Pan Am Games tune-up tour brings Canadian women’s baseball team to Ottawa

Ottawa Stadium served as one of the stops on the way towards the historic Pan Am Games in Toronto. Competing against the Ottawa Expos, a semi-pro men’s team, the speed of the mne’s game was the ideal preparation in the quest for gold that awaits them in Toronto.

As women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games represents the first time that the game shall be contested in a major multi-national tournament, every edge was crucial for a Canadian contingent that has never won a gold medal in international play.

Autumn Mills (front left) leading a group of Baseball Canada women's national team players to batting practice (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Autumn Mills (front left) leading a group of Baseball Canada women’s national team players to batting practice (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Decked out in black jerseys with Canada emblazoned on the front in red letters, the national women’s team brought a lot of confidence to the diamond, inspired by many of the youngsters in the stands.

The starting lineup (listed in terms of batting order) included Nicole Luchanski at second base, followed by Laurier Golden Hawks Hall of Fame member (and former CWHL palyer) Ashley Stephenson at shortstop.

Catcher Stephanie Savoie was next in the order, while veteran first baseman Amanda Asay (who played hockey at Brown and with the University of British Columbia) batted fourth in the lineup. Fifth in the order was designated hitter Jennifer Gilroy while teenage phenom Kelsey Lalor was sixth.

Autumn Mills, another former hockey player, competed at the hot corner, batting seventh. Becky Hartley was slotted at the number eight position while leftfield Niki Boyd batted ninth. Former Laurier Golden Hawks blueliner Kate Psota earned the start for Canada.

Partial starting lineup for Canadian national women's baseball team on Ottawa Stadium scoreboard

Partial starting lineup for Canadian national women’s baseball team on Ottawa Stadium scoreboard

With Canada as the home team, the Expos came out to bat first. Psota pitched with a lot of confidence, throwing strikes. Scott Adams would connect off Psota, floating a ball past the centerfielder, smacking an RBI triple for the 1-0 advantage.

Another triple would follow, extending Ottawa’s lead by a pair of runs. Alex Poulin would hit deeply off Psota as well, resulted in a sacrifice fly. Catcher Savoie disputed that the Ottawa runner did not tag third base. The umpire showed mercy and called the Ottawa runner out, ending the inning.

Second baseman Nicole Luchanski got the first hit of the game for Canada. Threatening to steal second, Ashley Stephenson hit into a double play. Although Savoie continued her great play, getting a hit to keep the inning alive, slugger Amanda Asay struck out.

Donning number 7, Psota (far right) looks on as jubilant Canada players high-five (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Donning number 7, Psota (far right) looks on as jubilant Canada players high-five (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Getting consecutive strikeouts in the second inning, Psota earned a roar of applause from the crowd. With momentum building, Psota continued a strong performance on the mound. Luchanski would show strong focus as she caught a sharply hit ball off Dave Bathurst for the third out.

Teen phenomenon Kelsey Lalor would hit to the opposite field, getting Canada’s third hit of the game. Stealing second, Lalor placed herself in scoring position. Although Becky Hartley walked, Niki Boyd was thrown out on a bunt, ending any scoring opportunity.

Heading into the third inning, Ottawa continued to add to its lead. After Autumn Mills bobbled a ground ball and a ball was hit past a diving Stephenson, there were runners on first and third. With a double steal providing Ottawa with a 4-0 lead, the game seemed out of reach.

Manager Andre Lachance pulled Psota out of the game after Ottawa extended its lead to a 5-0 mark, opting for Clare Eccles. Throwing a strike as her first pitch, she was able to get Ottawa’s batter to ground out, preventing the runners at second and third from scoring.

With Luchanski hitting into the outfield, Canada was hoping to chip away at Ottawa’s lead and mount a comeback. Although Stephenson had a 3-0 count, she would strike out. Afterwards, Savoie was beaned providing Asay with an opportunity to redeem herself for the earlier strike out she suffered.

Making contact, Asay managed an infield hit as the Ottawa infield seemed unsure where to make the play. Gilroy would hit the ball into the outfield but Canada was not able to score. Boyd followed with an RBI single as Canada enjoyed runners on first and third. After a wild pitch advanced a runner to third, Canada managed to score once again, as the score was now 7-2.

Second generation player Heidi Northcott took to the mound in the fifth inning. Striking out one of Ottawa’s sluggers, she succeeding in getting another to pop out, nullifying the squad’s strong bats. With the fans cheering in approval, Northcott was hoping to inject confidence into the Canadian contingent.

Heidi Northcott approaches the mound (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Heidi Northcott approaches the mound (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

With Savoie on the base pads, Asay’s ground ball bounced high into the air, allowing her to advance to third base. Jenna Flannigan would pinch hit for Kelsey Lalor, scoring Savoie. It marked the second straight inning that Canada scored at least one run.

After Northcott shut down the side in the sixth, including a strikeout, there was a feeling that a comeback was imminent. After Becky Hartley logged a walk in the bottom of the sixth, Niki Boyd was beaned. Suddenly, Ottawa seemed nervous as their pitcher struggled with his control.

Although Luchanski hit a pop-fly, Stephenson was also walked, providing Canada with the bases loaded for the first time in the game. With Savoie approaching the plate, Ottawa opted for a pitching change.

Despite Savoie being challenged with a combination of changeups and sinkers, she showed no fear, hitting one deep into centerfield. With the centerfielder possibly losing the ball in the stadium lights, Savoie’s hit bounced in front of him.

Asay followed, getting her second base hit of the game. With the fans ecstatic over such a valiant effort, a wild pitch resulted in two more Canadian runners to score. Suddenly, the score was 7-6 in favor of Ottawa, as their initial 5-0 lead had dwindled into a one run advantage that looked to fade.

Once again, Savoie established herself as a factor. After Bradi Wall stole second, Savoie managed to score on an infield hit tying the score. With such a superlative performance, Savoie made a strong case as Canada’s player of the game.

Jessica Berube was given the ball in the seventh inning (which is also the final inning in women’s baseball). It appeared that manager Andre Lachance was allowing several of his pitchers opportunities for playing time as Berube was his fourth pitcher.

After she beaned two players, the bases were loaded for Ottawa. Although she managed to record two outs, Berube allowed what eventually stood as the game winning run.

Showing no signs of quit, Canada fought valiantly in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, Luchanski supplied some faith, getting a base hit. Stephenson was hit in the back by a pitch, placing another runner on base. Although she was visibily in pain, she stoically reached first base, refusing to give up. Savoie returned to the plate looking to provide some heroics.

With the fans cheering her on, she hit a ground out, ending a highly entertaining game. Despite the visceral loss, the effort showed by Canada was not only remarkable, but a sign of the strong teamwork within the roster. Graciously signing autographs after the game, the Canadian team certainly made some new fans in Ottawa.

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