by Pat Henderson
Jr Black Sox
The Soo Junior-Midget Black Sox participated in the annual Lynn Automotive Invitational Tournament, hosted in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan, from July 8th-10th. The four game weekend featured nine separate teams spanning the far corners of Michigan; the Sox were the only Canadian team competing.
This tournament featured a unique challenge for the local club, as the team’s ace pitcher and veteran shortstop Colton Read was sidelined for the entire weekend. Read had suffered an ankle injury on June 25th. When asked about the recovery process, the 6’0 ft. 165lbs veteran spoke positively. “The day after I injured my ankle, I knew I’d be out for at least a week. At first it was tough, but I kept building on my rehab exercises. I’ve been jogging every day for the last week, but we decided as a team that I should rest this weekend- I’ll be back on the field soon.”
With a key piece of their pitching core unavailable, the Soo found themselves facing an uphill battle. Game one saw the Sox matched up with a powerful Ida lineup. The Sox jumped to a 2-0 lead, with hits coming off the bats of Pat Thom, Connor Henderson, Tyrus Cuculick and Jack Mcleod. Sadly, the hot start was not enough for the Sox, who ended up losing the contest 16-4. Carter Magee picked up a 2-run double in the loss.
“The toughest part of my injury was watching my teammates. It’s a lonely feeling just sitting there on the bench when you know the team could definitely use you,” said Read.
Game two saw the Sox matched up against Sanford. The Sox were quieted in this 13-1 loss, with Jack Mcleod being the lone standout. Mcleod pitched 3 innings in relief, allowing one earned run; he also picked up a hit.
The third game of the tournament, brought a rematch of last year’s round robin play with the Soo facing Hancock. Center fielder Connor Henderson spoke of the team’s mindset going into the game. “I felt pretty bitter about our loss to this team last season. We didn’t dress a very strong lineup that day, and it hurt us. This year, even with 11 rookies and Colton’s injury, I know we are stronger. We have the fresh blood, the talent and the chemistry to pick up a W.” And the Sox did just that; with Tyrus Cuculick getting the nod, the Sox cruised to a clean 7-2 victory.
Cuculick went the complete game, allowing 4 hits while striking out 4. Thanks to the Sox defense, Tyrus was able to keep a respectable pitch count of 80 thrown during the game. He was also able to help himself out at the plate, picking up 2 hits. Under-aged rookie sensation Carter Magee followed suit, picking up 2 hits, and 3 RBIs in the contest. In turn, Jack Mcleod’s red-hot bat stayed ablaze, picking up a 2 run double. Dana Lesage and Connor Henderson also got hits in the game, while Carter Fielding reached twice with a pair of walks.
With the victory, the Sox have officially surpassed last season’s win total, with still two months of the season remaining. The accelerated progress of team and player development has been instrumental to the growth of chemistry for the club.
In the final game of round robin play, the Sox were paired up with Gladstone. The Sox were held to just two hits, coming off the bats of the under-aged dynamic duo of Carter Magee and Jonnie Mackin.
Youth was a staple of the Sox this weekend. Missing Colton Read, along with four other players (Paradis, Sarlo, Thomson, and Dicorpo), the Sox dressed a youthful lineup each game. The tournament, which featured scouts from various American Junior Colleges, usually favours teams with older lineups. Despite being a 19-and-under event, the average age of the 12 Sox players who dressed this weekend was 17.16; this lined the local club up to be one of the youngest teams in the tournament.
After a tough game, the Sox fell to Gladstone 8-0. Reliever Connor Henderson pitched 3 and 1/3 innings of scoreless ball in the loss. Henderson attributed his success to his curveball, which generated many swings and misses from the usually powerful Gladstone hitters. “I’ve always lived and died by my off-speed pitches,” said the 5’8, 155lbs Henderson.
“I could hear the other team’s coach saying things like ‘Swing early, and only at the straight pitches! Nothing that breaks or moves!’, which I found pretty funny- I guess it’s lucky for me that most of my pitches break or move”.
With the win, Gladstone earned a birth to the semi-finals, finding themselves matched up with the ever-strong U-19 EUP Travellers lineup. They proceeded to drop a hard-fought 3-2 loss to EUP.
The powerful Ida lineup, whom the Sox faced in game one, ran into EUP in the Championship. It was EUP who won in a nail-biting fashion, taking a 3-1 victory. EUP’s Connor Myers went the complete game on the mound for the win, picking up 7 strikeouts.
The Sox finished the weekend with a 1-3 record. They will face the tournament Champions, the U-19 EUP Travellers on July 19th.