The Prince George U16 bantam Thunderbirds will look back in satisfaction at 2019 as a year of accomplishments which earned them some significant hardware.
Two weekends ago they represented B.C. at the Western Canadian girls B softball championship two weeks ago in Biggar, Sask., and came home with the bronze medal.
In a season of highlights, the T-birds got it going in May with a tournament title win in Surrey/White Rock, believed to be the first for a Prince George girls fastball team at a Lower Mainland tournament in more than 20 years. They placed third in the Abbotsford tournament and went on to win the Prince George Women's Fastball Association title in late June. In mid-July they finished second at the provincial B championship in North Delta, which qualified them for the Western Canadian championship.
"It was a spectacular season," said T-birds head coach Lee J Leslie. "Back in October of last year when we picked the team we had a parent-player meeting and committed to this year financially, emotionally and physically as being a year where everybody is all in, because we knew we had a team that could do some damage.
"It's a year these girls will never forget."
At the nine-team Western Canadian tournament they were among four teams to advance to the playoff round. The T-birds finished the preliminary round tied with the Carlisle (Saskatchewan) Supernovas and Interlakes (Manitoba) Phillies, each with 4-2 records, but claimed second place based on their plus-20 run differential.
"We played very well in the round robin and beat the teams we should have beaten," said Leslie. "It didn't take these girls long to realize that they belonged. They were right there at that calibre and weren't really intimidated or overmatched in any single game.
"One of the bigger games for us was against the Biggar Nationals. They were the Saskatchewan provincial champs and the crowd was full but they weren't intimidated and we came out if there with a 4-2 win." Prince George then came up against the Tisdale Riverdogs in a must-win situation and mercied them 11-1.
In the first versus second playoff, the T-birds took on the first-place (5-2) Westman Magic of Brandon, Man., in their first playoff game and lost 11-4. The Magic broke open a 4-4 tie with seven runs in the fifth inning.
In the silver-bronze game against Carlisle, the Supernovas collected four runs in the top of the first inning and went on to win 6-2. Leslie said a couple of disputed calls by the umpires went against his team, which led to two of the first-inning runs. The T-birds rallied in the sixth inning and had the bases loaded with nobody out, but a couple more questionable rulings resulted in outs which killed the Prince George rally.
"It was tough to move past those calls," said Leslie. "That was an extremely tough loss, but once they were presented the bronze medals these girls realized the magnitude of what they pulled off. To be top-three in Western Canada is a pretty amazing feat."
The T-birds roster includes Morgan Case, Kiana Mero, Camryn Frie, Hannah Case, Amelia Musselman, Destiny Bautista, Avery Leslie, Kaitlyn Doucette, Rylee Paterson, Tessa Sturgeon, Brooklyn Hill, and Jordan Maloney. For the Western championship they added pitcher Nevada Johnson of the Delta Invaders. Don Doucette of Quesnel and Doug Sturgeon are the T-birds' assistant coaches.
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