Fastball team went undefeated at the 1988 national championship in Lloydminster, Alta.
By Pat Payton
After a bitter loss to Napanee in the 1987 finals in Ottawa, St. Marys Creamery Juniors’ goal the following summer was to win the Ontario Eliminations and represent the province at the Canadian championship tournament in Lloydminster, Alta.
As the host team and facing lots of pressure to perform in front of the home-town fans, the Brian Dundas-coached team responded on the July 8-10 weekend in St. Marys. But they didn’t do it the easy way.
After losing their second game, 1-0 to Smith Falls, the maroon and gold won eight consecutive games to win the 31-team event and punch their ticket to Lloydminster.
An already deep and talented team got even better when the Creamery squad was allowed to pick up two players for the national tournament, held during the week of Aug. 15-21. The Ontario champs chose the multi-talented Jim Elder from Napanee’s North Fredericksburg Kings and New Hamburg Reds’ ace pitcher Brad Honderich. The addition of Elder and Honderich brought the roster to 17 players.
“We were entitled to two pick-ups from any team(s) in the province,” manager Ron Marriott explained. “It was a team decision on that Monday night, not just a coach or manager decision.”
Elder, 19, was considered one of the top hitters in Ontario and among the top five pitchers in the province. “The reason we decided on Jim Elder was our experiences against him the last two years,” Marriott said. “He’s an outstanding ball player whether he’s on the mound or playing shortstop.”
Honderich, 18, had been named top pitcher at the Ontario Eliminations. In five wins going into the final, he had posted an .060 earned run average. Honderich and Elder gave St. Marys five pitchers heading to the nationals.
‘We’re going out to try and win it’
Coach Brian Dundas described it as a “chance in a lifetime” for him and his team.
“We’re going out to try and win it,” he said before the Juniors left for Lloydminster. “The Canadians are the ultimate. The big thing, I think, is the guys’ attitude . . . as long as they’re hungry enough.”
Teams from 10 provinces and the host team, the Lloydminster Jr. Liners, took part in the week-long playoff. The nationals were held at the six-diamond Legion complex in Lloydminster.
The Creamery Juniors left no doubt that they were the best Jr. men’s fastball team in the country. They were the only team in the 11-team event to go undefeated at 7-0.
They opened a five-game, round-robin series with a convincing 10-2 victory over Flin Flon, Manitoba. The game was called after five innings due to the tournament’s seven-run mercy rule.
Paul Horenberg fired a two-hitter and struck out nine for the win. Dave Doyon, Greg Snyder and Pete Bodenham stroked two hits each for St. Marys, while Chris Turner added a two-run double.
The maroon and gold had a much closer game the following afternoon against the Charlesbourg Express. After trailing 3-1 early, they pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the seventh to nip the Quebec representative 4-3.
Snyder went 3-for-3 to pace the Ontario offence, while Doug Levy and Ron White contributed two hits apiece. Horenberg got the win in relief of starter Honderich.
On the Wednesday, the St. Marys Juniors defeated P.E.I. 6-4 in the morning and the host Liners 5-2 that night.
Against P.E.I., Jim Elder went 3-for-3 at the plate and also got credit for the pitching win. White collected four singles, while Andy Gibb knocked in three runs.
That evening, St. Marys handed Lloydminster its first loss of the tourney before a home-town crowd estimated at 1,800.
Elder again led the way for the maroons and gold. He drilled an RBI triple, scored a pair of runs, and made several nice plays at shortstop. Gibb added a solo home run in the sixth to help clinch the win. On the rubber, Honderich and Horenberg combined for a four-hitter and 14 strikeouts.
Complete round-robin 5-0
After a day off Thursday, the Creamery Juniors completed their round-robin undefeated (5-0) by knocking off an uninspired University Sports team from B.C., 6-2.
The B.C. team actually out-hit the Ontario reps. 5-4, but hurt themselves by committing three errors and allowing three walks.
Elder again sparked the offence with a two-run homer and single. Bodenham knocked in two runs and White scored twice. Marc Cameron, with relief help from Honderich, earned the pitching decision.
On the Friday night, the Creamery Juniors opened the eight-team Elimination Round with an 8-1 six-inning mercy win over Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
St. Marys scored runs in four of the six innings to back the three-hit, eight-strikeout pitching of ace Horenberg. Offensively, Levy slugged a two-run homer, White and Elder added RBI triples, and Scott Shackleton contributed two singles.
In their semi-final game on the Saturday night, the Creamery Juniors defeated Lloydminster 6-1 — handing the host Liners their second loss of the tournament.
St. Marys struck early, building a 4-1 advantage by the third inning. Horenberg, meanwhile, kept the partisan crowd quiet as he surrendered just two hits–one in the first and one in the seventh. The hard-throwing righthander fanned 11 batters, including seven over the final three innings.
Doyon, Snyder and Elder paced a nine-hit attack with two hits apiece.
The game, the final one of the tournament, was played in miserable conditions for fastball — rainy, cold and windy.
