Never say die.
The Big Guy Lake junior Blazers of Prince George latched on to that thought, trailing by five runs to the Prince George River Kings in
the fourth inning Sunday and found a way to win the sudden-death semifinal 9-7.
After that it was all gravy for the upstart Blazers at the Canadian Native Fastball Championships. They trounced the Goodfish Lake Chiefs 11-1 Sunday afternoon in the junior division final at Carrie Jane Gray Park.
Tournament MVP Wacey Strongeagle, 21, who traveled from his home near Regina to join the Blazers, pitched every inning of every game for the Big Guy Lake. He limited the Chiefs to just three hits in the final. The Chiefs got their only run in the fourth inning when pitcher Kamen George doubled in a run from second.
"This is remarkable, we battled back all weekend," said Strongeagle, a member of the Pasqua First Nation. "My arm is numb, it's sore. This is my first (native nationals) playing in my under-21 age group, I usually play men's. It's pretty amazing.
"That was a crazy comeback, one of the best games all weekend. We have a good leader on the team, Brandon Thomas, and he pumped up the boys every inning. It's good to have a guy like that on the team."
Thomas, another 21-year-old import from Saskatchewan, took a ton of heat off Strongeagle inthe final when he belted a grand slam in the top of the first inning. Brevin Gervais, one of three 16-year-old Blazers, took one of George's pitches for a ride in the third inning. His solo shot made it a 6-0 game. Gervais finished the game 2-for-3 and he was picked as the tournament's top outfielder.
"It feels great to be an national champion, just to say that is pretty awesome," said Gervais. "The boys started rallying and got timely hits when we needed them. Everyone got into it and everyone was hitting."
The River Kings were defending champions and Gervais says claiming bragging rights over his crosstown rivals is especially sweet.
"Most of them are 18 or 19 and I think I might have to rub it in a bit, but be classy about it at the same time," he said.
In the post-game celebration, delighted Blazers head coach Darrell Gervais, who formed the team this year with manager Sheldon Bjorklund, passed out $100 bills to each of his players after
the team won a $5,000 payday for finishing first in the 10-team junior division.
"The boys came ready to play and the pickups helped tremendously," said coach Gervais. "We fell down early in the semifinals and we never quit battling and chipped away for the victory and we just rode it from there."
"After that first game these guys wanted nothing more than to play (the River Kings) again and give their best effort and they weren't going to shy away, they weren't scared. Wacey was tremendous all weekend long, as well as Brandon. We brought Brandon in to be a leader for our team and he totally did that for us. He took over helping the younger guys out, letting them know where they were going and how to play the game of ball and they all bought into it. This is unreal."
In their win over the River Kings, who beat the Blazers 13-6 on Saturday, the Blazers took advantage of a couple of errors to score four runs in the fourth inning. They chased River Kings starter Bryson Gould early in the sixth inning and scored three more on reliever Josh Anderson,including a two-run home run from their first baseman, Thomas, to complete the win.
"It's just spirit, us Saskatchewan boys are a little older than the rest and we come with some experience and this is great group of young guys and they were willing to learn - that's how we got to the finals and that's how we won," said Thomas, a member of the Beardy's First Nation north of Saskatoon, who last year played for Lenny's Selects (now the River Kings), the Prince George team which shared the junior national title with Cross Lake, Man.
"They decided to go with a younger squad so I was strapped, but Big Guy Lake gave me a call to come out and play for them and I'm on top again."
Despite their loss Sunday, the Junior River Kings still have a lot left to play for this season. They will travel Monday to Tavistock, Ont., for the Softball Canada under-21 national championship, which starts Tuesday.
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