Ga­tors ex­cel on na­tional, in­ter­na­tional fast­ball stage

Orleans Star - - LOCAL SPORTS - Dan PLOUFFE

Four Or­léans Ga­tors ju­nior men’s fast­ball play­ers have been mak­ing their mark on di­a­monds away from the east end on the pro­vin­cial, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional stage.

Kris­tian Knapp and Co­ryAlk­er­ton were mem­bers of Team On­tario for the July 7-12 Un­der-19 In­ter­na­tional Men’s Soft­ball Cham­pi­onship in Prince Ed­ward Is­land, while Joel Lang­ford and Chad Har­grove earned berths in the U23 na­tional cham­pi­onships with a team they play for out of St. Thomas, near Lon­don, Ont.

The paths the four Ga­tors took to get where they are have a few twists that are a bit ir­reg­u­lar in the sport­ing world. Knapp and Alk­er­ton both live in the Spencerville area and wound up play­ing for the Or­léans Midget team a cou­ple years ago since it was ac­tu­ally the clos­est com­pet­i­tive fast­ball team to their home­town.

Lang­ford and Har­grove are both much closer to the east end. For Har­grove, he fell into the sport when he was re­cruited by a fast­ball rep team coach while play­ing Or­léans Lit­tle League ball as an eight-year-old – the age when base­ball play­ers pitch with a sim­i­lar un­der-hand style as that em­ployed in fast­ball.

“It’s a faster pace than hard­ball – that’s why I play it,” Har­grove ex­plains. “Grow­ing up, it was mostly just be­cause my friends were do­ing it.”

Friend­ship ac­tu­ally be­came an im­por­tant tool to Har­grove’s fast­ball ca­reer since it was due to the game’s over­all sense of ca­ma­raderie that he landed with Fin­gal, the team he’s go­ing to na­tion­als with.

Since there wasn’t a squad from East­ern On­tario en­ter­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tion tour­na­ment, Fin­gal in­vited Har­grove along with Lang­ford to join their team. The pair has been play­ing dur­ing the week for the Ga­tors in the Greater Ottawa Fast­ball League and then trav­el­ing on most week­ends to tour­na­ments in south­ern On­tario with Fin­gal.

“It ended up be­ing a re­ally good fit,” Har­grove notes. “I made some re­ally good friends – I was ac­tu­ally out there the last two weeks just hang­ing out with them since I had some time off work.”

The Or­léans boys had quite a bit of fun on the July 4-5 week­end as they helped Fin­gal earn a berth in the Aug. 2-9 na­tional tour­na­ment in Owen Sound, where the team is gun­ning for a top-5 fin­ish, Har­grove says.

Har­grove pitched strongly in an open­ing win at the qual­i­fi­ca­tion event, while Lang­ford was the main of­fen­sive force with a sin­gle, dou­ble and triple dur­ing Fin­gal’s sec­ond victory. The crown­ing jewel of the week­end, how­ever, came in a 10-0 win over Na­pa­nee – the team that beat out Fin­gal for the fi­nal na­tional berth last year – when Har­grove pitched a no-hit­ter.

“That game didn’t ex­actly turn out the way I thought it would,” laughs Har­grove, who didn’t re­al­ize at first when the game ended that he ac­tu­ally threw a no-hit­ter.“I came off and asked,‘Did they get a hit?’ and every­one said, ‘Yeah, they must have,’ and then we found out they didn’t. It was great.”

Knapp and Alk­er­ton, mean­while, helped On­tario to a gold medal at the Soft­ball Canadaor­ga­nized event in PEI.

For Ga­tors coach Gary Har­grove, whose team owns a 5-9 record in league play, the suc­cess of his four play­ers doesn’t come as much of a sur­prise.

“They de­serve to be where they are based on their skill level,” he says. “They love the game, they play to their ut­most, and they’ve been rec­og­nized for that.”

Photo sup­plied

Or­léans Ga­tors player Chad Har­grove pitched a no-hit­ter dur­ing the tour­na­ment that qual­i­fied an­other team

he plays for out of St. Thomas for the na­tional cham­pi­onships.

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