The Trail Eagles jumped out to a 5-0 first inning lead and never looked back as they defeated the Nelson Giants 9-5 in the final to win the Beaver Valley May Days Little League tournament on Sunday at McInnes Park in Fruitvale.
The Major Little League tournament showcased some of the best 11- and 12-year old players in the West Kootenay with six teams taking to the field at McInnes Park including the host and defending champion Beaver Valley Yankees, two teams from Nelson, the Trail Eagles, Trail Legion, and Castlegar.
“There are six teams, and any one of them could have won this tournament, that’s how close they are,” said Yankees coach and tournament organizer Jason Startup.
But in the end it was a young Eagles team that would soar to the top, bouncing back from a loss in the round robin, and rally for two come-from behind victories on the way to the championship.
“We basically have three returners and then everybody else is new on this team, so I’m pretty happy with the result,” said Eagles coach D. J. Ashman. “With the league being so even right now, it was anybody’s tournament. We lost a game yesterday, so we had to come into the semifinal and get it done and we did today.”
The Eagles beat the Legion 9-7 in the semifinal to book their spot into the final, while the Giants narrowly defeated their Nelson counterpart 4-3 in the other semi.
The Eagles jumped out to a 5-0 first inning lead, and would score what proved to be the winning run in the top of the third. Kai Birks blasted a one-out triple to left-centre, to start the rally, and Noel Morrison followed that up with a double to plate Birks and make it 6-2. A single by Sam McLaren would score Morrison and give the Eagles some insurance with a 7-2 lead.
However, in the bottom half of the inning Nelson would put it’s first two runners on, threatening to make a substantial cut into the Eagles’ lead.
Cue the TSN turning point.
With nobody out and runners on first and second, the Giant’s batter smoked a line drive down the first-base line, but Eagle first-baseman Jackson Fance made a lunging stab, then turned and found the Nelson runner off the base. Fance ran him down as he backpedaled toward second, then with his momentum carrying him inexorably towards the middle bag, he caught that runner taking a tentative leadoff and would tag him out as he dove back to the base for the unassisted triple play.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, it just felt amazing,” said Fance after the game. “I was on first and I caught it. . . the guy ran off and I chased him down and tagged him, and the guy didn’t tag up on second and I just ran past and tagged him too.”
Not surprising it was Fance’s first unassisted triple play, and likely one of the first ever in the May Days Little League classic.
The play would prove the difference as it quashed the Nelson rally, and set the tone for the second half of the match as Birks came in and shut the Giants down in the fifth and sixth.
“Today and this weekend I think our pitching was very good,” said Ashman. “I mean we hit to win . . . and we’re facing the best pitchers every time we win so I think it was also the bats that were key. The bats and pitching.”
Sam Elwood earned the win for the Eagles going two strong innings to open the match. But it was a collective effort and never-say-die attitude that lifted the young team to the B.V. May Days title.
“Twice this weekend we came back, the kids didn’t quit,” said Ashman. “I’m really proud of these guys.”