We may not have world class transit, but we have a world class baseball team.
The East Nepean Eagles are in Easley, South Carolina this week for the Senior League World Series. They will be competing against the top teams of 15-16 year olds from around the globe.
The team has a strong South Carleton presence, with Richmond’s Reid Maika, Manotick brothers Cam and Thomas White, and Osgoode’s David Kelly among the 13 players on the roster of the Canadian champions.
Less than a week after winning the Canadian title, the Eagles are at the 2023 Senior League World Series where they begin play Sat., July 29 at 1 p.m. against Haarlem from the Netherlands.
“Obviously we are playing every game to win, but I told the boys that winning is not the most important thing here,” said Eagles coach Matt Beelen. “The most important thing is for the boys to really enjoy the week and to have the time of their lives. How many people in Barrhaven, or anywhere, get to say that they played in a World Series? They are going to meet people and make friends from around the world. They will remember this week for the rest of their lives.”
The Eagles earned the trip to the World Series by winning the Canadian championship last week at Hamilton Yards at the Nepean Sportsplex. After round robin play, the Eagles beat the Quebec provincial champion Diamond Baseball from the Montreal suburb of Boisbriand 3-2 in a game that featured three different weather delays.
To advance to the final, the Eagles beat Ontario champion Oakville in extra innings.
“We were District 2 champions, but we were not allowed to play in the provincials,” Beelen said. “As the host team for the nationals, we got an automatic berth.”
Beelen said there were advantages and disadvantages from going straight from the West Ottawa district level to the Canadian championships.
“It would have been a good tune up for us to play in the provincials,” he said. “But the advantage was that we could watch the other teams play and get to know them, while they did not get a chance to see us before the tournament.”
Beelen’s son Nolan pitched the Eagles to a 7-1 win over Oakville in the round robin game. The two teams faced each other in the semi-finals.
It was in the semi-final that the Eagles showed their grit and character. Oakville rallied for four runs in the top of the fourth inning off starter Charlie McDougall. The Eagles fought their way back into the game. Because there is a pitch count with each pitcher only allowed to throw so many pitches in a game, the Eagles used a strategy of taking Oakville’s starting pitcher deep into the count in every at bat.
The Eagles took advantage of walks and errors in the bottom of the fourth inning for a pair of runs. They tied the score with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning as Oakville walked in both runs with the bases loaded.
“They committed a few errors and they were walking batters,” Beelen said.
Oakville pitchers walked seven batters in the game.
With the score tied 404 after seven innings, the game went into extra innings. McDougall had exhausted his pitch count, and Reid Maika same in to pitch the eighth. He gave up a two-out single but struck out the next batter to set the stage for the Eagles.
In the bottom of the inning, catcher Justin Morris singled and stole second base to get in scoring position. Maika singled to left centre field and walked it off with an RBI single.
The win set up the final between the Quebec champions and the Eagles. Diamond Baseball had gone undefeated in the round robin.
“They scored a lot of runs and the other teams were intimidated by them,” Beelen said. “We had already beaten them twice in tournaments this year.”
In their round robin game, the Eagles and Diamond were tied 6-6 when rain suspended the game and forced them to continue it the next day. Diamond won 9-6.
“At that point in the tournament, we already knew we would finish either second or third in the tournament and that we would be playing Oakville,” Beelen said. “We decided to save our starting pitchers and they scored three runs.”
In the final, the weather was a challenge as there were three long delays. Lightning caused a 45-minute delay, and then a downpour of rain caused another delay. More lightning caused another long delay.
Beelen did not want his players focused on the weather, as both teams were dealt the same situation,
“I didn’t want the weather to be an excuse,” he said. “They stayed loose and upbeat through the delays. They handled it very well.”
The Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Starting pitcher Nolan Beelen walked, stole second, and then scored on Owen McBane’s double into the gap in left-centre.
Diamond rallied in the third, loading the bases with the heart of their order coming up. They scored two runs, but Beelen reared back and served up three ground balls.
“We were only down 2-1 at that point, but it could have been 4-1 or 5-1,” coach Beelen said. “Our team is built on pitching and defense. When we got out of that jam, it gave us momentum.”
In the fourth, Reid Maika walked and Evan Tao singled. Cam White drove in one run on a ground ball, and Owen McBane drove in the go-ahead run with a base hit to put the Eagles up 3-2.
Diamond loaded the bases in the fifth and sixth, but pitching and defence helped the Eagles hold onto their one-run lead.
With Nolan Beelen out of pitches, Maika came on in relief. He got out of a sixth inning jam, and then earned the save after a popped up bunt attempt, a sacrifice bunt, and a ground ball back to the mound.
For Matt Beelen, the win brought back personal memories of playing in a World Series. He grew up playing for the Eagles, and went to the Big League (u19) World Series with the Ottawa West Crusaders.
“I am a lot calmer going as a coach,” he said.
Beelen pitched and played third base as a player. His team was coached by his father, who has remained close to the team and was the groundskeeper at Hamilton Yards for the tournament.
“He was there every step of the way with us,” Beelen said of his father. “We are a baseball family, and this week was special for us.”
The Eagles represent Canada in South Carolina and will face a team from the Netherlands in the first round, It is a double knockout format, meaning your team is eliminated after two losses.