Merritt gets clutch out to preserve juniors baseball win

Smithville’s Benson Merritt was the man of the hour as he preserved Canada’s second win of the junior baseball team’s exhibition tour of Alberta on Tuesday (July 22).

Taipei had loaded the bases in the eighth inning, with two out, and Merritt was summonsed from the bullpen. With Canada protecting a five-run lead, the 17-year-old right-hander struck out the one batter he faced and Canada held on for the 6-1 at Okotoks.

Merritt was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in June.

Pitching was once again the story for the Junior National Team as the Canadian hurlers combined to limit Taipei to four hits. Fran├žois Lafreniere (St. Bruno, QC) got the start for the Canadians and had the Taiwanese hitters baffled as Taipei could only get two hits off him. The right-hander would strikeout a pair and walk none over four innings of work.

“I just tried to do what I did last time against these guys and that’s keep the ball low and make them hit it,” says Lafreniere. “I think it went well today and the defense did its job behind me.”

Jake Eliopoulos (Newmarket, ON) took over for Lafreniere in the fifth inning and continued where he left off. The left-hander would pitch three innings, allowing one run in the sixth inning. He gave up two hits and struck out three in his outing.

After Merritt’s crucial out, Jonathan Gilbert (St-Georges, QC) ended the game by disposing of the Taiwanese in quick fashion with a one-two-three ninth inning..

“We’re starting to roll out what our lineup will be and obviously were starting to shorten things and have the lineup in place and the last couple of days have been starting to show that,” says team manager Greg Hamilton, as he prepares his charges for the World Championships in Edmonton.

On the offensive side, the Juniors once again got on the board early and for the second day in a row it was Luke Willson (Lasalle, ON) who got things started with a solo-home run to lead off the second inning and put Canada ahead 1-0. With a 2-0 lead entering the fifth inning, Canada added three more runs when James Kottaras (Markham, ON) and Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.) each drove in a run and Kottaras would score on a passed ball to give the Canadians a 5-0 lead.

Canada would score its sixth and final run in the eighth when Michael Crouse (Port Moody, B.C.) hit a two-out single to drive in Lawrie, who had been hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.

The Junior National Team plays its final game in Okotoks, against the United States on Wednesday, before heading out to Edmonton.