Just call it Billie-ball.
At Cathedral High School, the Gaels feature Billie Lupton, the only female player in the six-team Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association’s baseball league.
She’s a 16-year-old pitcher/infielder.
When Billy Martin was the manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s in the early 1980s, the aggressive style of play his team won a West Division title with was called Billy-ball. At Cathedral, however, Billie-ball won’t be capturing any championships this season. The Gaels bowed out of the playoffs with a 13-6 quarter-final loss to the St. Mary Crusaders on Thursday (Oct. 10) at Mohawk Sports Complex.
The other opening-round playoff game saw the St. Thomas More Knights defeat the Bishop Ryan Celtics, 7-1. The first-place Bishop Tonnos Titans and the second-place Cardinal Newman Cardinals each earned a bye into next Wednesday’s semifinals.
“I love it,” said Lupton, who gave hardball a whirl for the first time this season. For the past 10 years, she’s played only softball. “I think I did alright.”
Lupton was on the mound for the first three innings earlier this week as the Gaels defeated the Crusaders, 7-2, in the final game of the regular schedule. Both teams finished with 2-3 records. Lupton then pitched two innings of relief in the playoff, striking out two, before taking over at first base. The Crusaders built a 10-3 second-inning lead and coasted to the win.
“I have a fastball, changeup and I’m still iffy with a curveball,” Lupton said of her pitching arsenal.
Lupton has been a member of the Ancaster’s Provincial Women’s Softball Association Blizzard for the past two years. She was a pitcher and infielder there, too. Next summer, she plans to suit up for the Waterloo fast-pitch squad. A return to high school baseball in the fall of 2014 is also in the cards for Lupton.
When asked why she decided to try high school baseball, she said: “I have a bunch of friends on the team. I thought I might as well give it a shot. It took me a while to get used to overhand instead of underhand. That was tough. The biggest difference is the field size, mostly.”
Cathedral coach Mike Parente says Lupton made the team at tryouts on merit.
“It’s not like I have to keep her because she’s a girl,” Parente said. “When she made the team, I told her I would have cut her if she wasn’t a good enough player. She’s an asset to the team and a joy to coach. She’s like one of the guys. She fits in perfectly.”
According to Parente, Lupton’s throwing ability is excellent.
“She’s got a cannon for an arm,” he said. “Just playing catch with her, she actually hurt my hand a couple of times. And that’s not an exaggeration.”
That right arm of Lupton has been giving her problems since a softball game in the summer. She wears a protective brace on it. Doctors tell her it’s tendinitis.
“I’ve played through it,” she said. “It still hurts every now and then. I have to ice it down all the time.”
Cathedral also had a female player last year. In addition, public high school baseball teams in Hamilton currently have a few girls in their lineups. High school baseball has adopted a split season, with league games and championships in the fall prior to All-Ontario playoff competition in the spring.
The following players scored two runs apiece for St. Mary on Thursday – Kevin Vaughan, Jack Lester, Braden Athanasian, Austin Shields, Jordan Robinson and Sebastian Lech. The Cathedral players who crossed the plate were Nate Sousa, Jordan Watts, Michael Ssemanda, Aaron Dinatale, Deen Pawlik and Max Rodriquez.
Parente says the reaction has been “pretty positive” around the league about the female presence.
“If she could, she would play baseball 365 days a year,” said Lupton’s mother, Brenda, who was in attendance for the Thursday’s playoff which ended with St. Mary executing a triple play.