Thunderbirds land provincial silver medals

The Prince George Thunderbirds, understandably, thought they'd have no problem beating the Langley Extreme in the under-16 girls provincial B championship final.

Just four hours earlier on the ball diamond in North Delta they walked off the field early after pasting the Extreme 10-0, a four-inning mercy-rule drubbing.

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That forced the Extreme to play an extra playoff game and they needed a dramatic ending in that game to come back and beat the Delta Invaders, while the T-birds rested.

So when Prince George and Langley met again in a game for all the marbles, the stars appeared to be aligned for the T-birds to get their hands on the trophy. It didn't pan out that way. They lost Sunday's final 5-2 and had to settle for second-best.

"Everybody's a little heartbroken, but anybody who's been around sports long enough understands that that's how it goes and why you have to play the game," said T-birds head coach Lee J Leslie, whose team went 7-1 in the double-knockout tournament.

"Up until that point our bats were extremely active and the girls were hitting the ball and averaging 12 to 15 hits a game. But unfortunately that was one of those games where everything we hit hard was right at them. I think their shortstop made eight or nine plays, everything was in her area, and their fielders were backed up against the fence. Everything we were pounding for double or triples before were going right at their players.

"Kaitlyn (T-birds pitcher Doucette) threw a great game for us and most of the time they were just throwing their bat at the ball and unfortunately it was falling into gaps for them."

Prince George went 4-0 to start and had the best run differential to claim the top ranking heading into the elimination round.

They started the playoffs with a 4-3 win over the South Surrey/White Rock Thunder and needed a late-game comeback in that one to keep their perfect record intact.

"That was probably the most exciting, nerve-wracking game I've ever been part of," said the T-birds coach.

"We should have stood on them pretty good but we let them hang around and they got a couple runs in the fifth and went up 3-1 on us. Then in the bottom of the sixth we scrapped out a few runs to tie it."

The game ended in the seventh inning with a walk-off home run from Kaitlyn Doucette. The T-bird pitcher, one of five Quesnel players on the 12-player roster, seized the spotlight as the provincial home run derby queen, blasting 15 balls over the 200-foot outfield fence, to the delight of the crowd in North Delta. It was their version of the Major League Baseball home run derby last week that featured Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

"She hit 15 total and many overtop of the berm behind us and into the playground," said Leslie. "It was very much like a rock concert-type atmosphere. When she started to hit these moon shots people came out of their seats. She put on a Vladdy performance, for sure."

The T-birds defeated the Nanaimo Diamonds 8-1 in the quarterfinal, leading up to their semifinal shutout of the Extreme. The mercy rule came into effect in five of the eight games the T-birds played.

Rylee Paterson and Tessa Sturgeon also shared the pitching duties with Doucette. Outfielder Brooklyn Hill was the T-birds' top hitter, batting .583 in the tournament.

The weekend before provincial tournament, the T-birds played in the under-19 division at the Canada Cup in Surrey/White Rock. The team added 18-year-olds Camryn Scully and Caley Leslie to the roster but was still on the young side compared to the rest of the teams in the division and they ended up 1-4. They won their first game 6-5 over the Ridge Meadows Rage, then lost 7-5 to the Surrey Storm. The 2000-born Parksville Rage beat Prince George 12-6 in the next game, which was tied 5-5 after five inning.

Prince George then dropped to the Silver Division and lost 7-3 to the Abbotsford Outlaws and ended with a 5-2 loss to Freedom Fastpitch of Seattle.

"Most of the girls in that division are 2000 (born) and we have '03s and '04s, which I think really helped us in provincials because the older girls think and play the game at a whole different level that our girls needed to match in order to survive, and they were able to carry that momentum over to provincials," said Leslie.

The T-birds entered the older division due to the difficulty of finding players from Prince George in the U-16 age group and they wanted to enhance their chances of staying healthy for playoffs.

The team stayed in the area in the week leading up to provincials, living in a rented house in Tsawwassen and got to be spectators watching the older women play in the Canada Cup, which featured some of the top NCAA college players. They kept busy between games with practices and an Over The Line beach softball game.

"In the evenings they got to see the highest-calibre they've ever seen or probably ever will see with the international side playing," said Leslie.

The season isn't over yet for the T-birds. As a a top-two provincial finisher they've qualified for the Western Canadian championship in Biggar, Sask., Aug. 2-5.

"The girls are excited and looking forward to an opportunity for redemption at the Westerns," said Leslie.

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