So long to beloved baseball luminaries Psota and Stephenson

With a pair of careers that embodied the essence of sporting equality, the retirement of luminaries of Katie Psota, 32, and Ashley Stephenson, 36, has left a lasting legacy for the Canadian national women’s baseball team. Such a visceral decision follows the retirements of Nicole Luchansky, and team manager André Lachance, whose post shall be assumed by former pitching coach Aaron Myette.

Representing a significant part of the team’s leadership corps, each having joined in 2004, the careers of this distinguished duo not only ran parallel, they simultaneously emerged as two of the most notable women in Canadian baseball.

Having both played women’s ice hockey for the Golden Hawks of Wilfrid Laurier University, where Stephenson was recognized as an All-Canadian, their heroics on the ice were merely prologue for an outstanding run on the diamond, including six podium finishes at the IBAF Women’s World Cup of Baseball, attaining silver in 2008 and 2016, while the years 2004, 2006, 2012 and 2018 resulted in bronze.

At the 2008 edition of the World Cup, Stephenson, who led all players with five stolen bases, was named to the Tournament All-Star Team at Third Base. In that same year, she gained the national team’s MVP Award, the second of her career, with the first in 2005. Another notable honor followed in 2011, as she and Psota captured Baseball Canada’s Jimmy Rattlesnake Award.

Worth noting, Psota has also enjoyed a haul of baseball hardware, capturing national team MVP Awards in 2009 and 2010. Akin to Stephenson, she also enjoyed IBAF World Cup Tournament All-Star Team honors. Both in recognition for her play at first base, Psota gained the honors in 2010 and 2012.

Of note, their greatest glory took place in 2015. With Toronto serving as host city of the Pan American Games, the privilege of wearing Canada’s colors on home soil was only eclipsed by the sense of history.

As women’s baseball was a medal event for the first time in Pan Am Games history, it allowed an entire nation the opportunity to catch up to the greatness of the sport, while appreciating the brilliance of its diamond heroes. For Psota and Stephenson, who had also been veteran players on the Canadian rosters that participated in the first eight World Cups, it was a satisfying moment that not only validated their careers, but propelled them to new heights of relevance.

Qualifying for the gold medal game, the Canadians competed against their eternal rivals from the United States. Considering that Canada’s men’s baseball team also reached the gold medal game, baseball certainly stirred the strong feeling of national pride among sporting enthusiasts.

While she played for the national baseball team, Stephenson, a member of the Golden Hawks Hall of Fame, who is occupied full-time as a physical education teacher, also remained prominent in professional women’s ice hockey.

Playing for the Brampton Thunder, Canada’s longest running club team in women’s ice hockey, she gained a podium finish as a member of the Mississauga Chiefs at the 2008 Esso Women’s Hockey Nationals. Later competing in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, she became intertwined with league history during the 2011-12 season.

Skating for the Burlington Barracudas, which proved to be their final season, she scored the last game-winning goal in franchise history. The following season, Stephenson joined the coaching staff of Sommer West (who was the Barracudas captain in 2011-12) with the Toronto Furies, qualifying for the 2013 Clarkson Cup playoffs.

Coaching shall remain a focus for Stephenson, who will serve in that capacity with Canada’s national women’s baseball team. In addition, she shall serve on the World Softball Baseball Confederation (WBSC) Athletes Commission, the only Canadian elected in 2018. As a side note, Stephenson also holds significant coaching experience on the diamond. Along with teammate Autumn Mills, both were instructors at the Tornoot Blue Jays Baseball Academy in 2015.

Undoubtedly, the most recent World Cup (2018), provided Psota and Stephenson with an element of satisfaction, setting the stage for a sensational finish to their careers. Challenging their American archrivals in the bronze medal game, a highly dramatic extra innings finish resulted in an 8-5 victory.

Playing at her usual spot of first base, Psota was in the batting order as the clean-up hitter, with one hit in three at-bats. Stephenson was seventh in the order, garnering a pair of RBIs in a day that saw her go 2-for-4.

