For the second summer in a row, the Canadian women’s national softball team has struck gold in Surrey.
On Sunday evening at Softball City in South Surrey, Canada – with Semiahmoo Peninsula pitcher and former White Rock Renegade Sara Groenewegen in the pitcher’s circle – defeated Texas-based U.S. club team Scrapyard International 8-4 in the championship game of the Canada Cup International Fastpitch Championship.
The victory marked the second year that Canada has defeated a U.S. club squad for the tournament title; in 2018, they shut out Triple Crown Colorado 3-0 to win the Canada Cup for the first time in more than 20 years. Prior to last year’s win, the national program – and de facto home team at the week-long international fastpitch showdown – had not won the event since 1996.
This year’s win was no easy feat, despite the fact that Canada cruised through the round-robin portion of the tournament with a series of mostly lopsided results. Canada opened its tournament July 9 with an 8-0 win over Great Britain’s U22 team, and followed up with victories over Alberta’s Calahoo Erins (10-0), New Zealand Major Sox (12-0) and Chinese Taipei (4-2).
On Friday, Canada wrapped up pool play with an 11-4 win over Triple Crown, and later in the day, defeated Puerto Rico 12-1 in the first game of the playoff round.
But that’s when things got a little more difficult.
Facing Scrapyard in a semifinal tilt Saturday night, Canada’s offence was stymied by pitcher Kylee Hanson, who held the high-powered Canadian team – considered by many to be the best team the country has ever produced – to just three hits in a 2-0 Scrapyard win.
The result bumped Scrapyard directly into Sunday’s gold-medal game, and meant Canada would have to win another do-or-die game Sunday afternoon against Chinese Taipei in order to claw back into the final of the double-elimination tournament.
That game, too, was a close one, with Canada edging Chinese Taipei 2-1 in extra innings.
At the start of the eighth inning, with Canadian infielder Janet Leung on second base – per international tie-breaker rules, team start extra innings with a runner on second – Joey Lye executed a sacrifice bunt to move Leung to third base, and one batter later, she scored when Kaleigh Rafter grounded out to first base.
In the bottom of the eighth, Taipei was not able to advance their second-base runner beyond third base, and Canada escaped with the win.
In Sunday’s final, Canada – who jumped out to an early 6-0 lead – was led by Groenewegen, who struck out five batters, scattered nine hits and allowed four runs in seven innings of work en route to earning the win.
It was a fitting end of the tournament for the former Renegade, who didn’t get to enjoy last year’s championship victory after being hospitalized with a serious illness near the end of the tournament.
Groenewegen acknowledged Sunday night that she felt confident early this year’s final.
“It’s a good day when you can have your pitches working in all four quadrants,” said Groenewegen, who was named the tournament’s top pitcher. “I had some good plays behind me, and it’s more comfortable when you have an early lead like we did.”
At the plate, Canada was led by tournament MVP Jennifer Gilbert, who had two hits and one run-batted-in. Lye also had three hits in the victory.
In nine games this week, Gilbert had 16 hits – including three doubles, a triple and one home run – and 11 RBI.
Next up for the Canadian squad is a return to the National Pro Fastpitch league, where Team Canada plays out of Illinois as the Canadian Wild of Southern Illinois, and from there, they’ll head to the Pan American Games, which are set for Lima, Peru from July 26-August 11.
The Canadians will be back in Surrey late next month, when they’ll be one of a dozen teams vying for two 2020 Olympic berths at the Softball City-hosted 2019 Americas Olympic Qualifier.