Best in the nation
When an all-day rain and treacherous diamonds forced officials to cancel the remainder of the championship Sunday, Ontario was awarded the gold medals.
“We didn’t come here to win it like this, but I’d have to say we’re by far the best team here,” Dundas said after receiving the news. “I haven’t said this before, but I think somebody would have been awful lucky to even beat us once. We beat five of the 10 teams here, and we just didn’t beat them . . . we beat them up!
“We beat the host team twice, who won the silver, and I know they would have been scared of us today (Sunday). “I think they felt they couldn’t beat us, either.”
The Creamery Juniors were the only team to go undefeated (7-0) during the week-long playoff, and they out-scored their opposition 45-15 in the process. St. Marys scored an average of 6.4 runs a game, while allowing a stingy 2.1 runs a game at the nationals.
Dundas, who coached the team since it was formed in the spring of 1985, admitted that the 1988 edition of the Creamery Juniors was special.
“You couldn’t coach another team like this one,” he emphasized. “Everybody gets along. They win together, party together, and have fun together.
“We had 17 good ball players out here, and we proved that by winning with all our players. We’re just deep, deep in talent. We were strong from one-to-nine in the (batting) order, no matter what line-up we put on the field.
“There may never be another team like this one,” the coach continued. “When you win a Canadian championship, she’s got to be awful, awful special. And that includes the two guys (Jim Elder and Brad Honderich) we brought in. This team is the best in Canada.”
1988 Canadian Junior men’s fastball tourney notebook
By Pat Payton
Approximately 1,000 people turned out as St. Marys rolled out the red carpet when the Canadian Junior men’s fastball champions arrived back in town on the Monday night.
The Creamery Juniors — returning from Lloydminster, Alta. where they went a perfect 7-0 at the nationals — rode into town on a fire truck to the St. Marys Community Centre for a reception attended by 600 people. More than 300 had lined the streets to welcome home the victorious team.
–“We’ve had a couple of St. Marys Jr. ‘B’ Lincoln hockey clubs that have won provincial championships, but these fellas are going to remember this for a long time,” said Bruce Murray, who served as master of ceremonies at the reception. “They were great ambassadors for the town, great ambassadors for the province of Ontario, and I think we should be very, very proud of this team.”
Town councillor Jamie Hahn described the Juniors’ national title as a “magnificent” achievement.
“Everytime you turned around, it was on radio, television and in the newspapers,” Hahn said. “The town must have had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising attributed to it and publicity through their achievement.”
–Coach Brian Dundas addressed the crowd and introduced all the players, coaches and batboys.
“We just blew teams away,” he said. “It wasn’t one guy, it was all 17 of them. It was a total team effort.”
Dundas was also thrilled with the number of well-wishers. “On the way home, we (the coaches) were saying that ‘it’s going to be unbelievable when we get back,’ and the people sure didn’t let us down,” he said. “And downtown on the fire engine, it was just packed on the streets.”
–For veteran shortstop Pete Bodenham, winning a national championship was a great way to finish up a four-year career with the Creamery Juniors.
“It couldn’t be any better,” Bodenham said amid the victory celebrations in Lloydminster. “If you had a storybook, you couldn’t write it any better. Five years ago, I would have killed for an Ontario championship. Now, we’re Canadian champions.”
–Rookie Ron White batted an incredible .590 (13-for-22) at the nationals, while Jim Elder hit at a .571 clip (12-for-21). Elder knocked in nine runs and scored seven others.
Other top batters were Greg Snyder (.500), Doug Levy (.437), Dave Doyon (.421), Scott Shackleton (.333) and Pete Bodenham (.312). Levy collected eight RBI, including four game-winning RBI.
Elder, 19, who St. Marys picked up from Napanee, played five different positions at the nationals. He could possibly be the best all-round Junior fastball player in the country, a Journal Argus report stated.
Elder said he was thrilled to be a part of the Creamery Juniors’ victory. “I’ve waited all my life for this, since I was seven years old. This is what it’s all about when you play ball.”
–Ace pitcher Paul Horenberg, also in his final year of Junior eligibility, won four games and saved two others in the tournament. He said it was a “dream come true” to win a national title.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling; the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Horenberg said. “This just tops it off, knowing your status now . . . that you’re the best in Canada. It means a lot to me, it really does.
“I don’t know how I could have a better year. It’s been so much fun with these guys; it’s been great.” Many thought Horenberg should have been named tournament MVP.
–Spearheaded by the incredible efforts of Ron Gibb, the Creamery Juniors were able to fundraise something like $33,000 in a span of just three weeks and finance their trip to the nationals out in Western Canada. Gibb was financial chairman of the ‘Alberta bound committee’ and Terry McEwan was its treasurer.
The town and surrounding area responded with financial support, lots of it.
In fact, the committee raised more than enough to fly the team out to Lloydminster, Alta. and ended up donating about $3,000 back to the town to be used for upgrades to local ball diamonds.