Last Tuesday, a few hours before his team was slated to begin play at the Canada Cup, Canadian national team head coach Mark Smith told a small group of media members that his squad had a very simple goal for the week ahead.
“Win the tournament.”
On Sunday night in Surrey, Team Canada claimed top spot in the tournament’s women’s division with a 3-0 victory over Triple Crown, a talented Colorado-based club team that had gotten the better of the Canadians twice earlier in the tournament – both by 4-3 scores.
It had been more than 20 years since the Canadian national team stood atop the Canada Cup podium – the team last won the event in 1996.
In recent years, the tournament – and it’s Canadian Open counterpart, which ran in its place from 2010 until 2015 – had been dominated by national teams like Japan. This year, however, softball powers such Japan, the U.S. and Australia chose to stay home and prepare for world championships, which are a set for Chiba, Japan in early August.
Against Triple Crown Sunday, Team Canada – the de facto host team of the women’s division, especially considering the number of local players on the roster – was powered offensively by Kelsey Jenkins, Surrey’s Holly Speers and Maple Ridge’s Larissa Franklin, each of whom had doubles in the win.
Karissa Hovinga got the start in the pitcher’s circle for Canada, and allowed just five runs over seven innings, while striking out two.
Canada advanced to the championship game after a 7-2 victory Saturday night against the New Zealand White Sox.
In that game, pitchers Jenna Caira and Danielle Lawrie-Locke split duties in the circle, striking out a combined nine batters. Speers led the offence with a home run, and finished the week with a tournament-best five.
The lack of traditional Canada Cup participants in the women’s division did little to diminish Team Canada’s run at the title Sunday. In fact, Smith said earlier in the week that his players have started realize that they are a powerhouse team themselves, and are a team to be feared, just as Japan and the USA have traditionally been.
“The mindset for us is that we’re among the elite in the world and we need to adopt that mindset a little more often,” he said.
“Certainly the level of intensity and level of enthusiasm we’ve seen out of this group is a little bit different than in the past.”
The national team is now off to Japan for training in advance of the Women’s World Softball Championship. The first-place finisher in that event will be awarded direct entry into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics without having to pass through qualifiers.
The tournament featured 91 teams across five divisions. In the two youth divisions that also wrapped up Sunday, the White Rock Renegades ‘99 won the Futures Gold (U18) crown with a 4-3 win over Chinese Taipei, while the Showcase Gold (U16) title was won by Japan’s national youth team, which defeated White Rock Renegades ‘02 by a 5-1 score.
“The calibre of play has been excellent, the fans have been great, the sponsors stepped up and the volunteers have gone above and beyond, to make this a wonderful experience for everyone who has been involved,” said Canada Cup chair Greg Timm.
Timm also announced on the weekend that Canada Cup organizers would be bidding for the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s Americas qualifier tournament, which is scheduled for 2019 and, like the world championships this summer, will send top teams to the 2020 Olympics.
Should the bid be successful, the tournament would be staged at Softball City in South Surrey, Timm said. In 2016, Canada Cup organizers hosted the 2016 Women’s World Softball Championships. Team USA won that tournament, beating Japan in the final. Canada placed third.