Northstars draw first blood
As they seem to have done so many time before since joining the Northstars, Colin and Melvin Woods wrote another chapter in their impressive history since donning the maroon and gold this past weekend at Hydebank.
The two Edmonton natives provided a formidable one-two punch in the first game of the Northern finals in a blustery Belfast against the up and coming Ashbourne Giants who had finished the season of the Buccaneers a few hours previously.
Melvin Woods would toe the rubber for Belfast and would quickly revert to form, attempting to overpower the Ashbourne hitters – the Giants were not awed however, setting down their marker and plating a run in the first.
Showing agression from the leadoff position as he has all year, Sean McMahon forced an overthrow at first and would immediately give the home side a runner in scoring position. Walks to Gord Cuthbert and Colin Woods would load the bases for Melvin Woods and Randy Cornwell. No fireworks this time, but Cornwell’s ground out was enough to get a runner home to tie the game.
With two outs, Chris Shields who has shown an ability to produce regardless of where he is in the lineup tidied up the base paths with a 2-out 2-RBI double to give the Stars a 4-1 advantage.
Having settled in and with a lead to protect, Woods quickly cut down the next three Ashbourne hitters, inspiring his offence with John Mckee being driven home from second by Gord Cuthbert. Cuthbert would then have a ringside seat for Colin Woods who proceeded to send one out over the left centre field fence.
Ashbourne would continue to pile pressure on the Northstars defence in the fourth, getting runners at the corners. Woods would dig in further, refusing to allow any more score. The Giants had similar thoughts though, defense stepping up for both sides.
With Randy Cornwell taking the ball in the next inning, the Giants continued to be aggressive and, when a passed ball rattled around the Hydebank fence, the visitors were able to add a run on. Clearly taking it personally, Cornwell would himself bring in Melvin Woods to recover the run. Woods would cut a runner down at second in the sixth but Ashbourne refused to quit, plating a run in the last but ultimately it would not be enough – The Northstars took game one of the North finals 8-3.
Impressive at times, slightly untidy at others, the Northstars would realise that this Ashbourne team has grown up before their eyes. They will need to give their very best from first ball to last this Sunday at Hydebank for Game 2 (10am) and Game 3 (3.30pm – if necessary).
Moving into the playoffs of the 2016 season, the players of Baseball Ireland had a little extra coaching from an unexpected source.
Mike McCarthy of the Boston Red Sox organisation spent some time in Ashbourne and Belfast this weekend, sharing knowledge and tips on pitching, fielding and conditioning to a rapt audience of players young and not so young but the consensus was everyone got some invaluable advice for the future.
Baseball Ireland president Peter Kavanagh said ‘It was great to welcome Mike to Ireland and to have him impart some of the knowledge he’s picked up over a six-year career to our pitchers and catchers. Players from Dublin, Meath and the greater Belfast area all got the chance to work out with Mike and he demonstrated his willingness to give something back to the baseball community in a way we will forever be grateful for.’
McCarthy, who has played with the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Portland Sea Dogs also became a fan on Sunday, taking in the Giants and Buccaneers wild card game as well as the first game of the North finals between the Giants and the Northstars.
He was also kind enough to spend time between the games on Sunday giving hints on baserunning and was even convinced to toe the rubber on the Hydebank mound and throw a session with Bucs coach Jose Santos.
‘Mike was a very welcome visitor to Hydebank this weekend, it was great fun to watch a player of his calibre interacting with younger and veteran players to help improve their techniques. We managed to coax a few stories out of him too – the dedication and drive he has shown over the years to carve out his career is admirable. We wish him all the very best for the future.’ – Neil Boyd
McCarthy continues his travels on Tuesday as he heads to Norway then eventually home to California. Hopefully our paths will cross again.