Toronto Star

Canada shows a little extra to upset U.S.

Canadians explode for four in eighth after Groenewege­n shuts down the favourties

- MARK ZWOLINSKI SPORTS REPORTER

It started with a simple hashtag on twitter. Canada’s gold-medal women’s softball team scripted a rallying cry: #fearthelea­f.

They floated it earlier last week as a way of getting the team to focus on themselves as the best team at the Pan Am Games, and it worked magically.

Canada’s women defied the odds, beating the powerhouse United States 4-2 in extra innings Sunday in Ajax to capture the gold medal.

“I think this gold means we can beat anyone in the world,” said pitcher Sara Groenewege­n. “Canada’s been ranked three and four for a while but we’ve been saying, ‘Fear the leaf.’ We put out a hashtag this week, so now you need to fear the leaf.”

Groenewege­n, niece to former Toronto Argos lineman Leo Groenewege­n, turned in the most thrilling performanc­e of the Pan Am tournament, working all eight innings in blistering heat and outduellin­g the favoured Americans, who used their three top pitchers in what was a scoreless battle through the regulation seven innings.

Scarboroug­h’s Joey Lye got a fourrun eighth going with a two-run single, while Erika Polidori and Jennifer Salling chipped in with RBIs. But there were heroes all around, with centre fielder Larissa Franklin mak- ing two outstandin­g catches, one of them up against the fence, and third baseman Megan Timpf one-handing a drag bunt for a key out.

“It was the best game we played all week, and Larissa, what can I say, I went up to her and said, ‘I owe you big time, a Starbucks or something,’ ” Groenewege­n said.

Groenewege­n is normally the closer for Canada but she started the final game with ace Jenna Caira nursing a sore shoulder after pitching most of the innings Canada played.

This game was tense and nerve wracking, with about 4,000 fans screaming themselves hoarse and singing O Canada as proudly as ever when the Canadian flag was raised after the win. When Pan Am games go to extra innings, teams start each half inning with a runner on second base. That encourages a quick tiebreaker, and the Canadians caught a break when American shortstop Haylie McCleney lost a pop fly in the sun on the first batter of the inning for Canada.

That opened the door to the four runs, and left the crowd in a frenzy of cheering, fist pumping and tears.

Canada had not taken a gold medal from the U.S. in women’s softball in decades, the Canadian coaching staff said, but the message this week to the players echoed messages from Canadian coaching staffs across sports: Believe in yourselves, stick to the game plan, and just go for it.

The Canadians had lost 7-0 to the U.S. in preliminar­y play and 5-2 in the playoff round, but they rode the arm of Groenewege­n in the final.

“It’s just her confidence,” Lye said. “We call her the Swaggin’ Wagon. She just had that attitude that I’m going to take you down, and she did it, and we all fed off it.”

They saluted their fans with their gold medals afterward, then stopped by the pitcher’s circle, digging to find a loonie near the pitching rubber, and a toonie buried at home plate by the local grounds crew.

“We had no idea,” Lye said. “But we found it.”

 ?? BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR ?? Canada scored four runs in the top of the eighth, then held on to beat the U.S. 4-2 in the gold-medal softball game.
BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR Canada scored four runs in the top of the eighth, then held on to beat the U.S. 4-2 in the gold-medal softball game.

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