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This article was published 13/8/2017 (1530 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The first thing that hits you at the Canada Summer Games girls’ softball games is the realization these aren’t girls. They’re women. They’re high-performance athletes.
Most are on scholarships with universities in Canada and the United States.
In fact, with softball back on the roster for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, making the national team is a goal for all the players competing in Winnipeg at the Summer Games. A lot of Olympians are Games alumni, after all, so it should come as no surprise the Canada Games are a point of elevation for competitors.
With regard to standings Saturday, British Columbia came up from behind to overtake Ontario and win the right to play for the gold in the final match Sunday, the final day of the games.
Manitoba matched up with New Brunswick to decide who would take 5th place. Second, third and fourth were still to be determined Saturday afternoon and evening but Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario were competing for the right to take on B.C for gold. The loser in the final game Saturday would take bronze.
It’s worth mentioning with the exception of one or two players who are 19, these women are all 20 to 21 years old, and each can claim a decade, likely more, of gruelling disciplined daily practice for the techniques they showcased on the diamonds in Winnipeg.
So Saturday at the John Blumberg Sport Complex, watching the girls’ softball games was more like peeking into a complicated choreography than merely a competition of skill with a ball and bat.
Observers call softball a "cool sport", partly for that reason.
Under a hot noon day sun, the two top teams, B.C. and Ontario, stepped on to the diamond, loosened up their shoulders and kept about 150 cheering drum-beating fans glued to a combination of brute force matched with elegance in motion.
B.C. won the game, 3-1.
"I don’t think we were expecting anything less. We came here to win and we did our job today. I’m excited," said a supremely upbeat Taylor Lundrigan, a 20-year-old on scholarship with Simon Fraser University in Burnaby B.C.
Lundrigan said her tensest moments came at bat. She was the B.C. player at bat each time B.C. scored and it was her job to get the players around the bases and home to score.
I just had to get it done. I think we knew we had to come out big. Ontario is a strong team and we’d lost to them," she said.
B.C. faces Alberta for gold today after Alberta beat Ontario 7-1 in the semifinal Saturday afternoon.
And so it went on the second to last day as the two-week long Canada Summer Games wind down to a final wrap.
By the numbers, the 2017 Canada Summer Games can claim a feat of organization.
There were 16 sports on display, 250 separate events with teams from every province and territory, and a major cultural festival. Just counting the athletes and coaches, there were 4,000 participants. Another 20,000 came to Winnipeg as spectators.
Perhaps the intensity, technique and sportsmanship the softball games Saturday will be remembered for most, not their aspirations.
"I love a nail-biter. B.C. had some pretty good wins but this one was close. As a parent (in the stands) it would be tense but as a spectator it was awesome," said Winnipegger Sylvia Barnes, who’s hosting old friends from B.C. who are the parents of a member of the B.C. team.
Under a cloudless sky and bright noon-day sun, the play was crisp, clean and fast. At high noon, there were no shadows to make players second guess themselves.
Like baseball, this game is an elegant sport, best watched up close, it’s series of practised deliberate motions set off against shows of sheer, brute force.
There’s the crack of a bat, the thump of a ball in a mitt. Fans in the stands punctuate the symphony with drums and noisemakers.
Ontario’s Taylor Robblee is 5-4, a half-foot smaller than many of her rival pitchers, some of whom stand six feet tall. At 20, her quick pitch is nothing short of exquisite, a long fast arc stretching out from shoulder to finger. She’s on scholarship at California University in Pennsylvania.
Teammate Courtney Gilbert is quick to offer the kind of comment coaches adore and fans look for from winners and losers in any sports competition.
"To fight and to come back for a lead is a great learning opportunity. We’ll dig a little bit deeper in the next few games and fight for it a little bit more," Gilbert said..
At 20, she’s on scholarship to the University of Detroit Mercy. She’s also part of the pool for Canada’s national team in 2019.
Apart from the beauty of movement and the genuine camaraderie of team competition, these two share special bond rarely found at elite levels of sport, amateur or professional: Gilbert and Robblee have been playing together since they were eight years old.
"We’re still there after all these years," Robblee said.
"It’s a comforting feeling to turn to somebody you’ve been with your whole life and know how you play. And you know you have each other’s backs," Gilbert said.
"When I’m on the mound and I need a pick-me-up, I look straight to her. Then it’s like ‘Everything’s fine. Pitch the ball,’" Robblee said.