Avenging their loss from the Pan American Games, it was the kind of victory that may signify an essential transition in the history of the Canadian program, able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their rivals, while demonstrating a possible rise towards even greater glories.

Highly anticipated women’s baseball match sees US go 4-0 with victory over host Canada at Pan Am Games

Quite possibly the most anticipated game in preliminary round play in women’s baseball at the 2015 Pan Am Games, undefeated powerhouses Canada and the US took to the diamond. Facing each other in the last game of the preliminaries, it also represented an exciting new chapter in their epic rivalry.

Host country Canada could feel the excitement of the energizing crowd at President’s Choice Pan Am Field in Ajax, Ontario, as they faced their American rivals for the first time at the Pan Am Games. Looking to win their first-ever medal in international play (the best finish for Canada was silver at the 2008 IBAF Women’s World Cup), the match against the United States would prove to be a litmus test of whether such golden dreams were attainable.

Although Puerto Rico and Venezuela cannot be taken for granted in the medal round, Canada and the United States have shown the ability to explode for power during preliminary play. Taking into account Canada’s ability to excel in later innings, as seen in the comeback win against Puerto Rico, a rematch with their American rivals in the gold medal game would not be unlikely.

As each squad already qualified for the medal round, the degree of pressure may not have been as intense but there were strong feelings of national pride for Canada and the US, as both wanted to prevail in this inaugural meeting. Regardless of the victor, neither would have to play each other in the opening match of medal round, allowing this to be an opportunity for adjustments while other roster members may garner playing time as a preparatory measure.

Gaining the start for Canada was Jessica Berube, while the United States countered with Marti Sementelli, who played men’s baseball at the NAIA level. Berube would surrender the initial hit of the night to first baseman Malaika Underwood, who once played volleyball at the NCAA level with North Carolina. Despite the hit allowed, Berube enjoyed a strong start, striking out leadoff hitter Jade Gortarez and designated hitter Tamara Holmes in the first.

Through her first three innings of work, Sementelli managed to keep Canada scoreless despite allowing four hits. Former Ivy League hockey player Amanda Asay and second baseman Nicole Luchanski logged hits, while catcher Stephanie Savoie and right fielder Jenna Flannigan were the other successful hitters. Ashley Stephenson (a member of the Laurier Golden Hawks Hall of Fame) was Sementelli’s only strikeout as the Canadian batters tested her often.

Although four US strikeouts followed for Berube (she would get left fielder Samantha Cobb to fan twice) in the second and third innings, she collapsed in the top of the fourth, allowing three hits and three runs. Tamara Holmes and second generation player Sarah Hudek, whose father John played in the major leagues, both got on base, eventually scoring. After Berube walked second baseman Jenna Marston, Michelle Snyder got a base hit, extending the American lead to a 3-0 advantage.

Despite Sementelli allowing three more hits, including a walk issued to 17-year old Kelsey Lalor, Canada was not able to chip away at the US lead. Berube managed to strikeout seven batters in 5.1 innings pitched, but the third inning proved to be the turning point. Replaced by Claire Eccles in the fifth inning, she was able to keep the US scoreless, despite walking a pair of batters.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Kelsie Whitmore was brought in to relieve Sementelli, but it did not yield a good result. Stephenson would get her second hit for Canada, as fans were hoping for a rally. Canadian manager Andre Lachance opted for some substitutions afterwards. Kate Psota, an 11-year veteran of the national team was inserted as a pinch hitter for Veronika Boyd. Getting a walk, Psota was replaced by 2014 NCAA Frozen Four champion Daniella Matteucci as a pinch runner.

With a runner in scoring position, Luchanski drove in Stephenson, reducing the US lead to a 3-1 count. The US opted to move Whitmore to right field, replacing her with Hudek on the mound. Striking out Stephanie Savoie, she successfully retired the side, becoming the first female pitcher in the history of Pan Am Games baseball to earn a win (in the opening game against Venezuela) and a save.

