When the U.S. customs official asked the coach of Canada Blaze what the purpose of their trip to the United States was the coach replied “to win a championship”. “Good luck”, responded the official.
The Blaze, from Stoney Creek, followed through on their mission. And that was no easy challenge considering their challengers, North Tonawanda, had lost only one game all season. North Tonawanda defeated the Blaze all three times the two teams met during the regular season. But the Blaze’s 6-2 upset of North Tonawanda gave the only Canadian team in the 16-and under Babe Ruth Niagara Frontier League the championship.
Alex Hurley, who hit .455 in 43 games this season, sparked the Blaze offence in the first inning. Hurley singled, advanced to third on a Steve Desroche double and scored the game’s first run on a Shawn Running sacrifice fly. North Tonawanda scored an unearned run in the bottom of the first to tie the score and added another run in the third to take a 2-1 lead. But the Blaze were unfazed.
Stoney Creek, dubbed the Comeback Kids because they had come from behind to win their last four games, saw this as a challenge and responded. Justin Rattray led off the top of the fifth inning with a sharp single to left and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Peter Vastakis. He then scored on a single by Josh Lutz to knot the count at two runs apiece.
Then with two out, Hurley hit a routine ground ball to second but was safe when the first baseman dropped the ball and that was double trouble for North Tonawanda. Lutz took advantage of the error to scamper home with the go ahead run.
After a walk to Desroche, Running and Aaron Prodeus drilled back-to-back doubles to cap a five-run outburst giving the Blaze a 6-2 lead that would hold until the final inning.
North Tonawanda threatened in the bottom of the seventh but with a runner on second and two out, left fielder Rattray raced to the fence and made a spectacular catch and clinch the victory.
Brad Czajkowski turned in a masterful performance on the mound allowing just one earned run to earn the victory.
The Blaze, on behalf of the players, coaches Bill Prodeus, Bill Stewart, Jason Anderton and Fred Anderton thank team sponsors Ken Hadall of FBC Canada Inc, Acura of Hamilton and Tim Hortons franchise owner Miles Mattatall for their generous support throughout a most successful season.