ANTIGONISH, N.S. - ‘Go A’s Go.’
That chant could be helpful for Antigonish’s U-16 softball team as they host the Eastern Canadian Championships, Aug. 16 to 19, at the diamonds beside Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School, on Braemore Avenue in Antigonish.
The head coach of the Antigonish A’s is veteran player and coach Richie Connors who described his squad as “predominately” from Antigonish town and county.
“We have one kid from Guysborough and another from Waycobah First Nation,” Connors said, noting a couple of players from just outside the area.
The team has played exhibition games against teams from East Hants and Memramcook, N.B. to prepare for the tournament. Connors noted each team hosted a two-day event where they would play double-headers, one against each opponent.
“We also competed in a tournament in Fredericton leading up to the event,” he said, adding the team’s play has been “up and down” with roster depth being a factor.
“When we have a full [line-up], we’re very competitive against those teams,” he said.
“When we are missing some key bodies, not so much; but we’ll be somewhere right in the mix come the end of the tournament, for sure, because we will have all bodies on board.”
As for keys to success in the tournament, Connors pointed to a couple of factors which always play a critical role in high-end softball; pitching and defence.
“Anytime you start giving teams more than 21 outs in a game, you get into trouble,” he said. “So just trying to minimize those errors; playing error-free ball.”
While the A’s are quite familiar with their New Brunswick opponent, the same can’t be said about the two teams from Ontario and one from Newfoundland and Labrador which will be in Antigonish for the event. There is also an unknown from Nova Scotia with Eskasoni First Nation being represented in the tournament.
“They came into the fold a little later in the summer,” Connors said, adding he hopes to get in a couple of exhibition games against that team prior to the Eastern Canadians.
Connors said there will be recognition of the local team which won the event, the last time Antigonish hosted.
“I believe it was 1994,” Connors said. “We’re going to have some former coaches take part in the opening ceremonies, with Lauchie MacIsaac being the coach of that team.
“It was a great event … players who played in it still talk and reminisce about it today.”
Connors added that Mark Quinn, Team Canada Men’s National Junior team assistant coach, will be taking part in the tournament’s opening banquet and sticking around to catch some of the action.
“It’s double-whammy for him; he will speak at the banquet but, also, see some of the next group of kids they’ll be looking at for their junior men’s national team,” Connors said, noting Quinn is from P.E.I.
“He is planning on taking the time to come and watch some games for that purpose – to identify athletes. It will be neat to have him around.”
Seeing the up-and-coming softball talent is also a great opportunity for local spectators.
“It’s a good chance for fans to get out and see who the future softball players are in the local community,” he said. “Antigonish and Guysborough have, typically, punched out high caliber athletes in the sport and this is sort of the next wave of them coming.”