After an up and down year — with wins, losses and a no-hitter — the baseball team achieved another first. Seven years after having 11 players suspended following alcohol-related incidents, the baseball team captured their first OUA medal last weekend, finishing with a bronze.
Although it’s been a long journey — the team hasn’t placed higher than seventh in the OUA standings recently — the three game weekend in Ajax against the Western Mustangs, Laurier Golden Hawks and Waterloo Warriors will be remembered by the program for years to come.
Looking back at his third year on the team, right fielder Curtis Smith said there was something different about this 2017 team compared to others. “Everyone understood that this year’s team was extremely special and something Queen’s baseball has never seen before,” he said.
After claiming the sixth and final playoff spot with their regular season, Queen’s made sure they weren’t ready to let the opportunity slip.
“[We] were very determined to show the league that we were not a club to be taken lightly,” Smith said of the Gaels’ mentality entering the playoff weekend. “Our ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality helped us in every game we played and allowed us to finish in the position that we did.”
Against Western in the quarterfinals, Queen’s — who had lost to the Mustangs during the regular season — were considered underdogs. Nevertheless, the Gaels came away with a 9-5 victory.
“The team was pumped,” Queen’s shortstop and second baseman Joey Stipec said about the game. “The fact that they beat us during the regular season made the win even nicer. From there, we knew we had a chance to beat anyone.”
With only one opponent keeping them from the gold medal game, Queen’s headed into their semi-final matchup with Laurier knowing they would be underdogs again. During the regular season, the Golden Hawks placed second in the OUA with 24 points; Queen’s, conversely, placed sixth — out of nine teams in the conference — with 14 points.
Although they would end up losing both the game and their chance at gold to Laurier with a 5-4 loss, Queen’s had one last chance to medal against Waterloo.
Breaking school history against the Warriors is something the baseball team has already accomplished this year. In late September, Will Langford threw the program’s first no-hitter in a close 1-0 game. In their rematch, the Gaels hoped to experience another feat never achieved by Queen’s baseball — a medal finish.
Although he said the team felt a lot of pressure surrounding this moment, Jordan Herbison showed no signs of it as the starting pitcher. In eight innings, he only allowed three hits and struck out nine batters.
“It was an important game for our program,” he noted, “so there is some inherent pressure in setting a new standard.”
When the final out was recorded, Queen’s came out victorious, winning 8-3.
Stipec commented on the state of the program, adding this season was “the most exciting yet.” He also said the medal is indicative of the team’s growth over the past few years.
“There was a great combo of returning [veterans] and a solid rookie class that made up a competitive roster, definitely the most talented that I’ve been a part of,” he said.
Head coach Jeff Skelhorne-Gross compared this season to those of years past, adding that “[I]n previous years we were left with a feeling of, ‘If we get just a bit better we could crash the playoff party,’” he said. “This year it [was] more like, ‘If we get just a bit better, we could win a title.’”
The head coach hopes this bronze medal will push the Gaels to keep improving into next season and beyond.
“I think this year, at just the right time, [the players] began to realize that having to overcome lots of obstacles could make them a tough, resilient club, and that they could use that toughness to win ball games,” he said.
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