Five-run first inning propels Canada past Venezuela in Pan Am Games baseball

A five-run first inning would prove to be all that Canada needed as they defeated Venezuela by a 9-3 count. Runs by Nicole Luchanski, Bradi Wall, Amanda Asay, Kelsey Lalor and Jenna Flannigan shattered Venezuela’s confidence. After facing a defeat the day prior against the United States in the first-ever women’s baseball match at the Pan Am Games, Venezuela was hoping to rebound.
Dayvis Cazorla was pulled out of the game in the first inning after allowing four earned runs. Replaced by Esquia Rengel, she would allow one more run in a difficult start for Venezuela.

Former York Lions women’s ice hockey player Autumn Mills showed her versatility with a sterling performance on the mound. Equally adept at playing third base, Mills was part of Canada’s starting rotation at the Pan Am Games. Through three innings, she only allowed one hit, as centerfielder Leona Reyes was the only Venezuelan player to successfully connect off her.

After four consecutive scoreless innings, Canada added to their lead by placing another two runs on the scoreboard. Venezuela would reply by scoring two of their own runs in the bottom of the sixth. Ingrid Escobar, Migreily Angulo and Daily Gimenez would each get hits in the sixth, reducing Canada’s lead.

With Canada facing Lelis Gomez, they extended their lead to seven runs once again with another two-run performance in the seventh inning. Jessica Berube closed out the game for Canada with a relief appearance.

Second baseman Nicole Luchanski would earn two base on balls, becoming the first Canadian to walk twice in Pan Am Games baseball. She would also contribute a solid defensive performance along with RBI’s in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. In addition, Bradi Wall registered a pair of RBI’s in the game.

Jennifer Gilroy showed why she is a key part of the future for the Canadian women’s team with a remarkable three-RBI performance, complemented by a game-high nine putouts. Except for Veronika Boyd, every other member of the Canadian starting lineup logged at least one hit. Mills registered three strikeouts over six innings pitched while allowing only two earned runs.

Canada and Cuba collide during inaugural day of women’s baseball competition at Pan Am Games

With Canada having won a gold medal in men’s baseball at the Pan Am Games, the Canadian women are aspiring towards a unique and unprecedented double gold. On the road towards such ambitions, host country Canada took to the mound against Cuba. French-Canadian hurler Vanessa Riopel (who has gained celebrity status for her role in a TV advertisement for Maytag) gained the start, while Yanet Cruz was named by Cuba as its starter. Considered one of the aces of Canada’s pitching staff; expect Riopel to gain the start should Canada qualify for the gold medal game.

During the first inning, Dayanna Batista would become Riopel’s first strikeout victim, as the prevailing theme on this day was historic firsts. One inning later, Kelsey Lalor experienced her own brush with history as she became the first Canadian batter to strike out. As a side note, Lalor made a remarkable diving catch in the first, preventing Cuban player Odrisleisis Peguero of an extra-base hit.

Through the first two innings of play, Riopel only allowed one hit as Yurismary Baez connected off her. In so doing, Baez became the first Cuban to earn a hit in women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games. Duplicating such a historic feat for Canada was second baseman Nicole Luchanski. Taking Canada’s first-ever at-bat, she would later record a hit in the third inning, providing the home team with their first of the game.

As a side note, the growing awareness of the national women’s baseball team has resulted in a surge of support. From inspirational speeches by former Canadian female athletes such as Waneek Horn-Miller and Carolyn Waldo, the team was also introduced prior to a Toronto Blue Jays home game at Rogers Centre. In addition, Justine Siegal, chair of the International Baseball Federation’s women’s commission is on-hand during the Pan Am Games to witness history in the making.

The first run of the game would be scored in the top of the third inning as Canada enjoyed the first lead. After adding another run in the fourth, Cuba faced a two-run deficit, struggling to assemble any offensive attack at the plate.

Canadian manager Andre Lachance opted to pull Riopel out of the game in the fifth inning. Her pitching line included 4.2 innings, allowing only two hits, walking two and recording a pair of strikeouts. She would also be credited with Canada’s first-ever win in women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games. Making a relief appearance was second generation pitcher Heidi Northcott, allowing Cuba’s first run of the game as shortstop Mayumis Solano broke the shutout bid.

Heading into the sixth inning, Canada pounded the opposing Cubans with an eight run performance, putting the game out of reach with a 10-1 lead. Cruz would be replaced by Ana Castellanos, who allowed four earned runs and walked two Canadian batters. Yoidania Castro became the third Cuban pitcher of the inning, attempting to curb the Canadian onslaught.

A bloop single by Ashley Stephenson loaded the bases early in the sixth. Lachance would also make substitutions in the sixth providing others with an opportunity to play. Of note, Rebecca Hartley would pinch hit for Veronica Boyd, who was hitless in the game. After getting an RBI-single to make the lead 3-0, Hartley was replaced by Autumn Mills, who assumed a pinch runner’s role.
Of note, Mills would eventually score a run, as Luchanski contributed an RBI single, adding to Canada’s expanding lead. Mills will also be Canada’s starting pitcher in their second game against Venezuela.

Bradi Wall, who logged Canada’s first RBI in Pan Am play during the third inning, would add a double to centre, allowing three runs to score. Subsequently, Lalor reached base on a fielder’s choice as another run scored. Jenna Flannigan would contribute two RBI’s in the inning as the game suddenly became out of reach for Cuba.

In the seventh inning, 11-year veteran Kate Psota pinch hit for Jennifer Gilroy, who also went hitless. Before the inning would expire, Canada added three more runs in the seventh inning as Amanda Asay, Katherine Psota and Flannigan all contributed with RBI singles to extend their lead to a 13-1 margin.

Although Cuba provided a valiant effort, allowing only two runs through five innings, their own struggles at the plate were compounded by four errors in the game.
Statistically, Bradi Wall assembled the best hitting performance of the day with a pair of hits and a game-best four RBI’s. Four players would record two hits in the game, while five players would each score two runs. The only players to accomplish both were Luchanski, Wall and catcher Stephanie Savoie. Along with Jennifer Gilroy, Savoie would also record four putouts. The only member of the Cuban roster to register four putouts was Solano. In between competition, the women’s team plays against top-level teenage boys’ teams from Toronto.

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.