By Mike Albanese, TSB Staff
The Ontario Blue Jays U16 baseball club defeated the San Gabriel Valley Arsenal twice Sunday afternoon at Al Alford Field to claim the Mickey Mantle World Series Championship.
“It’s kind of surreal …we just know how tough it is,” Blue Jays manager Sean Travers said following the championship victory. “The whole season was just a grind. It feels great —feels like a bit of relief, too.”
Gloves and hats flew in the air following the final out, and as the Blue Jays lined up for the award ceremony, several of the Ontario players held the Canadian National Flag high in the air.
The journey to the Mickey Mantle World Series Championship was a long and winding road for the Ontario-based club.
The Blue Jays were the final team to qualify for the tournament, clinching the North Atlantic Regional crown the Saturday before the Mickey Mantle World Series, then turn around and make the 24-hour drive from Canada to Texas.
“It was quick, it was real quick turnaround…it was grind, it just shows how tough these kids are mentally,” Travers said.
Along with facing talented ball clubs, Travers’ players had to battle triple-digit heat and scorching temperatures through the week. The temperature Sunday topped out at 100 degrees, and effected both squads, leading to one of the San Gabriel Valley players to leave the game due to heat-related effects.
Travers said his squad usually makes trips down to Memphis and other Southern States, so the heat usually isn’t a factor. This year, however, those cities didn’t receive the hot weather like they faced in McKinney over the past week.
To deal with the heat, he said his squad used a product called “Instant Chill,” which is a solution that keeps towels and rags cool when mixed with the solution.
Ontario faced a must-win game situation in the first game Sunday, needing a win to force the winner-take-all matchup.
Game one was a back and forth affair, but the late innings brought fireworks. Following San Gabriel Valley’s four-run fourth, the team from north of the border responded with a four-run inning of their own, tying the score at 4-4 heading into the sixth.
After a RBI flyout in the bottom of the sixth by San Gabriel Valley’s Jordan Myrow, the Ontario Blue Jays were down to their final out with catcher Tony Hrynkiw at bat.
With his team down 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh, Travers had a final simple message for his club – score runs.
“I just said to the guys before the inning, ‘What are you going to do? Either we score runs or it’s over,’ ” he said. “They’ve been fighting, they’ve been fighting for the last two weekends…they just got it done.”
Hrynkiw, however, would send the Blue Jays dugout and fan base into euphoria with a quick swing of the bat, driving a pitch off the top of the left-field wall for a two-run home run, giving Ontario the 6-5 victory.
Hrynkiw said walking up to the plate in the seventh he was looking to just make solid contact and “do my job.”
“It’s just unbelievable,” Hrynkiw said of his two-run homer in the seventh.
Still flying high from their dramatic game-one victory, the Blue Jays took the field 35 minutes later with the Mickey Mantle World Series on the line.
The Blue Jays fell behind 1-0 in the first, but exploded for four runs in the next two innings to take a 4-1 lead.
The Arsenal, however, would continue to fight, bringing two runs across in the third to narrow the score to 4-3.
Ontario edged further ahead of San Gabriel Valley in their half of third after a bases clearing triple by Greg Carrington, Ontario brought in hard-throwing reliever R.J. Freure to close things out.f
Ater pitching five shutout innings Saturday, Travers wasn’t sure how much his reliever had left in the tank.
It’s safe to say his gamble paid off.
“R.J. was unbelievable. Guy goes five innings yesterday, what does he have today, he didn’t have anything left physically that was just all heart,” Travers said. “He just went at guys and left everything on the field – just an unbelievable performance.”
It was evident Freure was laboring on the mound in the fifth, but was able to work his way out of jams and battle through tough innings.
The Arsenal’s Jake Hirabayshi tagged Freure for two-run blast to left in the fifth to close the gap to 7-5.
Freure, however, rebounded and came out onto the mound for the seventh determined to finish the game. After a leadoff walk, he induced a double play, and a fly ball to left was caught to seal the championship.