PALMERSTON – A pair of local softball players are carrying a bit of extra weight around their necks this week.
Josh Metzger, an outfielder, and Zach Dobson, third baseman, are national champions, playing big roles in leading the Tara Longhorns to gold in the U15 Boys’ Canadian Fast Pitch Championship.
The team amassed a 7-3 record at the event – held in St. Albert, Sask., from Aug. 9 to 13 – including a 10-3 win in the championship game against the Newfoundland Selects on Aug. 13.
The Longhorns had played well all season, and the team was one of the top four in Ontario heading into the Canadian championships.
Those four teams – Napanee, Wilmot, Elmira and Tara – all won a tournament this season.
Coming off a third-place finish at provincials earlier in the summer, Palmerston’s Metzger and Dobson said the team was confident going into St. Albert.
“We were in some close games; we lost a couple ones that we shouldn’t have… I was pretty confident going into it,” said Metzger.
“We have a really good team and everyone hits well,” added Dobson. “And we have good defence.”
After a 9-5 loss on the opening day of the tournament to the host St. Albert Astros, the Longhorns won their next four games, including a 10-9 win against the Valley Vikings (Saskatchewan) that came down to some last-at-bat heroics from Metzger.
“In the last inning, we were down 9-6,” said Metzger, setting the scene. “And believe it or not, three guys got hit (by a pitch) back-to-back-to-back.”
With the bases loaded, the next batter hit a single to drive in a run, making it 9-7.
Metzger walked up to the plate, with two outs, and smacked a double to drive in the final three runs of the game.
“We climbed our way out of that one,” he said.
The Longhorns dropped the final game of the round-robin portion of the event by a score of 8-7 to Elmira, qualifying for the playoff round.
In the first game of the playoff round, Elmira and Tara met up again, with the Longhorns needing some late-inning magic to win.
Down 9-4 heading into the top of the seventh, the Longhorns scored eight runs – four of them with two outs – and the defence shut down Elmira in the bottom of the inning to win 12-9.
Who was more stressed about the situation, the players or the parents?
“I needed a defibrillator… maybe three of them,” quipped Jeremy Metzger, Josh’s father.
“I remember it clear as day – two outs, two balls, two strikes, two guys on base… game is over if we don’t hit the ball here.
“I think we were more stressed out than they were.”
Then there was the stress of the championship game against Newfoundland.
Leading 5-2 heading into the top of the seventh, Tara scored five runs to take a commanding 10-2 lead.
Newfoundland would score one in the bottom half to make it 10-3. The stress was not from the closeness of the game, but rather the anticipation of waiting for the final out.
“Just hit in play, or to the shortstop or something,” Metzger said of his thoughts waiting for the final out.
Dobson said it was the most stressful inning of his ball career.
Finally, a fly ball to centre field ended the game and started the celebration for Metzger, Dobson and their teammates.
Metzger was named to the tournament’s all-star team.
The outfielder registered a .345 batting average with 10 runs batted in at the tournament, while boasting a perfect fielding percentage.
Dobson played in seven games at the tournament, scoring four runs while using his glove to contribute to the defence that shut down teams throughout the event.
The pair also played important roles on the Minto Crush U15 squad that finished atop the regular season standings during the Intercounty Softball Association season.
Minto would win silver at the ISA year-end tournament, which Dobson and Metzger had to miss due to nationals.
Both Metzger and Dobson will move up to U17 next year, and both aspire to return to Tara for another season and hope to repeat the success of the 2023 season.