NORTH Vancouver's week-long baseball showcase ended with blue skies and a blowout as B.C. champs Langley topped Quebec's Valleyfield 11-0 in the final of the Canadian Little League Championship Saturday at Chris Zuehlke Memorial Park.
Many of the nations top 11-, 12-and 13-year-old ballplayers battled it out over eight days and in the end the anticlimactic final didn't bother the Langley Little Leaguers one bit as they punched their ticket to the famous Little League World Series which begins tomorrow in Williamsport, Pa.
Pitcher Yi Fan Pan threw four innings of one-hit ball, striking out six Quebec batters without issuing a walk while the Langley offence piled on the runs to reach the Mercy Rule by the middle of the fourth inning - any Little League game with a score difference bigger than 10 after four innings is called due to the Mercy Rule.
"When our bats are working we're a tough team because of our defence - we don't make errors and our pitchers are great," said Langley head coach Jason Andrew.
Trevor Alcos went 2-2 at the plate with one run scored and three batted in, Pan went 1-2 with two RBIs while his twin brother Yi An Pan was 2-3 with a run and an RBI.
Cleanup hitter Cole Cantelon scored the decisive blow, blasting a two-run homer as part of a seven-run outburst in the bottom of the second.
"I like to contribute as much
as I can to the team," Cantelon humbly said after the game, adding that it hadn't really sunk in yet that he and his teammates needed to get up at 3 a.m. the following morning to begin their trek to Williamsport.
"I don't really know what to say. . . . It's exciting, we get to face the best. It's what we wanted, we've reached our goal, Williamsport, and we're just going to have fun."
Fans, numbering in the thousands for the tournament's playoff games, filled every bleacher seat around the ballpark for the final and were standing five-deep around the fence. It all made for an amazing week of baseball with a great conclusion, said Cantelon.
"It's been great. This is a beautiful park and having a lot of people show up for the games is kind of nerve-wracking but we're going to have to get used to it, especially in Williamsport."
Langley made the final with a thrilling 2-1 win over the host team, North Vancouver's Mount Seymour, in a semifinal matchup Friday night while Quebec scored the upset of the tournament in their semi, edging previously undefeated Ontario 4-3 to book their spot in the championship game. The Valleyfield crew - including Justine Faubert, the only girl in the tournament - ran out of miracles on Saturday.
With the win Langley became the seventh consecutive B.C. team to take the national title and the 21st overall, the most in tournament history. Quebec is second with 13 total wins.
Coach Andrew said that although no Canadian team has ever won the Little League World Series, his Langley crew will be going there with that goal in mind.
"We're going there to win. We're not going there with the attitude of just being happy to be there. We're going there to get it done and represent Canada as best we can."
With intense media scrutiny, including games broadcast live on ESPN and TSN, the tournament can be an intimidating experience for the players but Andrew said his boys should be ready to handle it.
"This is an all-business team. They don't panic, they don't get up, don't get down," he said. "This team of 12-year-olds has a more professional approach than some of the 18-year-old teams I've coached in the past."
The tournament's closing ceremony was the end of a long chapter for Wayne Hobson, the tournament director who was the driving force behind the event for the past two years.
"The setting that we've had here, the backdrop of the mountains - everybody has really enjoyed themselves from what I've been hearing," he told the North Shore News, noting that even the horrible weather of summer 2011 disappeared throughout the tournament, leaving only days of warm breezes and sunny skies. "I think somebody blessed us a little bit on this one. . . . I used to say it never rains on my parade, but this was just luck."
The game is moving on but North Vancouver will be left with a much-improved facility at Chris Zuehlke Memorial Park thanks in part to funding from the federal government's infrastructure program as well as from the City of North Vancouver.
On Saturday many of the core group of 50 volunteers who worked throughout the tournament were already taking down some of the temporary structures, making Hobson a little misty-eyed.
"I won't be here to watch that," he said with a little laugh. "It's kind of sad it is over. It's been a good run."