Sports This Week - Fastball Olympic qualifier an intense game

Over the summer it was great to watch the Canadian Wild of Southern Illinois as they played their first season in National Pro Fastpitch.

The team was essentially the Canadian team preparing through the pro league to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

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Softball was dropped from the Olympic roster after 2008, with Canada missing the medals back then.

Back in the fold for 2020 the softball tourney in Tokyo will be an exclusive club with only six teams making the grade. Canada was determined to be among them and the season in the NPF was the prelude to that effort.

This past week a qualifying tournament to advance two teams to Tokyo was held in Surrey, B.C.

The Canadians, largely the Wild squad, went undefeated through the preliminary round, not allowing a run.

But, in the ‘super round’ they met Mexico with an Olympic berth on the line, and were held to three hits and one run, losing 3-1 including walking in a Mexican run.

That left the Canadians with one last chance, playing Brazil Sunday, needing a win to advance.

I was glued to the game on for the game, as I had been watching all the Canadian from Surrey online.

It was close early, but Canadian pitcher Danielle Lawrie, sister of former Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie kept the Brazilian bats in check, and the Canadians scored seven runs through five innings to force a mercy rule win and earn a spot in the Olympics. The Canucks will be joined by Mexico, the United States, Italy, host Japan and a team yet to qualify in Tokyo next summer.

Having watched a considerably amount of women’s fastball, including the U19 world championship earlier in August where Canada won bronze with a 5-4 win over Australia, I must say I have become a huge reaffirmed fan.

I grew up playing fastball, so have always had an appreciation for the sport, but watching it more again recently, I note it has maintained much of what used to make baseball interesting but has largely been lost. The steal is still huge in softball, as is the bunt, and because the diamond is smaller, 60-foot baselines, defence has to be crisp and quick.

It helps too that softball has instituted a 20-second pitch clock. It keeps the game moving with a cadence that is natural.

Frankly, I’d just as soon watch top softball as the Blue Jays these days.

That isn’t to suggest the Jays aren’t entertaining, at least offensively these days based on young stars such as Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero, but baseball has devolved to home runs, or nothing in this era, and frankly that is not that entertaining many days. I still watch most Jay’s games, but I am constantly jumping ahead 30-seconds in the DVR to speed things, or lost in a book, looking up only when something interesting happens.

The same day the Canadian team qualified for the Olympics, Justin Verlander no-hit the Jays, striking out 14, going the distance throwing 120 pitches. It was in many ways an anomaly in current baseball on so many levels, from the rarity of a no-hitter, to a pitcher going nine innings, and especially being allowed 120 pitches, all of course making the game compelling.

Sunday was also the Labour Day classic in Regina for our Roughriders. Cody Fajardo threw for 300-yards, and the ‘Riders won, 19-17, but it was not pretty, especially with Winnipeg without star running back Andrew Harris and starting QB Matt Nichols out they should have been primed for easy picking. The ‘Riders couldn’t get the traction to make it the lopsided win that on paper it seemed destined to be.

Saturday the teams meet again, and the game might be telling of just how good this edition of the Roughriders is.

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