Heat wins Western Canada title

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Jason Wright of British Columbia pitches for the Hay River Heat in the final game of the 2016 Western Canadian Masters Fastpitch Championships.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Jason Wright of British Columbia pitches for the Hay River Heat in the final game of the 2016 Western Canadian Masters Fastpitch Championships.

The Hay River Heat can now claim the title of the best masters fastpitch team in all of Western Canada.

That’s because the Heat won the 2016 Western Canadian Masters Fastpitch Championships over the weekend in Hay River.

The final game saw the Heat dominate the CJC Peace Country Masters from Alberta by a score of 14-1 to claim the title.

“It was certainly our top goal for the year,” said Glenn Smith, the captain of the Heat, just after the championship game on July 31. “We recognized well in advance that we would be entering the tournament, of course, as the host. We put a lot of effort into it. We started training even into the spring here in the gym. We played a few tournaments this year all preparing for this.”

There’s no bigger goal in the Western Canadian Softball Association for the masters’ age level, said Smith.

“So it’s awesome,” he said of the win by the Heat, noting the team had never before won at such a level.

“It’s a significant level for sure, even though we didn’t get all the teams from Western Canada up here,” he said. “It’s a big win for us. We won territorial championships but this is certainly a bigger step up than that.”

It was the first time the annual event was held in Hay River.

The tournament from July 28 to 31 attracted four teams – two from the NWT and two from Alberta.

Heather Coakwell, one of the two co-chairs of the organizing committee, said it had originally been hoped that two teams from Saskatchewan, two from Alberta and two or three from the NWT would participate in the tournament.

“So we were looking at six or seven teams,” she said.

However, a team from Saskatchewan decided not to attend close to the tournament, claiming farming duties and injuries.

“We had Saskatchewan drop out late in the game there, a week before,” said Kelsey Gill, the other co-chair of the organizing committee. “So that really kind of set us back. We weren’t sure if we were even going to have it but the teams that showed up were some of the nicest people I’ve had the honour of meeting.”

Once Saskatchewan dropped out, the co-chairs said, the question became whether the teams from Alberta would travel north for a four-team tournament.

The two Alberta teams – the CJC Peace Country Masters and the North East Selects – did come to Hay River.

They made the tournament, said Gill. “We’re really grateful that they got here.”

The other NWT team was the Yellowknife Merchants.

Both Coakwell and Gill describe the championships as a success, despite the lower than expected number of teams.

“Especially since the Heat won,” said Gill with a laugh.

The event is for men 40 years of age and above, although those age restrictions are eased to 35 in areas such as the NWT, where there are not as many players.

The tournament was organized by a committee made up of all women, with Smith as an advisor.

Under the rules of the championships, a person can’t be affiliated with a team and run the tournament.

“Certainly our host committee did an awesome job,” said Smith.

Fastpitch is different from the slo-pitch form of softball. Most notably there is windmill pitching, the field is smaller, the bases are closer together, and players can steal bases.

–Paul Bickford