One area of encouragement for Canada was the fact that there were five members of the US roster (Gortarez, Cobb, Marston, Brittany Gomez and Anna Kimbrell) that went hitless. In addition, only two members of the US managed more than two putouts (Kimbrell -5, Underwood – 8), while Stephanie Savoie led all Canadian players with seven putouts.

The key stat that Canada has to improve on is the fact that they left seven runners on base. Should Vanessa Riopel or Heidi Northcott take the mound for Canada in a rematch with the United States, the outcome may be more favorable than the 3-1 loss in preliminary round play. For the Canadian team, it would be an opportunity to win double gold in baseball, an unprecedented accomplishment in Pan Am Games history, mirroring Canada’s double gold in ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Two-run sixth inning part of Canadian comeback against Puerto Rico in third day of women’s baseball at Pan Am Games

Through the first two innings of play, Puerto Rican pitcher Maria Zayas was hurling no-hit ball. Although no Canadian batter had struck out, she was able to stifle their high-powered offense, one which obliterated Cuba and Venezuela during the first two historic days of women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games.

Getting the start for Canada was two-sport star Kate Psota. One of five members of the Canadian roster who also played elite university hockey, Psota allowed four hits and two earned runs in the first two innings of play.

Leading off for Puerto Rico was left fielder Luz D. Feliciano, stroking a single. It would set the tone early on as right fielder Kiara J. Irizarry drove her in, as Puerto Rico enjoyed the first lead of the game. Before the first inning would expire, first baseman Yinoska Claudio also contributed an RBI, extending said lead.

Psota would settle in the second inning, allowing just one hit to second baseman Katiria Davila. Complemented by a first inning strikeout, Psota demonstrated good control on the mound, considering that she had not yet walked one batter through two innings.

Despite the progress, manager Andre Lachance opted for a pitching change in the third inning. Bringing Melissa Armstrong, she kept Puerto Rico scoreless for three innings. Although Yinoska Claudio managed two hits off her, the Puerto Ricans could not bring her in to score. Armstrong would tally three strikeouts, providing Canada with the chance to comeback.

In the bottom of the third, Canada showed signs of life, breaking the shutout. With Jennifer Gilroy on the basepads, 11-year national team veteran (and former CWHL player) Ashley Stephenson drove her in, logging her first RBI in Pan Am Games play.

After both sides went scoreless during the fourth and fifth innings, Canada took control in the sixth inning. With Melissa Armstrong shutting down the Puerto Rican bats with a six strikeout performance, the Canadians came roaring back to life with a dramatic comeback. Jennifer Gilroy continue to be a factor in the game, as she and Veronika Boyd were on base. With Nicole Luchanski at the plate, she continued her MVP-like performance during the Pan Am Games, bringing them both in on a two-RBI hit.

With Canada claiming its first lead of the game, Puerto Rico opted for a pitching change as Zayas was replaced by shortstop Adrix Y. Paradizo. As a side note, Puerto Rico would make four other positional changes in the inning, shuffling its outfield and bringing in Marleen Gomez as a designated hitter. Despite allowing Canada’s seventh hit, Paradizo was able to prevent any further runs from being scored.

Looking to preserve the lead, Amanda Asay (who played hockey at Brown and the University of British Columbia) took to the mound for her first relief appearance in the Pan Am Games. Although Asay would allow two hits, she would successfully retire the side, as Canada improved to an impressive 3-0 mark.

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.

York Lions alum Samantha Magalas makes history twice with Canadian women’s baseball team

One of the most influential, yet underrated elite female athletes of her generation, it is only fitting that Samantha Magalas is among a group of empowering women taking part in the inaugural women’s baseball tournament at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Adding to her legacy is the fact that the Pan Am Games allows Magalas to make history twice.

A charter member of the Canadian national women’s baseball team, she was part of a remarkable chapter in female sporting history as she participated in the inaugural IBAF Women’s World Cup. Contested in 2004 in Edmonton, Magalas would contribute to a bronze medal performance, the first of three podium finishes in her career. Along the way, she also accumulated three National Championships with Team Ontario.

