Greater Trail Little League hit one out of the park on the weekend as it hosted a successful and thrilling end to the season for ages 9-10 Minor and 11-12 Major baseball players and coaches.
The Minor playoffs at Andy Bilesky Park saw 11 teams from Castlegar, Nelson, Beaver Valley, Salmo, and Grand Forks compete, while in Fruitvale eight Major teams took to the field at McInnes Park for the league championship including teams from Trail, B.V., Castlegar, Nelson, Salmo, and Okanagan Falls.
“The weekend was great,” said Trail Minor Mariners coach Jim Maniago. “There was tons of people around watching, tons of kids around, the concession was busy, the weather was perfect, the young guys umpiring did a good job, it was a good weekend of baseball all around.”
And when the dust settled, it was Maniago’s team, the Trail Mariners, that captured the Minor League tournament for the second year in a row with a 14-3 victory over the Castlegar Storm.
The Mariners went 4-0 through the round robin with an 11-6 win over the Nelson Tigers, and a tight 9-6 victory over the Nelson Pirates before breaking open a 2-0 game in the fifth inning to quell the Storm 8-4 to complete the round robin.
The Storm would then hold on for a 12-10 win over their Castlegar counterparts the Cardinals in the semifinals, to advance to the final against the Mariners.
“All the kids on all the teams played really well,” said Maniago. “Out of 26 games there was only a couple of blowouts, there was lots of tight, nail-biting games for the parents watching and even a walk off home run in one game.”
Meanwhile, it was a year of firsts in the Major division, as a surprising Castlegar team went undefeated through the round-robin pool play then knocked off Okanagan Falls in the semi-finals on their way to a thrilling 5-4 win over the Nelson Giants in the final.
It was the first time in at least a decade that a Trail or B.V. team did not play in the final match.
The defending Little League Major champion, Beaver Valley Yankees, went 2-1 in their pool and advanced to the semifinals but would lose to Nelson in a thrilling if not contentious 7-6 battle. With the Yankees up 6-2, Nelson surged back in the final inning scoring five runs to advance to the championship match.
“We went in in really good shape,” said Yankees coach Jason Startup. “I think we were facing their seven, eight and nine hitters. But they got a walk and the guy came up and smashed a double – he hadn’t touched a ball all game, but good for them. That started a rally, got into the middle of their line up and they just kept hitting, and we couldn’t get an out. But a really good game.”
After Castlegar beat OK Falls 15-13 in another riveting semifinal, the team kept its momentum going. They jumped out to an early 5-2 lead against the Giants in the final, then hung on as Nelson clawed its way back with a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 5-4, yet could not find the equalizer as the Castlegar closer came in and shut down the Giants’ batters.
“This is a team that at the beginning of the year couldn’t do anything, and now they’ve gelled and come together and their confidence is soaring,” added Startup. “I’m disappointed for my kids, but we did really well and I’m super proud.”
The Yankees earned home field advantage after winning last season’s Major championship in a thrilling final-inning comeback against the Eagles whose team had won the Major title the previous four years. The Eagles, however, did not make the playoff this year after a three-way tie in the round robin left them on the outside looking in.
The Eagles beat Nelson and Salmo in pool play, but a 14-6 loss to OK Falls would sink the Beaver Valley May Days Tournament champion’s chances. The Eagles, OK Falls, and the Giants all finished with identical 2-1 records in their pool but the Eagles lost out due to run differential, while OK Falls and Nelson advanced to the playoff round.
The other Major Trail team, the Dodgers, went 1-2 in the round robin and did not make the playoff round.
Trail Little League is now holding tryouts for the Minor and Major All Star teams at Andy Bilesky Park.