St. Marys battled back to win 1988 provincial Eliminations, earned trip to nationals
By Pat Payton
St. Marys was a fastball hotbed back in the 1980s.
During that decade, there seemed to be a tournament down at Teddy’s Field every weekend of the summer . . . on every long weekend for sure. Games would run from early morning to midnight, and local fastball enthusiasts could never seem to get enough of the sport.
The summer of 1988 was a special memory for me. It’s one of five years I covered the Creamery Juniors fastball team — a team that would win the Provincial Eliminations and then the Canadian Junior Men’s championship in Lloydminster, Alta. to cap an unforgettable summer. Hard to believe it was 32 years ago!
That team (20 and under) was the best group of Junior fastball players I ever watched or reported on. To my knowledge, it’s the only St. Marys team–in any sport–to ever win a national championship.
At the helm was head coach Brian Dundas, with assistants John Urquhart and Richard Kennedy and manager Ron Marriott rounding out a solid coaching staff. The team’s offensive philosophy seemed to be: get a player on base and either steal second or bunt the runner into scoring position. It was a strategy that was very successful and often rattled opponents.
Deep, talented squad
Covering that team was simply fun; it wasn’t work to me. Not only were the Creamery Juniors a deep and talented 15-player squad, but it was also a team stocked with a bunch of fine young men.
After being finalists at the Provincial Eliminations in Ottawa the summer before, the OASA awarded the 1988 tournament to St. Marys and coach Dundas and company wanted to put the best team on the field that they possibly could. The mission was to win it this time!
During a competitive spring camp, coach Dundas admitted that picking the team was “very difficult.” A couple of players, who could easily play on most Junior teams, didn’t make the 15-player roster.
“This year, we had by far the most talent out,” Dundas said following tryouts. “We had 25 good ball players who should all be playing South Perth somewhere. The last three or four (cuts) were really, really tough.”
The pitching staff consisted of ace Paul Horenberg, Marc Cameron and Keith Traquair. Horenberg and Traquair, from Stratford, had spent the winter playing fastball in Canberra, Australia.
“I think depth-wise we should be strong this year, and I think pitching-wise we should be stronger,” Dundas noted.
Horenberg and Cameron were among nine returnees from the 1987 squad. The others were infielders Andy Gibb, Tony McEwan, Pete Bodenham, Scott Shackleton and Derek Switzer, and outfielders Doug Levy and Chris Turner.
In addition to Traquair, the other newcomers to crack the line-up were Midget-aged phenom Ron White, Dave Doyon, Paul Bushfield, Greg Snyder and Lonnie Loach.
Co-captains were veterans Horenberg and Bodenham, both in their final year of Junior ball.
Play 40 games before Eliminations
As tune-ups prior to the much-anticipated July tournament in St. Marys, the Creamery Juniors entered four out-of-town tournaments.
The Juniors won tourneys in Woodstock and Brodhagen and finished second in a 24-team event in Stratford. Including exhibition games, league play and tournaments, St. Marys went into the 15th annual Ontario Jr. Eliminations with a record of 31-9. Thirty-one teams entered the three-day provincial championship (July 8-10) and a total of five diamonds–including two in St. Pauls–were used to accommodate the 61 games.
The Creamery Juniors didn’t do it the easy way, but cheered on by huge and vocal fan support all weekend — they got the job done. A Game 2 defeat meant they couldn’t lose again in the double-knockout format. The maroon and gold met the challenge head on, reeling off eight consecutive wins–including five in a row on the Sunday–to claim the championship and earn the right to represent the province at the national tournament in Lloydminster in mid-August.
The Creamery Juniors’ opening game on the Friday night was against Inverary Indians from north of Kingston. Andy Gibb knocked in three runs, and Marc Cameron tossed a three-hitter and struck out 14 in a 5-2 St. Marys victory.
On Saturday morning in St. Pauls, an outstanding pitching duel emerged between Paul Horenberg and Rob Cameron of the Smith Falls Redmen–one of the pre-tourney favourites.
A two-out single in the top of the seventh inning gave Smith Falls a nail-biting 1-0 win. The host team left runners stranded at third base three times, including Lonnie Loach in the bottom of the seventh. Rob Cameron and Horenberg both threw four-hitters.
Snyder homers in 10th
On Saturday afternoon at the arena diamonds, Greg Synder emerged the hero for the Creamery Juniors. His two-run homer in the top of the 10th inning lifted the maroon and gold to a 3-1 victory over Acton.
The locals were expecting an easy game, but struggled at the plate, and were in danger of being eliminated. They mustered only one hit off Acton pitcher Wally Simmons over the first seven innings. Horenberg allowed just three hits over the final six innings for the win.
Just 45 minutes later, the Creamery squad was back in action at Teddy’s Field. A 7-4 St. Marys victory knocked the North Fredericksburg Kings from Napanee–the three-time defending champions–out of the tournament.
Gibb sparked a 13-hit attack with a solo homer and two-run triple. Doug Levy added three singles. Marc Cameron was the winning pitcher, with seventh-inning relief help from Horenberg.
Game ends at 3:10 a.m.
St. Marys’ final game on the Saturday night actually started at 1:10 a.m. Sunday morning due to earlier games falling behind schedule.
