Tomcats defeat Welland 5-2 in final

 Tomcats capture Junior league title


   St. Thomas natives Josh Hare and Zach Banks lead their hometown team to a 5-2

   win over Welland in the Junior Intercounty Baseball Association final at Emslie


  Monday, August 16, 2021


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By Rob J. Ross 

ST. THOMAS - Josh Hare was the last player to leave the dugout.

The St. Thomas Tomcats just finished the season on a positive note, winning the Junior Intercounty Baseball Association one game final, defeating the Welland Junior Jackfish, 5-2, Sunday at Emslie Field.

Hare, who knocked in the go ahead run on a RBI single in the third inning, to give the Tomcats a 3-2 advantage, was taking his time packing his gear while looking out over the diamond.

"Last year of my career so it's nice to end with a win. I'm going to miss being a Tomcat," said the first baseman. "Being a kid, I always wanted to play for the Tomcats."

Hare grew up in St. Thomas playing Cardinals' minor baseball, attended high school at Parkside Collegiate Institute and joined the Tomcats in 2019.

"We were good, start to finish," Hare said of his teammates in the final. "We were all ready to go. As soon as the first pitch hit we were all locked in."

Another St. Thomas raised player in his final year of junior was Tomcats' starting pitcher Zach Banks who worked the first four innings of the game.

"I wanted to get ahead of everybody and throw strikes. I wanted to keep the team in it," said Banks.

St. Thomas scored twice in the bottom of the second inning for a 2-0 lead. Welland tied the game in the top of the third inning.

Hare came to bat in the home half of the third, singled to drive in Will Pollard and continued to second base, left vacant by the Jackfish defence.

"I just wanted to put the ball in play, give us a chance to do something," Hare said. "The ball got through and it was an easy pick up, got to the bag and was in scoring position."

Hare scored on Dylan Howard's sac fly. The Tomcats added their fifth run in the sixth inning when Pollard scored on a passed ball.

Banks, Jake Haak and Eric Pettipiece, combined to limit the Jackfish to six hits and a pair of walks, while striking out eight batters.

During the season, the two teams split four games, with Welland having wins of 10-0 and 7-0. St. Thomas won 7-2 and 17-12.

"We knew they are a really good hitting team. For them to only score only two runs," Tomcats coach Paul Pettipiece said. "We had a plan with our pitchers. Everything was about we needing 21 outs. The plan for Banks was if he could get us nine outs. For him to get us 12 outs, that was bonus. Jake got us five outs. We still had our closer Brett Reid in the bullpen, but Eric was throwing darts, throwing hard, so he got the last four outs."

Welland's Kris Nichols pitched a complete game five hitter, with one walk and eight strikeouts.

"We knew they would have a good starting pitcher," added coach Pettipiece. "We knew we had to manufacture runs."

Alex Pettipiece doubled to start the Tomcats' offence in the second inning and scored the game's opening run on a fielder's choice to Alex Liem. Riley Garinger singled, swiped second base, advanced to third on the Liem connection and then scored on a passed ball.

Welland tied the game in the top of the third inning, scoring twice with two out, on a RBI double by Alex Reynam and a RBI single from Tanner Hodgson.

Originally scheduled to be a best of three series, the Friday and Saturday games were cancelled due to a positive covid case.

"Win or lose, it was more like Friday night when things happened, I was afraid we wouldn't be able to get together as a group again," coach Pettipiece said. "When you look at the big picture, it was we need to get together for at least one more time. It was nice to get back playing. This (win) is a bonus."

In three plate appearances, Alex Pettipiece finished with a single, double and reached base on an error.

The covid-19 pandemic cut the normally four month junior season in half, cancelling two major tournaments, Ontario Baseball Association's 21U Eliminations and Baseball Canada's 21U championship. The Tomcats did make the final of a eight team 22U provincial tournament created for this year and played at Emslie.

"On July 3 when we played these guys (Welland for the season opener), we thought it would be more of a exhibition season. Just out having fun," coach Pettipiece said. "But then it was game on. Since last the week of July we've had ultra competitive, intense games. So much fun."

It is mixed emotions for veterans Hare and Banks, wearing the Tomcat jersey for the final time.

"It's been great playing with them the past four years," said Banks, who started his baseball career with the Cardinals, before moving on to the London Badgers.

Banks will return to Lourdes University, in Sylvania, Ohio, for his final year with the Gray Wolves, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) team in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC). Another graduate from Parkside, Banks is studying exercise science.

"This is a highlight, winning the league. It's always awesome winning something," said Banks, who points out the 2018 21U National championship, held in St. Thomas, as his top memory as a Tomcat.

For Hare, not only did his junior career finish on Sunday, two days earlier he graduated from Fanshawe College, in civil engineering. He starts a new job with the Town of Ingersoll next week.

"All grown up. The world is changing pretty quick," laughed Hare, who is grateful the Tomcats gave him an opportunity to play in 2018.

Out of baseball for a year after suffering a torn shoulder labrum when he was only 17 years old, Hare approached then manager Bob Lofgren about playing in St. Thomas. A catcher growing up, but due to the injury, Hare had to transition to first base.

"Elims 2019 was a lot fun. We didn't win but everyone hit well and everyone had a lot of fun," Hare said. "The Nats' weekend, you couldn't beat that weekend. It was cool to be part of that."

Delivering the game winning run in his final game of a junior career not a bad memory either.

"This year we had a lot of chemistry and we had a lot fun. That's how it's been all year."