Magalas (right) speaking with a coach during the Canadian National Women's Team tune-up tour for the 2015 Pan Am Games (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Magalas (right) speaking with a coach during the Canadian National Women’s Team tune-up tour for the 2015 Pan Am Games (Photo credit: Mark Staffieri)

Considering that the Pan Am Games are being hosted in Toronto makes this an equally compelling aspect of female sport in Canada. It also allows Magalas the chance to make history twice in her career, as the Pan Am Games represents the first time that women’s baseball is part of a major multi-sport event.

Quite possibly the most accomplished female athlete in the history of Burlington’s Assumption Secondary School, Samantha Magalas earned top athlete honours twice. Such honors were complemented by being named the City of Burlington’s Athlete of the Year in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

A four-time qualifier in OFSAA for javelin, while excelling in basketball and hockey, she would move on to York University and compete for the Lions women’s ice hockey program. Competing as a forward for the program, she also spent one game as a goaltender, making 25 saves on 31 shots. It was also at York University that her athletic abilities would make national news.

Invited by head coach Colin Cummins to try out for the York University men’s varsity baseball squad, the result was historic. She would become the first woman in North American university sports to compete in men’s baseball, starting at first base in a game on September 10, 2004. Her ability to break gender barriers in sport was akin to Manon Rheaume in hockey, Dr. Jen Welter in tackle football and Devon Wills in lacrosse.

Such athletic prodigy also ran in her family. Of note, her brothers Nick and Sebastien also earned athlete-of-the-year honours at Assumption, following up their sterling careers as members of the Toronto Varsity Blues basketball team. Their proud athletic careers also served as a form of therapy for their brave mother Susan, who received chemotherapy, along with radiation treatments at Princess Margaret Hospital in her courageous fight against cancer.

Her cousin, Carly Agro was also the recipient of the athlete of the year award at Assumption, earning an NCAA soccer scholarship with UMBC in Baltimore. As a side note, Agro has also enjoyed an exceptional career in broadcasting, currently employed with Rogers Sportsnet.

Having played first base and platooned in the outfield with the Canadian national team, Magalas is currently a member of field manager Andre Lachance’s coaching staff. Also contributing as a first base coach, she is once again contributing to breaking gender barriers, as she is helping set a precedent for women to serve as coaches.

During her time as coach, her positive influence not only ensured that Canada’s baseball future would benefit from such a key figure, it would encourage another player to pursue her dreams. Pitcher Brittany Chan would earn a bronze medal with the Canadian contingent at the 2012 IBAF Women’s World Cup. A year later, she would follow it up by trying out for the Ryerson Rams’ men’s baseball varsity team.

Earning certification as a Provincial Coach under the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), the first coaching experience for Magalas took place during an exhibition series in Cuba. Lachance allowed Magalas the opportunity to gain valuable experience when a group of 30 bantam aged girls from Canada competed against the national women’s team from Cuba. Since 2012, she has also worked as an instructor at the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy (along with national team members Autumn Mills and Ashley Stephenson).

The strong leadership skills have also been developed through her efforts off the field. In years past, she served as a general manager of Frozen Ropes, a training centre in the Greater Toronto Area focused on developing skills in both baseball and softball.

Currently a Sport Coordinator with Ontario University Athletics, Magalas is helping sport, both male and female, reach its potential in the province. Having started with OUA in 2010 as a Sport Development Officer, she worked tirelessly to inform high school athletes about the benefits of varsity sport at the university level in Ontario. Such topics included enlightening potential student-athletes on opportunities such as eligibility, recruitment, scholarships, and financial aid.

Overseeing the management of sport programming services, she is working towards building positive partnerships and developing a sport model that may serve as a template throughout the rest of Canada. It is that type of assiduous effort that has mirrored her remarkable athletic career. Setting a gold standard that helped inspire a generation of young women to grace the diamond and stake their rightful claim in a traditionally male-dominated game, the fact that Magalas is still involved in the game today only adds to its growing legend. Destined to be part of the game’s growing mythology, a gold medal at the Pan Am Games would cement her legacy as a Canadian sporting icon.