Frankie Master reached base in all three plate appearances and drove in a run for the Young Guns.
By Rich Bevensee
The Ottawa Nepean Canadians made the seven-hour trek south to Diamond Nation in Flemington anxious to prove to their U.S. counterparts that competitive baseball – not just hockey – is indeed played north of the border.
The South Jersey Young Guns knew the Canadians were not to be taken lightly, but they were focused on their own agenda. Their performance last weekend in a tournament in Philadelphia fell far below expectations, and the Young Guns were ready to flip the script.
In ‘The Nation’s’ 16U Mid-Summer Classic on Saturday, the Young Guns were on the attack from the opening pitch, and that made all the difference.
Scoring two runs in the first and three runs in the second was the offensive infusion the Young Guns were desperately seeking, and more beneficial than they could have planned, because the Canadians loaded the bases and sent the tying run to the plate in the sixth and final inning. Only after shortstop Chris Smith snared a line drive to end the game could the Young Guns celebrate an 8-4 victory.
“We had a few practices during the week that were hard,” Burns said. “We cleaned up the small things, in the field and hitting, because we were missing that aggression and team effort. Definitely a lot different today.”
Nick Burns, a rising junior at Haddon Township, allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out two over his four innings of work. While benefiting from three sterling defensive plays, Burns was operating in attack mode, getting first-pitch strikes and mixing his fastball with a curve, change and two-seamer to keep the Canadians off balance. Only three Ottawa baserunners got into scoring position against Burns.
It was a solid reversal for Burns, who struggled in his outing – as did his team – in Philly last weekend.
“I’ve known Nick Burns for four years and he always wants the ball in his hands. He’s my go-to guy,” said Young Guns coach Bill Calhoun, a varsity assistant at Paul VI in Haddonfield. “I brought him into a game last weekend and he might not have performed the way he wanted to, and I said to him, ‘You’re starting game one this weekend,’ and he did what I expected him to do.
“He’s the guy we needed to lead us in getting the bad taste out of our mouths. We had a bad tournament last weekend at a showcase (at Temple and Arcadia University). We told them that’s not Young Guns baseball. And everything we wanted to change, we did.”
Burns helped his own cause by notching a pair of hits with a walk and an RBI. Frankie Master, a rising junior at Delsea, reached base in all three plate appearances for the Young Guns and scored all three times while going 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI. Chris Smith went 2-for-3 with an RBI, and Josh Herner drove in two runs.
Matt Hewitt came on in relief of Burns and pitched two innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits and one walk with two strikeouts for the Young Guns, who carry players from 10 different South Jersey schools on their roster.
“I am so proud of how we bounced back today,” Calhoun said. “These guys have been with me for four years. I have three sons at home and I see these guys more than my own kids. It’s not just a baseball team, it’s a family, a bond for life.”
The Canadians, coming off a 4-1 victory over Red Hawks 16U on Friday, were led by leadoff man and designated hitter Coleson Kaluza, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored.
“We’re here very much to prove we can play ball and that Canada is not just about snow and hockey,” Kaluza said. “A lot of teams ask us weird questions like, ‘Do you play hockey’? Sometimes they don’t take us seriously in the first few innings, and then we bring out the sticks. We can keep up with these teams.”
Shortstop Evan Ogston, a rising senior at Colonel By Secondary School in Gloucester, Ottawa, went 3-for-4 with an RBI double. First baseman Gary Rochon cranked a two-run double, Edgar Gosselin went 2-for-3 with a double and Wesley Fenner had a base hit.
Unfortunately for the Canadians, most of that offense came after the second inning when they trailed 5-0.
“It would have been nice to come out early, but that’s what we’ve been preaching all year,” Ottawa coach Ty Rathwell said. “We can’t fold the tent. We have to play till the seventh inning, and we did. The tying run was there. It was doable. We just didn’t come out early enough.”
The Canadians, trailing 8-3 in the top of the sixth, opened the frame when Gosselin stroked an opposite-field double down the left field line and later scored on an infield throwing error.
Ottawa then loaded the bases when James Riopelle walked with one out, and Kaluza and Ogston reached on two-out infield singles where both Riopelle and then Kaluza barely beat the force at second base.
Rochon stepped to the plate representing the tying run and ripped a 1-1 laser right at Young Guns shortstop Smith for the final out.
“It’s fun to come back, but it puts you on the defensive,” Rathwell said. “It would be nice to come out early and often. When you’re down early, it’s the same as an at bat. It’s difficult to claw back.”
Kaluza said the Canadians, who are competing in the U.S. for the first time in three years (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), are excited to prove they can compete with their American baseball brothers.
Two weeks ago they traveled to Columbus, Ohio for the Buckeye Elite Baseball Tournament.
“Normally on the drive down I sleep, but I couldn’t sleep on the way here. I couldn’t wait to get here,” said Kaluza, a rising junior at St. Mark’s in Manotick, a neighborhood in Ottawa. “In Canada there are no facilities like this. I play way better when I’m down here.”
Kaluza said interest in baseball among his peers back home pales in comparison to hockey. He said if hockey is rated a 10 in terms of interest level at home, baseball rates around a 4 or 5, and his peers question him all the time about why he chose baseball.
That answer comes easy.
“I played hockey all my life but my dad grew up playing baseball and basketball in Toronto. I didn’t want to play baseball at first but he forced me into it,” Kaluza said. “I love competitiveness, and I’m more of a skillful guy and not very physical, so baseball is good for me.”
In terms of interest level, hockey probably rates fourth in the U.S. among the four major sports (behind football, basketball and baseball), but it’s far and away the most popular sport north of the American border.
Which makes it interesting to listen to the Ottawa club players describe exactly why they’ve been bitten by the baseball bug.
“I used to play competitive hockey, and I picked up baseball around 8 years old and fell in love with it,” Ogston said. “I watched a few Jays games and thought it was kind of cool, so my parents put me in Little League and it grew from there. A lot of my friends say baseball’s boring, it’s too long. But I like doing my own thing. And you need to think a lot more and it changes play by play.”
Rochon, a rising junior at Osgoode Township in Metcalfe, Ottawa, sounds like he could write some promotional scripts for Major League Baseball commercials, the way he described his passion for the game.
“I fell in love with the battle, the 1-v-1, between you and the pitcher,’ Rochon said. “My friends think hockey is so much harder than baseball, but they don’t understand how hard baseball actually is. They watch the Major Leagues and they think the players get a hit every time. They don’t realize how many times they practice. They don’t realize how many times even the pros look dumb swinging at 0-2 curveballs, and that if you get a hit three out of 10 times you’re a Hall of Famer. There is no sport where you fail most of the time and you’re good.”
The Young Guns followed up their victory over Ottawa with a 1-1 tie against Team Crush Baseball, and they’ll complete pool play with a showdown against Red Hawks 16U on Sunday at 10 a.m.
The Canadians, who received a strong, seven-inning start from Eric Vuong in their victory Friday over the Red Hawks, close out the showcase series with a 10 a.m. Sunday game against Team Crush.