Ancaster, Ont. may not be at the top summer destination for every 11- and 12-year-old, but a team of Coquitlam Little League baseball players couldn’t be more excited to be booking a trip there.
The Coquitlam All-Stars won their first Majors provincial championship since 2006 when they defeated host Little Mountain 5-3 Sunday at Hillcrest Park in Vancouver.
Coquitlam will now represent B.C. in the Canadian Little League national championships in Ancaster Aug. 1 to 11. The winner of that tournament will go on to play at the famed Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. Aug. 15 to 25.
Perhaps fitting to the provincial tournament’s host team and park, Coquitlam’s ascent to the top at Hillcrest was a precarious climb.
After opening the seven-team competition with a 6-0 win over Trail, the local All-Stars had to come from behind to win their next two games, including a dramatic three-run walk-off homerun in the bottom of the sixth inning by slugger Matthew Shanley — who finished the tournament with seven homers — that gave them a 10-9 victory over perennial powerhouses Hastings.
The All-Stars lost their next two games before defeating Vancouver Island’s Layritz 7-6 in eight innings last Friday to close out round robin play.
While all four teams that qualified for Saturday’s semifinals finished with four wins and two losses, Coquitlam was seeded fourth due to having the smallest differential between runs scored and runs allowed.
All-Stars’ coach Robert Piasentin said there was little to choose between the teams in the tournament.
“We prepared the kids by letting them know that no matter who we played or what their record was, we were going to have to play our best in each and every game,” he said.
The Coquitlam kids did just that, dispatching Hastings 8-3 in the semifinal after spotting the team, which is based in east Vancouver and north Burnaby, a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
Piasentin said the team’s nail-biting ride through the week steeled them for Sunday’s final.
“Our boys had an absolute never-say-die attitude,” he said. “They refused to give up in any game.”
Against Little Mountain, whom the All-Stars had already defeated 10-8 in round-robin play, Coquitlam scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and never relinquished control of the game.
Timothy Piasentin drove in all five of Coquitlam’s runs, three of them when he hit a homerun with Brady Dorwart and Nolan Loverin on base, the other two off another homer in the bottom of the third inning. He finished the tournament with 16 RBI.
Matthew Shanley earned the victory on the mound while Dorwart was credited with the save as he retired one Little Mountain batter in the top of the sixth inning.
Robert Piasentin said the dramatic nature of Coquitlam’s run to the provincial title gives them momentum heading to the national tournament.
“These kids know that they have a talented and strong team and can beat anyone when they play well,” he said, adding most of the players have been together for several years.
While Sunday’s win breaks a 13-year drought for Coquitlam Little Leaguers at the provincials, it has been 35 years since the All-Stars sent a Canadian champion to Williamsport. That accomplishment was honoured earlier this year with the installation of a commemorative plaque at Mackin Park.
Piasentin said the weight of that history is insignificant to the club’s current generation, although the young players are certainly aware of it.
More relevant, he said, are the friendships some of them have with other Little League players who have been to Williamsport.
“They want to be able to experience that event for themselves,” he said.