It ended at 3:10 a.m. when Stouffville (north of Markham) conceded the game in the top of the seventh. Gibb, Loach, Ron White, Pete Bodenham and Scott Shackleton rapped two hits apiece in an 8-1 win. On the mound, Cameron and reliever Keith Traquair combined for a two-hitter.
Early Sunday morning, White and Shackleton both smashed a home run and single to pace the Creamery Juniors past Caledonia, 6-1. Horenberg and Traquair teamed up for the pitching win, striking out 13.
The maroon and gold received a scare in their quarter-final game against Belleville. They were cruising along with a 6-0 lead when Belleville exploded for six runs in the top of the fifth to tie it. Consecutive singles by White, Levy and Gibb in the bottom of the seventh gave St. Marys a 7-6 victory.
Levy and Snyder each stroked three hits, while White contributed two hits, three RBI and scored twice. Horenberg, the last of three St. Marys pitchers, picked up the win.
A perfect game by Horenberg was the story in the semi-finals, a 7-0 mercy victory over Barrie. The hard-throwing righthander recorded 10 strikeouts and did not walk a batter in five innings.
Gibb’s three-run, first-inning homer proved to be all the offence the maroon and gold would need.
The only team standing between St. Marys and a provincial championship was the undefeated New Hamburg Reds. The final was no contest as Cameron and Horenberg pitched St. Marys to convincing 7-3 and 5-0 victories in front of a capacity crowd–estimated at over 1,500 fans. Many sat on bleachers just beyond the outfield fence at Teddy’s.
In the first game of the final late Sunday afternoon, the Creamery Juniors pounced on pitcher Trevor Jutzi for four first-inning runs. A three-run homer by Gibb and a solo shot by Shackleton did the damage. Cameron scattered seven hits and fanned nine in going the distance.
Horenberg almost perfect
St. Marys and New Hamburg sent their aces to the mound in the second and deciding game. Horenberg easily won the battle against Brad Honderich.
I will always remember the fans clapping in unison as Horenberg was one pitch away from another perfect game when Jutzi singled up the middle with two out in the seventh. He finished with 11 strikeouts.
“It was a heartbreaker, especially the way the crowd built it up for that one pitch,” Horenberg said afterwards. “But, still the feeling is unbelievable. I’ll remember (losing the perfect game) for a while, I’m sure, but I’ll remember the feeling after that final out, too.
“It was the best feeling I’ve ever felt. Just the support . . . everybody was behind you and you knew that. It was just an incredible feeling.
“Eight games in a row–not too many teams can do that. The guys stuck with it all the way and gave me support all the time. We had to work so hard as a team. But we just combined it all–the hitting and pitching–and came out the right way.”
Coach Dundas tipped his hat to their star pitcher. “Horney could have thrown all night the way he was pumped up,” he said.
Levy’s towering two-run homer in the first inning supplied all the offence the maroon and gold would need. Dave Doyon added three hits and Levy knocked in three runs.
(In next week’s Independent, look for Part 2 on the 1988 Creamery Juniors, who went on to capture the Canadian title in Lloydminster, Alta.)
1988 Junior Elimination fastball tournament notebook
Coach Brian Dundas described the Ontario tournament victory as a total team effort.
“Everybody contributed, all 15 guys,” Dundas said, his voice hoarse from leading his team all weekend. “(Sunday), it was the big hitters who came through, but (Saturday) it was the Chris Turners, Tony McEwans and Derek Switzers who came through for us.
“There’s a pile of winners on this team. There’s no losers; they’re all winners.”
–Dundas has been a member of several provincial championship teams in his life, both in hockey and fastball, but he rated his one right at the top.
“They’re all great, but this is the best one,” he said after the Creamery Juniors had swept New Hamburg 7-3 and 5-0 in the final. “It’s the one I’ve wanted the most. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so bad in sports in my life, never.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s a goal that we set a couple of years ago that we really wanted to get to. And now we’ve got it!”
–At the award ceremonies following the two-game final, co-captains Paul Horenberg and Pete Bodenham accepted the Ontario championship trophy on behalf of their teammates and coaches.
–The only individual award went to New Hamburg’s Brad Honderich, who received the top pitcher trophy.
–A most valuable player in the Eliminations was not selected. Had it been presented, it likely would have been a toss-up between Horenberg and Andy Gibb.
Horenberg finished the tourney with five wins, including two in relief. In 32 and two-thirds innings, the hard-throwing righthander allowed just one run and 10 hits, while striking out 50 batters. He picked up four wins on the final day.
Gibb batted .342, knocked in 12 runs, had six extra-base hits, and scored eight times.
Outfielder Paul Bushfield and veteran shortstop Pete Bodenham were defensive standouts all weekend. The speedy Bushfield tracked down several long fly balls, while Bodenham was the leader in the infield.
–The Ontario Eliminations were played in sweltering temperatures, which soared to almost 100 degrees F on both the Friday and Saturday. “This is the hottest one that I can recall in my 28 years with the OASA,” association president Bill Topping said during the 1988 tournament.
Topping later told the local newspaper that the Jr. Eliminations in St. Marys were “probably the most successful one” ever staged in the 15-year history of the tournament.
The provincial tourney’s financial statement showed revenue of $14,000, before expenses.