From the Kingston Whig Standard
If the host Napanee AFW Express happened to be a real train, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that pitcher Riley Manion would be the engine — with a very fine bunch of cars rumbling down the track right along with him.
Manion, in a sterling weekend performance at the 2018 U19 Men’s Canadian Fast Pitch Championship, threw every Napanee pitch in its four playoff outings, including a gutsy back-to-back finish on Sunday that included a semifinal no-hitter and, not much later, an effective eight-hitter in a 9-2 win over defending-champion Chepstow Lang Farms for the gold medal.
It was Napanee’s fourth national midget championship since 1982, when it won on home field for the only other time. Napanee has now hosted the tournament five times.
“Honestly, it’s crazy,” Manion told the Whig-Standard’s Meghan Balogh after the game. “The fan support we had, the way the guys performed, it’s unbelievable.
“To think we just won the national championship at home. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s great.
“I was getting tired but just pushed through. I took it pitch by pitch. I knew if I took it pitch by pitch they couldn’t do too much damage, and it ended up working out.”
“It’s overwhelming,” coach Bryan Brooks told Balogh. “We had a goal. We started in January. We had some bumps along the way and it didn’t look like we were going to meet our goal, but we can do amazing things when 15 kids accept a role.
“Sometimes it’s their day and sometimes it’s their day to support their teammates. This week we never had one player that was worried about themselves over their team, and I think that’s the reason we were successful.”
The Express amassed 15 hits in the final, and the four runs they plated in the first inning proved to be more than enough for the win. They added three in the fourth and singles in the sixth and seventh to polish off the championship.
Last year, when the midget championship was a U18 event, Chepstow blanked Napanee 5-0 in a game that Manion started but was pulled after two innings after allowing four hits, four walks and five runs (only two of which were earned).
This time, however, Manion was superb. He struck out nine and scattered eight hits and two walks and only allowed multiple base-runners in two innings.
The win was Manion’s eighth in nine decisions. He posted a 1.73 earned-run average overall while allowing just 36 hits, walking only 12 and striking out 101 in 56.2 innings.
The offence proved to have little trouble sharing top billing with Manion in the final. Tucker Firth’s two-run homer as the second batter of the game sparked the Express and they added another pair in the first on Jason McCracken’s two-out triple.
Two-out singles in the fourth by Brendan Hagerman, scoring one run, and James Martell, plating another couple, extended the lead to 7-0.
After Chepstow rallied for a pair of runs in the fifth, single Napanee runs in the top of the sixth (scoring on Martell’s two-out single) and seventh (scoring on Connor Brooks’ two-out single) completed the scoring.
Brooks and Firth had three hits apiece while Hagerman, Finn Pierce and Martel picked up a couple each.
The Express boasted six regulars who hit over .300 in the team’s 12-game run that saw them go 10-2. Brooks, with 17 hits, led the way at .531, while Hagerman (.500), who had 19 hits, and Pierce (.405), who had 15, also hit over .400. Firth wasn’t far away at .394, with 13 hits. Hagerman and Firth topped the team in RBIs with 13 and 12, respectively, while Firth led the team in home runs, with three, and runs scored, with 14.
In Sunday’s semifinal, Manion was all but untouchable as he struck out 17 to lead Napanee past Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert Gateway North Towing Astros, 6-0.
Manion came out firing strikes early, fanning Prince Albert’s first seven batters before the next one reached base on a error on a bunted ball. He then proceeded to punch out the next three batters he faced before a groundout in the fourth. A strikeout to finish that inning was followed by a pair of strikeouts surrounding a walk to lead off the fifth. A groundout completed that inning.
In the sixth, the Astros went down in order again, with a strikeout, a groundout and popout doing the job. Manion then dug deep for another three Ks in the seventh, with a two-out walk being the only blemish.
Manion walked two batters in the game. Another batter reached base on an error on a bunted ball.
Offensively, the Express collected nine singles — two each by Brooks and Hagerman.
Hagerman’s two hits, both coming with two out, drove in the first two Napanee runs. In the third, he plated Ethan Winter, who had led off with a single. Two innings later, his single knocked in Firth, who had walked earlier.
Napanee put the game away in the sixth with four runs. Pierce led off with a single, pinch-runner Cal Doyle advanced to second and then wound up scoring when Martell’s sacrifice bunt was thrown around the infield for a couple of errors. Martell scored on a wild pitch. With one out, Kyle Weese singled and his pinch-runner, Alex Li, scored on a Brooks’ single. Brooks crossed the plate on Firth’s single.
On Saturday night, Napanee encountered a detour on its way to a berth in the final.
The Express, playing Chepstow in the playoff undefeated semifinal, fell behind 3-0 in the first inning and trailed 5-0 after two and a half as Chepstow went on to a 5-2 victory.
Manion pitched a complete-game five-hitter that featured 12 strikeouts.
Napanee, which outhit Chepstow 9-5 and drew two walks, stranded eight runners.
The Express scored a single run in the bottom of the third. Martell hit a one-out single and scored on Hagerman’s two-out single.
A second Napanee run was scored in the sixth. Andrew Tucker hit a one-out single, Weese grounded a two-out single and Tucker scored on an error.
In Napanee’s first playoff game after posting a tournament-best 7-1 record through preliminary play, Manion’s extra-inning walk-off sacrifice fly to centre field scored Brooks from third base with the game-winning run as Napanee edged Prince Albert, 4-3.
The game was nail-biting throughout, with Prince Albert scoring a pair in the top of the fourth, Napanee replying with two in the bottom of the inning, Napanee taking a 3-2 lead in the sixth and Prince Albert tying it in the top of the seventh.
In the eighth, Manion pitched a three-up, three-down top of the inning with a runner placed on second base.
The Express, with Brooks placed on second base, then went about setting up and scoring the game-winning run. Pierce led off with a bunt and reached base on an error by the first baseman, advancing Brooks to third. After Tucker walked to load the bases, Manion lifted a ball to centre that proved deep enough to score Brooks.
Manion allowed a total of seven singles and walked two batters in a 15-strikeout performance.