Host country Canada has high hopes for women’s baseball gold at 2015 Pan Am Games

For the second time in 11 years, Canada gains the opportunity to contribute another historic chapter to the growing sport of women’s baseball. With Toronto serving as the host city for the 2015 Pan American Games, it marks the first time that women’s baseball shall be contested. Of note, the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Baseball was hosted in Edmonton, Alberta back in 2004. The city would host the World Cup again in 2012, making Canada the first country to host the event twice.

At the 2015 Pan American Games, the field of competition looking to capture the first-ever gold medal in women’s baseball features five countries; host country Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela. Considering that the United States earned a second place finish at the 2014 Women’s World Cup, while Canada placed fourth, these two nations stand as the favorites to battle for the gold.

After a training camp held in May at Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Canadian national women’s baseball team named 18 players to its final roster. Led by field manager Andre Lachance, British Columbia and Ontario featured the most players with five each. Following was Alberta and Quebec, each providing three players to the roster, while two players from Saskatchewan completed the roster.

Should Canada claim the gold medal, it would mark the first time that they would do so in international play. During six World Cups, Canada has won three bronze medals (2004, 2006, 2012) and one silver medal (2008). Only two members of Canada’s Pan Am roster have played in all six World Cups, meaning their leadership shall be crucial to make their golden dreams come true.

Both former women’s ice hockey players for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (in Canadian Interuniversity Sport play) as well, first baseman Kate Psota and third baseman Ashley Stephenson are the heartbeat of the Canadian team. Having both earned the honor of National Team MVP on two separate occasions, the two serve as ambassadors for their sport, which is quickly gaining some well deserved media attention. Stephenson jubilantly shared her sentiments with Baseball Canada,

“It is an honour to be selected to represent Canada at the Pan Am Games. With women’s baseball being included on the Pan Am Games sport program for the first time, I feel privileged to be part of this historic event in our sport. Putting on the Canadian jersey in Ajax in July will be a dream come true and we look forward to putting on a great show for our fans and supporters.”
Completing the infield includes Edmonton’s Nicole Luchanski handling duties on second base, while shortstop features Swift Current native Bradi Wall. Catching duties shall be shared by Jennifer Gilroy and Stephanie Savoie.

The pitching staff consists of Melissa Armstrong, Jessica Berube, Claire Eccles, Autumn Mills, who has also excelled in a closer’s role, Heidi Nortchott and Vanessa Riopel. In addition, Amanda Asay occupies two roles on the team, showing great versatility as a pitcher and back-up first baseman.

Outfielder Ella Matteucci is one of four former women’s ice hockey players that have added baseball to their athletic endeavors. Of note, she was a member of Clarkson’s defense that captured the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four title. In addition to Psota and Stephenson (who also spent two seasons in the NWHL and five in the CWHL), Autumn Mills spent five seasons playing at York University for Dan Church, who would later serve as the national women’s hockey team head coach. During her career at York, Mills earned several awards for charitable work and leadership, making her an integral component to Canada’s ambitions on the diamond.

Joining the BC-raised Matteucci in the outfield are four other ladies including fellow BC natives Nikki Boyd and Becky Hartley. Raised in Cornwall, Ontario, Jenna Flannigan, plus Kelsey Lalor, from Red Deer, Alberta, completes the remainder of the outfield crew.

Leading into the Games, the Canadian contingent shall participate in a six-game exhibition series. Occuring from July 9 to 18, stops include Québec City, Ottawa and Toronto. Canada’s first contest at the Games shall take place against Cuba, as all five nations shall participate in four preliminary games. The most anticipated match of the preliminary round shall be saved for the last, as the United States and Canada clash on July 24. Whichever squad prevails shall certainly gain the momentum into the gold medal game on July 26.

All games shall be contested in the Toronto suburb of Ajax, Ontario. Of note, the fields adjacent to the Audley Recreation Centre underwent renovations of $9 million, almost two years in the making. Known as the President’s Choice Ajax Pan Am Ballpark during the Games, it shall host men’s and women’s baseball, along with all softball events. Two diamonds will be utilized for baseball while there shall be three for softball. As a side note, an extra diamond shall serve as training grounds.

With strong feelings of national pride for all members of the team, the fact that this historic event is taking place in Toronto only adds to their confidence. Home field advantage may definitely work in Canada’s favor.

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