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Tillsonburg Major Rookie Otters win OBA championship

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Tillsonburg’s Major Rookie Otters won the 2013 OBA C baseball championships.

“We went 7-0,” said Duane Harris, coach of the Major Rookie Otters. “It was a good weekend – a long weekend.”

Games started in Leamington Friday night against LDBA league rival Ingersoll.

“The kids were a little bit anxious, a little bit excited,” said Harris.

The Otters settled in, however, and won the opener 11-3 in five innings.

Saturday, the Otters took control of the double knockout tournament winning three more.

“If you can win a couple Saturdays, you’re in pretty good shape. We won all three, but they were tough games. It was a long day for young kids.”

As the only team still without a loss, they were in a good position going into Sunday’s semifinals. Any other team would have to beat them twice in the finals.

“As long as won our morning game, which we did in six innings.”

Tillsonburg defeated Wyoming, while Essex County rivals Essex and host Leamington met in the other semifinal. Leamington advanced to the final, and the Otters prevailed in Sunday’s championship game 10-5.

“It was a good weekend,” Harris nodded. “The last one was a great game. It was the host team, lots of people there.”

The key for the whole weekend, he said, was great defence.

“For nine-year-olds, they’re unbelievable in the field. Our hitting was pretty good all weekend. Over the weekend, kids get tired and bats come-and-go, but defensively… that won us the tournament. We were far and away the best defensive team there, and in the final that was the difference.”

Tillsonburg jumped out front early against Leamington with some key early hits.

“Defensively, we had two plays at home throwing players out who were trying to score. We also threw a guy out at third.”

Leamington, however, battled to the final out.

“They scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and had bases loaded with one out. They were threatening… and the kids knew what was at stake. OBA championship, bottom of the seventh… you’re two outs from winning it all. We got a little bit ‘tight’ but rallied to make back-to-back outs to end it.

“It was pretty exciting!”

The team worked hard all year, he said, and only lost a couple games all season.

The season started with a great tournament in Woodstock, losing out to Brantford in the final.

“We had mercied them earlier in the tournament. We built a big lead in the final, and the kids got an early lesson how to play baseball for seven innings. Brantford came back and beat us in the bottom of the seventh.

“I think the kids kind of had their eyes opened – they can’t just show up and think other teams are going to ‘go away.’”

A few weeks later in June they went undefeated winning Brantford’s major rookie tournament.

Their next tournament was the 10-team league (LDBA) double knockout tournament the week before the Labour Day Weekend OBA championships.

“I think we hit a bit of an end-of-season funk,” said Harris, noting the defence was still quite good, but they didn’t have the bats.

“We went into Sunday undefeated, but lost to Strathroy. We had come off a really big win in the morning against Ingersoll. We were down 11-0 and came back to win 20-18. But they really struggled against Strathroy, lost 6-3.”

That meant a back-to-back game against Strathroy, which they won 9-1 to qualify for the finals. But they couldn’t play four games in one day, however, and scheduled the championship game against Sarnia.

“Sarnia was the only team to beat us all year in the regular season, 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh.”

Playing Tuesday, Sarnia took an 11-1 lead in the league final. Tillsonburg, the regular season champs, roared back in the fifth and sixth innings scoring seven runs.

Down by four in the bottom of the seventh, the Otters’ bats came up dry.

“They fought hard, but they were a little bit flat. And I think they weren’t real happy about it,” he laughed, “because when we went to OBA they really showed up and played some super baseball.”

It was a grind, he said, playing that many games in hot late-summer conditions.

“Stifling hot.”

Last year, playing as a minor rookie team in a major rookie league, they “took some lumps.” This year, the experience paid off.

“We had 10 of 12 kids back from that team this year. They were really experienced, really strong.”

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