A pair of players from Prince Edward County have helped the Napanee Express climb to the top of Canada’s softball world.
Catcher Nic McGrayne and third baseman Aiden Reddick both played virtually the entire 2019 Softball Canada U16 Boys National Championships for wining the Express entry who topped the East Hants, Nova Scotia Mastadons 6-1 in Sunday’s final.
For a starry squad that’s been preparing for the national stage since February, it was mission accomplished for the entry sponsored by Spuds Restaurant and wearing those trademark red Napanee Express sweaters.
“It feels pretty amazing, it’s been something we’ve been aiming for all year and it’s going to be something I’ll remember my whole life,” McGrayne told the Gazette Monday via telephone while waiting for a connecting flight at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg. “We started down this road in the gym and after all the effort we’ve put into the process and getting everything out of it, it was surreal to be on the diamond and celebrating a national championship.”
Reddick and McGrayne, whose fathers Calvin and Bob were fastball players of note during their time playing OASA for Prince Edward County entries, share a special bond and carried that county legacy with them onto the national stage.
Even though minor rep softball isn’t played locally anymore, there’s no denying the bloodlines are evident today and everyone that still hangs around the softball diamond in Picton or elsewhere can speak well and feel some civic pride in connection these two outstanding Prince Edward County athletes who were so instrumental in Napanee’s national title bid.
“It’s great to have one of my best friends there being a part of this together, he’s the best teammate possible and we have that special bond of both being from the County,” McGrayne said of his teammate.
Travelling by car and reached just outside Winnipeg, MB Monday, Reddick said it was an amazing feeling when the final out was recorded and he and McGrayne embraced in the throes of ultimate victory.
“A lot of hard work was put into this season and it was emotional when it was over but I’m already looking forward to next year,” Reddick told the Gazette. “It was awesome to have Nic as a teammate and experince all of this together with one of my best friends.”
The Express went 8-1 at the Softball Canada championship tournament in Saskatoon, SK this weekend, their only setback coming in a meaningless round robin game to the Shallow Lake Sting after the Napanee entry had punched their ticket to the championship round.
On Saturday with their title hopes on the line, the Ontario champs would see their challengers from Simcoe, ON take a 1-0 lead through four complete innings.
But the Braves were in for a rude awakening in the top of the fifth as the Express would score all six of their runs in a 6-1 victory.
After the first Napanee batter would reach base, McGryane dropped a single in to put runners at second and first with no one out.
McGrayne would come around to score Napanee’s go ahead run on a Tyler Branchard triple.
Later in the inning, Reddick would smash a double to left field and would score an insurance run on Gavin Brooks’ triple.
Overall, Reddick led the Express at the plate with a pair of hits.
Express hurler Conner Brooks would go on to fan four of the final nine batters he faced as Napanee advanced to a rematch with the Sting on Saturday afternoon.
The Express jumped on Shallow Lake in the top of the first, scoring a pair and, even though the Sting would answer with a solo run in the bottom half, Napanee was more than equal to the task, scoring seven more runs to force the game into the mercy rule at 9-1 after five complete innings.
McGrayne had a run scoring double in the onslaught while Reddick, batting seventh, went 2-for-3 including a massive moon shot home run to centre field to lead off the top of the fifth inning.
In Sunday’s final against East Hants (A municipality of around 22,000 located in the centre of the triangle between Halifax, Windsor and Turo), Reddick continued to pulverize the ball.
Up 4-0 after two complete innings, the Sophiasburgh native crushed a dagger double to centre field in the third, driving in a pair to make it a 6-0 spread for the homeside Express.
As he cruised into second base, Reddick felt confident he had just put the Express ahead to stay in the most important game of season.
“Those were two important runs there that made sure Conner could take over and do his thing,” Reddick said.
Overall among the Express players that played in all nine games in Saskatoon, Reddick, a first year U16 player, led the club in batting with a .458 avg.
“I tried not to think at all when I was in the batters box and just tried to hit the ball back up the middle and do my best,” Reddick said. “I was approaching it by just trying to be the best hitter I can be.”
Conner Brooks would go on to fan 14 in the gold medal game and a single run in the top half of the seventh would be the only blemish for the tournament’s top pitcher.
In total, McGrayne would catch 53 of 56 innings for the Express, surrendering just four passed balls while giving up only three stolen bases and nailing a pair of base runners attempting to steal as well as picking off a pair of runners.
While adding sparkling defence behind the plate and calling the game for Conner Brooks, McGrayne added some punch at the plate, hitting a cool .348.
“Conner was on fire, he didn’t let anything get to him, he just fired heat all tournament and we weren’t letting anything get in our way,” McGrayne said.
The County native will now wait to find out if he and Brooks will be part of the U16 Team Canada entry that will travel to Guatemala and New Zealand this winter to take part in a pair of international youth softball championships
The team will be announced Aug. 15th.
While being a first year player might leave Reddick on the outside looking in for 2020, a highly successful nationals in Saskatoon will serve notice to Team Canada organizers for the 2021 club that the PECI student is ready to stake a claim to the starting third base position.
“Team Ontario, Team Canada…These are things I’m aiming for,” Reddick added.