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It was a title that carried extra significance.
The Westisle Wolverines won their third straight P.E.I. School Athletic Association senior baseball championship in a row earlier this week. That, in itself, is an impressive accomplishment. But this wasn't a typical season.
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there was uncertainty when school started in September if there would be baseball played at all.
Then tragedy struck the close-knit West Prince communities that make up the Westisle family of schools as three Grade 12 students – Alex Hutchinson of Springfield West, Ethan Reilly of Duvar and Cole Rayner of Huntley – died in the last month.
As the Wolverines battled their way to a hard-fought 4-3 win over the Charlottetown Rural Raiders in the gold-medal game at Memorial Field in Charlottetown, Hutchinson, Reilly and Rayner were on the minds of the Westisle players.
“We were all close with the three boys and we wanted to win it for them,” said Westisle pitcher and second baseman Mike McRae, 16.
Wolverines coach Trevor Wood, who is vice-principal at Westisle, praised his players for their maturity and how they have handled the recent adversity.
“They have taken on a lot this year and continue to do so,” said Wood. “It’s a silver lining for them to focus on something else and come away as champions. … Certainly, hats off for the determination these boys showed during a very difficult time.”
Road to gold
A look at Westisle Wolverines’ 2020 season:
- The Wolverines completed play in the P.E.I. School Athletic Association Senior Baseball League with an undefeated overall record of 4-0 (won-lost).
- Westisle went 2-0 in the three-team West Division to finish the regular season in first place and earn a bye into the semifinals.
- In the semifinals, the Wolverines defeated the Three Oaks Axemen 12-2.
- Westisle then edged the Charlottetown Rural Raiders 4-3 in the championship game.
Four seniors – McRae, Chandler DesRoches, Garrett Culleton and Cole Robinson – were members of all three Westisle championship teams.
Robinson said the team felt it was playing for Hutchinson, Reilly and Rayner.
“As soon as we went down 2-0 in the first inning, it went through my head that the boys must be watching us up there,” said Robinson, a 17-year-old catcher from Nail Pond.
Robinson said everything that has happened in the last month brought the Wolverines closer together as a team. He noted the Wolverines never faced too much adversity during the 2018 and 2019 championships.
“The first year we had a pretty good team and had a lot of veterans for us to look up to," said Robinson. "Last year, we were favourites.
"This year, we had started to practise, and after that tragedy struck.
“It was different because of COVID in the first place. We didn’t even know if we were going to have games this year or what was going to happen.”
Emmett Gaudette delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit in the winner-take-all final. Gaudette’s opposite-field double to right-centre scored McRae standing up from first base in the bottom of the fifth inning to break a 3-3 tie.
Connor Ellsworth earned the pitching win in relief of DesRoches, who started and left after two innings due to arm soreness.
Culleton, who played shortstop and is from Mount Pleasant, described the victory as a total team effort.
“Everybody played pretty well,” said Culleton, 17. “Our infield played strong, Chandler started the game well and Connor came in and pitched well, too.
“Everybody contributed in some way and the boys who sat on the bench were great supporters for us.”
McRae said pitching and defence were the keys for the Wolverines.
“A lot of us didn’t play summer ball this year because we didn't have a team up west, and we weren’t used to the pitching," said McRae, who is from Kildare Capes.
DesRoches, who calls St. Felix home and also plays third base, said he has many fond memories from his three years with the Wolverines. Those include playing for veteran coach and former Westisle principal Jim MacIntyre.
“It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing ball in my life," said the 17-year-old DesRoches, who felt the Wolverines were able to draw on the team’s previous championship experience in a very closely-contested final. “Having Jim as a coach was probably the best part of it. He always had us fired up and I always looked forward to school ball every year.”
Culleton agreed with DesRoches. He added a highlight was seeing MacIntyre get fired up after wins.
“That was probably the best thing for me.”
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