North Island boys are among the best in the province

The North Island Royals capp off spectacular season with a podium finish at provincials

The North Island Royals are among the best of the best in the province.

The Royals baseball team took the bronze medal in the 2017 BC Baseball U15AA Provincial Championship tournament last weekend which was held at Carnarvon Park in Victoria.

The Royals opened the round robin portion of the tournament with a game against the Cowichan Mustangs last Thursday. Austin Gurney got the start on the mound and threw three shutout innings, in what was a one run game through four innings. The Royals then broke out and put five runs on the board, and pulled away from the Cowichan squad, while pitcher Jayden Smith came in for the close to secure an all-important first game victory ending 6-1. Gurney was given game MVP honors.

Friday morning the Royals faced a scrappy Vancouver Minor Expos team. The number five seeded Vancouver team had just defeated Ridge Meadows in their first game with a walk off homerun in the bottom of the seventh to upset the highly favoured Ridge team. Using that momentum, the Expos jumped out to a six run lead after four innings against the Royals. Using tactics they’d employed all season, and a timely homerun by Ethan Taylor, the Royals slowly started to “chip away” at the Expos and pulled themselves even by the end of the seventh inning. As the two teams entered extra innings, the Expos managed to score one run to go ahead 8-7 before the Royals retired the side in the top of the ninth. Leadoff batter Cam Bell only needed one pitch, as he blasted a solo homerun over the right field fence to tie the game at 8-8 and set up the finish that had the fans on the edge of their seats. The following batter, Gurney, drilled a shot into the gap in left-centre for a stand-up triple, bringing Nathan Underhill to the plate with the winning run on third and one out. Playing a bunt, the Vancouver Minor infield was in tight, and Underhill ripped a line shot down the third base line that scored Gurney for the walk-off extra inning win and put the Royals at 2-0. Taylor was game MVP.

Game three went later that same afternoon in what was billed as the highlight game of the tournament. The number one seeded Island Royals team faced the number one seeded Lower mainland team in the Burnaby Braves, and the game lived up to the hype. Leadoff batter Bell opened the game with a single, and then stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice by Taylor. Taking full advantage of the slow delivery by the Burnaby pitcher, Bell only needed to watch two pitches before he stole home successfully to score the opening run of the game and set the tone for what was to come. Riley Sutherland stole home in the second inning on a pass ball that eluded the catcher to put the Royals up 2-0, while Underhill kept the potent offence of the Braves to a minimum with his nasty breaking ball that had the Burnaby players shaking their heads in frustration. The Braves finally managed to get a baserunner on base in the bottom of the second, and tried to use their speed to steal bases, but were stopped in their tracks as Royals catcher Gurney threw out the runner at second with a laser that completely shut down the running game of the Braves for the remainder of the game. Runs were at a premium and the Braves slowly built up a lead until Sutherland cleared the bases with a deep shot to the fence in the fifth, tying the game again. Not to be outdone by their first game of the day, the Royals went to extra innings again, unfortunately coming out on the wrong end of a 10-9 score that saw the Braves hit a walk off single in the bottom of the eighth to win and secure first place in the A pool. Sutherland was the Royals game MVP.

Saturday had the Royals facing the Ridge Meadows team whom they’d defeated in the Delta tournament final earlier in the season. Looking to exact some revenge, the Ridge team jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. The Royals team showed their signature character and heart, scoring four runs in the third, but that was all they could manage as fatigue set in and errors began to happen. When the final out was made, the Royals fell by a lopsided score of 17-4, placing them into a three-way tiebreaker with Ridge Meadows and Cowichan. Having allowed the lowest number of runs scored against them, however, the Royals advanced to the semi-finals on Sunday by winning the tie-breaker. Royal’s catcher Owen Crouse was chosen as game MVP, throwing out baserunners from Ridge Meadows and bringing a spark to a much defeated looking Royals squad.

Sunday morning the Royals played their semi-final matchup against Ladner. Unfortunately the Royals boys came up against a pitcher who was on his game, and shut down the Royals at the plate. The game ended in an unfortunate 7-0 loss, placing them in the bronze medal game. Game MVP went to pitcher Brett Wildeman for his solid pitching performance.

In the bronze medal game, the Royals met a familiar opponent in the Gordon Head Heat. In a game full of homeruns and great defence, the fans all gathered to watch as the two teams provided an action packed final that was much more exciting than the lopsided final being played on the other diamond. Underhill saw the start, and then Jayden Smith came in to relieve in the third and finish the game. The Royals led the entire game, but Gordon Head made it close and pulled to within one run in the bottom of the sixth with two homeruns. After finally making the third out, the Royals came to bat in the top of the seventh, where batter Matt O’Reilly was hit by a pitch, putting him on first. He stole second, and then watched as the next batter, Smith, launched a shot over the fence in right-centre field for a two-run homer, giving himself a little insurance as he took to the mound for the last half inning. After the Royals made two outs, the next batter hit a linebacker to Smith, who threw him out at first, securing the win and making the North Island Royals the third best team in the province.

This capped off a remarkable season that saw them finish with a 21-3 regular season record, two tournament championship wins and a 3-3 record at provincials.

The Royals and coaching staff thank all of their supporters and parents for all their work and efforts for the team this year.