adams said losing the tournament on one bad inning is a tough pill to swallow, but he said that’s the way the game goes sometimes.
“I know they’re all heartbroken right now. Hopefully next week they’ll look back and say ‘silver wasn’t too bad.’”
When asked about the sixth inning collapse, Adams steered the blame away from his pitchers and onto the umpires.
“You never want to pick on the officials … but I think the strike zone kind of dropped down to a tin can and Chris had trouble striking it and then Nick had trouble striking it,” said Adams.
“Overall we’re a very strong team, but it just didn’t work out today,” he added.