BROOKFIELD, N.S. – It’s one thing to win a championship. Quite another to defend it.
The East Hants Mastodons, however, appear up for the challenge.
The Mastodons enter next week’s 10-team Canadian men’s fastpitch tournament in St. Croix, Hants County as reigning champs after winning Nova Scotia’s third national title in the long history of the event last year in Saskatoon.
“Every team is going to be strong; every team is loaded with good players,” said Mastodons assistant coach Mike Wood, of Stewiacke.
“You look up and down the lineups of these teams, these are the best players that our country has to offer. It won’t be easy, but make no mistake, we have a very good team as well and we’re going to go out and do what we can to get there and play on (championship) Sunday.”
The core of the East Hants team remains the same with a strong pitching staff that includes anchor Justin Schofield – last year’s playoff round MVP. Donnelly Archibald, an all-star at the 2017 event, and Travis Nevin will also toe the rubber for the hosts. Shortstop Nick Shailes and outfielder Mark Johnson, both members of Hill United of Ontario, are import pickups for the Mastodons, who open the tournament on Wednesday at 11 a.m. against B.C.’s Sooke Loggers.
“I kind of feel we are a very well-rounded team,” Wood said. “We don’t rely on scoring a lot of runs, but we can; we don’t rely on our pitchers to shut teams down, but they can. We have great pitching and we have some of the best hitters in the country on our team, so for me the fact that we are very well rounded and talented in every aspect of the game is going to help us. It makes it so that we don’t rely on one thing.”
Nova Scotia is hosting the tournament for the third time in the past 20 years with previous national championships being played in St. Croix in 1998 and 2004. Wood said playing at home is special for players, and provides obvious advantages.
“I’m excited to see what our fans and the people that support our game are going to do when we get there. There will be a lot of people there and the vast majority of them will be pulling for us. Having our families involved and having them close is definitely special and we’re just down the road from home, so it will be fun to play against the rest of the country on the fields that we play on through the weeks here.”
East Hants Mastodons assistant coach Mike Wood.
Most of the Mastodons’ roster is comprised of athletes who play during the summer on different teams in the six-team Shooters fastpitch league. Wood said despite not being together on a full-time basis, the Mastodons benefit from the high caliber of ball that’s played in the league.
“The main thing is that our league is no slouch, and every night you see quality players to play against and quality pitching,” he said.
“That’s the bigger part, playing good ball, and we’ll come together as we have in the past because the core group of this team has been together for quite some time now.”
Newfoundland’s Galway Hitmen enter the tournament as one of the favourites. The Hitmen won five straight national titles before losing last year’s championship game to the Mastodons.
The Mastodons have plenty of Colchester County flavour on their roster. Brookfield’s Patrick Stewart (first base) and Coby Crowell (outfield), along with Stewiacke’s Jay Duffy (second base) and Myles Coldwell (outfield) of Gays River are members of the team.
Elks players Archibald (Antigonish) and catcher Jason Sanford (Durham, Pictou County) are also on the East Hants squad, while Joel Isenor, who played junior hockey in Truro and is the current assistant coach of the Bearcats, patrols the outfield for the Mastodons.
East Hants is one of two Nova Scotia teams competing in the tournament. The other Bluenose entry is the Guysborough Transfer Broadhorns.
The championship runs Aug. 29 to Sept. 2.
Mastodons preliminary schedule
Wednesday, Aug. 29
11 a.m. vs. Sooke Loggers (B.C)
6:30 p.m. vs. Wiarton Nationals (Ont.)
Thursday, Aug. 30
12:30 p.m. vs. Bulyea Rustlers (Sask.)
9 p.m. vs. Saskatoon Angels
Friday, Aug 31
12:30 p.m. vs. Elmira Expos (Ont.)
9 p.m. vs. Summerside Eagles