Springwater Sports Heritage

Founding Benefactor: The McGuire Trust

1977 Elmvale Merchants Men's Fastball Championship Team Narrative


Preface
The Ontario Amateur Softball Association Championships were play downs that teams entered to determine the best in that category for that particular year. The province was divided into northern and southern play downs with the winner of each meeting on Thanksgiving weekend to determine the overall champs. The location alternated each year. In 1977 the southern winner journeyed north.

 

Southern Ont. was divided into regions or zones. To become the eventual winner a team must win their own zone and then defeat the other zone winners in a best of three series. Teams had a choice of flipping a coin for the third game if needed or if one of the teams preferred the third game was scheduled to be played on neutral grounds.

It is a difficult event to win. Teams play in their local leagues simultaneously while competing in OASA play downs resulting in playing five or six games a week.  The Elmvale 1977 Merchants competed in the Barrie Intermediate League where they were champions for four consecutive years. In addition often teams had to travel considerable distances. For a number of years Elmvale Senior Men’s Teams attempted to prevail in O.A.S.A. competition without success though they did reach the Southern Ont. Play downs on one occasion only to suffer a heartbreaking loss to Brooklin two game to one. 1977 brought total success at last.

In succession Elmvale defeated Huntsville to win their zone, then other zone winners Meaford and Teeswater, thus reaching the southern semis. All three series were characterized by superb ball and good sportsmanship. However this abruptly came to an end when the Merchants met Verona, a town near Kingston. Both teams agreed to play the third game if needed half way between the two towns, somewhere in the Oshawa area.

Elmvale prevailed in game one and then traveled to Verona for game two. Locked in a close game (0-0)- things went badly for Elmvale in the tenth inning. Elmvale’s catcher, Lou Belcourt was ejected for marking the ball by rubbing dirt onto it. A Verona batter hit the next pitch to deep left field at least ten feet foul. However, in Elmvale’s opinion the umpire ruled wrongly that it was fair resulting in an unfair loss. This blatantly wrong decision ruined a stellar pitching performance by Keith Williams.

Immediately after the game we were informed by the local convenor that we had to play the third and deciding game in one hour’s time even though both teams agreed that it was to be played on another day on neutral grounds. After much protesting The Elmvale players were divided; a few feeling we would be ousted through a Board room decision but the majority were adamant that we should not play. A call was placed to Allan McNabb, the local OASA convenor for our area seeking his advice. He told us to get on the bus and come home, which we did to much booing and derision by the Verona team and their fans. Allan then tenaciously took up our cause to the point of threatening to seek legal action should Verona advance to the finals. He prevailed and the third and deciding game was scheduled to be played in Grafton.

In an emotional and tense game Elmvale’s Danny Rowat used his speed to score a late run to give the Merchants a closely fought victory thus advancing to the southern finals against Caledonia. Much tension existed between the teams and their respective fans during and after the game.

In the finals Elmvale won at home and then lost in Caledonia in extra innings, setting up a third and deciding game to be played in Etobicoke. It was a classic game that was finally decided in the 18th inning when Gary Turner scored on a hit by Lou Belcourt. Carl Edwards was stellar, pitching all eighteen innings. Caledonia were a good team who played the game with sportsmanship. It was a late night and it didn’t help that the lights malfunctioned during the game causing a long delay.

The next evening saw a tired group of players boarding a bus for an overnight trip north to Hearst who were the Northern Ontario winner. Arriving in the early morning hours on Thanksgiving Sat. the Merchants were greeted by cold inclement weather but a warm reception by the Hearst team and community.

On Sat. night playing in wet, cold and sometimes snowy weather Elmvale eked out an extra inning win highlighted by an outstanding throw from deep left field by Doug McMann to catcher Lou Belcourt who tagged out the runner at home plate thus preventing a Hearst victory. Sunday saw Elmvale lose 4 to 3 in twelve innings setting the stage for a third game to be played a few hours later that evening. Accolades to the significant others of the Elmvale players. Returning to the team’s motel they located washer and dryer facilities and set to work in order that our uniforms were clean, dry and warm rather than cold and damp. It helped immeasurably in our deciding 4 to 1 championship victory, which featured a mammoth home run against a strong wind by Chuck Jordan

The Hearst team and community’s hospitality was outstanding and much appreciated. A wine and cheese party followed where the players and fans mingled and our hosts treated us royally.

Upon our return to Elmvale the team was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by fans, fire trucks and others at the town limits and paraded to the Community Centre to a great reception of many fans who followed our OASA journey. Club president John Brown introduced and recognized team members and executive presenting each with a bottle of wine. No community has better fans than Elmvale.

The Merchants Ball Team thought that the reception was the culmination of their journey only to learn that the apex was yet to occur, namely being inducted into the newly formed Springwater Hall of Fame. What an honour!

 

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