The North Island Royals won bronze at the U15 AA provincial baseball championship tournament in Victoria.
The team opened the round robin portion with a win over the Cowichan Mustangs. Austin Gurney threw three shutout innings in what was a one-run game through four. The locals then broke out and put five runs on the board. Jayden Smith came in for the close to secure a 6-1 win. Gurney earned game MVP honours.
The Royals then faced the Vancouver Minor Expos team. The two sides were even after seven. As they entered extra innings, the Expos managed to score a run to go ahead 8-7 before the Royals retired the side in the top of the ninth. Leadoff batter Cam Bell only needed one pitch, as he blasted a solo home run over the right field fence to tie the game at 8-8 and set up the finish that had the fans on the edge of their seats. The following batter, Gurney, drilled a shot into the gap in left-centre for a stand-up triple, bringing Nathan Underhill to the plate with the winning run on third and one out. Playing a bunt, the Vancouver Minor infield was in tight, and Underhill ripped a line shot down the third base line that scored Gurney for the walk-off extra inning win.
Taylor was chosen game MVP.
Game 3 was billed as the highlight game of the tournament. The number one seeded Island Royals team faced the number one seeded Lower Mainland team, the Burnaby Braves. Leadoff batter Cam Bell opened with a single, then stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice by Ethan Taylor. Bell only needed to watch two pitches before he stole home to score the opening run and set the tone for what was to come. Riley Sutherland stole home in the second inning on a pass ball that eluded the catcher to put the Royals up 2-0. Underhill kept the potent offence of the Braves to a minimum with his nasty breaking ball that had the Burnaby players shaking their heads in frustration. The Braves got a baserunner on in the bottom of the second, and tried to use their speed to steal bases, but were stopped in their tracks as Royals catcher Robert Gurney threw out the runner at second with a laser that shut down the running game of the Braves for the remainder of the game. Runs were at a premium and the Braves slowly built a lead until Sutherland cleared the bases with a deep shot to the fence in the fifth to tie the game again. Not to be outdone by their first game of the day, the Royals went to extra innings again, but came out on the wrong end of a 10-9 score. Sutherland was the Royals game MVP.
Their next opponent was the Ridge Meadows team whom they’d defeated in the Delta tournament final earlier in the season. Seeking revenge, the Ridge team jumped to an early lead and never looked back. The Royals scored four runs in the third, but that was all they could manage as fatigue set in and errors began to happen. When the final out was made, the Royals fell by a lopsided score of 17-4, placing them into a three-way tiebreaker with Ridge Meadows and Cowichan. Having allowed the lowest number of runs scored against them, however, the Royals advanced to the semi-finals by winning the tie-breaker. Royals catcher Owen Crouse was chosen game MVP throwing out baserunners from Ridge Meadows and bringing a spark to a much-defeated looking squad.
In the semi-final match against Ladner, the local boys came up against a pitcher who was on his game, shutting down the Royals at the plate. The game ended in a 7-0 loss, placing them in the bronze medal game. Game MVP went to pitcher Brett Wildeman.
The Royals faced the Gordon Head Heat in the bronze medal game which was full of home runs and great defence. Underhill saw the start, then Jayden Smith came in to relieve in the third and finished the game. The Royals led the entire game, but Gordon Head made it close and pulled to within one run in the bottom of six with two home runs. After making the third out, the Royals came to bat in the top of seven, where batter Matt O’Reilly was hit by a pitch, putting him on first. He stole second, and then watched as the next batter, Smith, launched a shot over the fence in right centre field for a two-run homer, giving himself a little insurance as he took to the mound for the last half inning. After the Royals made two outs, the next batter hit a linebacker to Smith, who threw him out at first, securing the win.
Third place capped a remarkable season that saw the Royals finish with a 21-3 regular season record, two tournament championship wins and a 3-3 record at provincials.