They won a medal. It wasn’t of the golden variety but it met the challenge set out by Jack Gordon.
The manager of the Prince George Thunderbirds midget girls fastball team told his players that if they finished in the top three at midget B girls provincials, which took place last weekend in Duncan, he’d get his hair shaved off his head.
Gordon was pleased with his team’s overall effort in finishing with a record of 7-2 at the competition. While the players may have enjoyed watching their manager get a buzz cut, the loss left them just short of an automatic berth for Westerns, scheduled for August 1 to 4 in Winnipeg. The first and second place teams in the competition, the Victoria-based Strawberry Vale Shock and Okanagan Wildfire of Kelowna respectively, earned the province’s two berths to Westerns.
The Thunderbirds were close to qualifying for the Winnipeg tournament at the 16-team provincial championship. After finishing with a 3-1 round robin record, they advanced to the double knockout playoff draw where they opened against Coquitlam. After hammering Coquitlam 9-1, they took on the eventual champions from Victoria and lost 4-2.
In the elimination bracket the Thunderbirds rounded off consecutive victories, 4-1 over Saanich and 2-1 over North Vancouver, to set up a contest against the Wildfire with a Westerns berth and berth in the provincial final on the line. The Wildfire won that game 3-1 in nine innings.
The game was tied 1-1 after seven innings and the international rule, in which each team begins their half of the inning with a runner on second base, was implemented. Gordon said the turning point was the bottom of the eighth. After holding the Wildfire to no runs in their at-bat, the Prince George squad had a bases loaded, one-out situation but no runs crossed the plate.
“We just couldn’t get that run across,” Gordon said. “It was just, pop up, I can’t recall. It wasn’t like we did anything wrong.”
Gordon said during the tournament the team was effective with runners in scoring position.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “They were psyched that they had just held us, and unfortunately we made an error in the top of the ninth which led to the winning run, and we just couldn’t put anything across in the bottom of nine. We didn’t threaten, but it was kind of interesting what happened because nobody in the baseball world down there really knew about us as far as. We hadn’t been to any big tournaments this year, and the weather had been so poor up here.”
With so many of the Thunderbirds high school graduates in the spring, convocation ceremonies and prom made it difficult finding weekend tournaments to fit the players’ schedules. Below-seasonal April weather also slowed the level of competition down.
Gordon said the only out-of-town tournament the team entered during the season was a Kelowna competition in May.
Gordon attributed part of their success to the pitching of Karen Espiritu, who’s examining attending either the University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser University in the fall. He said she pitched the majority of the games and was effective with her location, becoming a more complete pitcher.
“We try to train them to understand that whole philosophy of pitching, that whole mental side of it and that’s where she’s really gone a long way this year.”