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Express confident going into this weekend’s midget elimination tournament in Napanee

June 27, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

As final tuneups go, it was a tad off-key.

Two days before opening the Ontario midget elimination fastball tournament, the Napanee Absolute Insulation Express did just about everything you wouldn’t expect a team with designs on a championship to do. In losing a Kingston Men’s Fastball League game 12-11 at Garrigan Park Wednesday night, the Express displayed poor pitching and brain cramps in the field amid a general lethargy unbecoming of a genuine contender.

Brent Mills shrugged it off.

“It’s a young group but they’re a good ball team,” the Express coach said, confidently.

The main reason his optimism remains undiminished heading into Friday night’s tournament opener at the Napanee Fairgrounds is the one thing that went right Wednesday night for the Express: a team comprised of all but three first-year midgets hit the ball well enough against a senior men’s pitcher to score 11 runs.

“We’ve been going pretty good,” Mills said. “Our bats have been going really well. We need some fine tuning in the field but we’ve been hitting the ball well, all the way through the order.”

The Express will play Domville on Dickson Field at the Fairgrounds at 6 p.m. Friday on the first day of the three-day test to determine the Ontario representatives in August’s national midget championship at St-Leonard d’Aston, Que. The top three of the 12 teams competing in Napanee will earn that opportunity.

Napanee has a rich history at the national tournament, having qualified for the event 10 times in the last 12 years. That means less than zero with this year’s outfit, however, since not a single player remains from the team that won the bronze medals last year in Fredericton.

“Not a one,” Mills said. “It’s a completely new team. We only have three guys that are second-year midgets, two from out of town and one that didn’t play last year, but they can hit the ball.”

Napanee has had moderate success in the midget realm this summer, losing in the semifinals of a tournament at Mitchell in early June and reaching the final before being beaten the following weekend at a tournament in Waterloo.

“We’ve played against the teams we expect to be there this weekend and we’ve been very close to them,” Mills said. “We beat some of them, lost some tight games. It will be a competitive tournament.”

The teams that will be toughest to beat, Mills suggested, are Teeswater, which won the Waterloo tournament and lost in the final at Mitchell; Kitchener, which won the Mitchell tournament, and Port Perry, many of whose players won the eastern Canadian bantam championship last year. Tavistock, Mills added, is also team to be respected.

Though relatively untested at the elite midget level, the core group of Napanee players was together at the provincial bantam elimination tournament last year and missed qualifying for the eastern Canadian championship by one spot.

“They got a taste of being right there and not making it and my expectation is that we finish in the top three,” Mills said. “We’ve seen the competition and we’ve played right with them, so we expect them to step up.”

Mills has yet to decide who among his three righthanded pitchers will get the ball Friday night. Alex Douglas, from Madoc, and Jeremy Martin, from Deseronto, are regular members of the team; Joey Balkwill regularly travels from Coldwater to join the Express for tournaments.

Domville, Napanee’s first opponent, is a team the Express hasn’t faced, since a scheduled meeting was rained out two weekends ago.

“Generally I would like to see (an opponent) a little bit,” Mills said, “and I’m not one to try and hide what we have. We know what we’ve got so I don’t think there will be any surprises. We know we can hit the ball off anybody.”

It’s uncommonly good hitting, he said, for a team this young, and it’s the result of a tried-and-true formula for youth teams from Napanee, who over the years have discovered that getting knocked around by local men’s teams usually pays a dividend when it’s time to play within their own age group.

“We’ve been playing against the men for three years so they’ve seen some pretty good pitching,” Mills said. “It gives us an edge on some of the other teams who don’t play in many men’s tournaments. It kind of puts us at the same level as the guys who were midget last year.”

A win on Friday night will send the Express into a game at 9 a.m. Saturday against Tavistock; a loss will send them into an 11 a.m. game instead against an opponent that will be determined Friday night.

Play will continue all day Saturday, with the undefeated teams meeting at 7 p.m. and play concluding with games at 9 o’clock.

The team emerging from the losers’ side of the double-elimination draw will be determined in a 9 a.m. game Sunday, with the winner playing again at 11 o’clock against the loser of Saturday’s undefeated game, with the winner going to the championship game at 1 p.m.

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