Brussels' McCutcheon, Groves reflect on national softball championship win
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Back in August - just over four months ago, exactly - two young softball players from Brussels travelled east to New Brunswick and returned with gold medals around their necks.
Tyler Groves and Brett McCutcheon both play locally - Groves for the current Huron County Fastball League champion Brussels Tigers and Sebastian for the upstart Brussels Bangers - but it’s their success with the Tara Twins Stan Wright Well Drillers team that earned them Canadian gold earlier this year.
Both locals have played for the team for about four seasons. McCutcheon found the team first and then reached out to Groves, a friend and fellow Brussels residents, when the team was looking for more players to fill its roster.
When they began playing in Tara - a small town about 25 kilometres southwest of Owen Sound in Bruce County - both said they knew the team was good, but as they played season after season, they said they could feel the momentum building and, with this season, they felt the team had improved and could make its mark on the national scene.
The team had made it to provincial qualifying tournaments before, but not made it out of the province to compete nationally. This season, however, was different, and both players said that, when they began beating teams that historically had proven to be difficult opponents for them and winning games in that qualifying tournament, held in Stratford this season, they had a feeling that they were destined to go farther this season.
The team placed third in the Stratford tournament, which sends four teams to the nationals. So, while the Tara Twins had qualified for the U17 Boys’ Fast Pitch Canadian Championship in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which was played in the first week of August, they didn’t exactly enter play as the favourites to win. They were ranked third in their own province, though McCutcheon said it’s well known that Ontario usually sends some of the best teams to the national tournaments.
The Twins were joined from Ontario by the top-ranked Plattsville Lightning, the second-place Napanee Express and the Wilmot Thunder, who placed fourth in the Stratford qualifying tournament.
Indeed, Ontario teams performed well to open the tournament. Plattsville beat the Saskatoon SIGA Selects in the first game of the tournament by a score of 11-1, followed by a 7-1 win by Napanee over Team Quebec in the second game of the tournament and a 17-0 win for the Twins over the host New Brunswick Selects.
Wilmot played in the fourth game and was the first to fall, losing by a score of 10-5 to Plattsville and falling victim to some Ontario-on-Ontario crime.
Also on the first day of play, Tara played Team Quebec in the team’s second game of the tournament, beating their neighbours from the east by a score of 10-3.
To open play on the Thursday of the tournament, Tara beat Team Newfoundland by a score of 15-9, while Plattsville kept up its winning ways, beating Nova Scotia’s Brookfield Elks by a score of 11-3.
Both teams then won their second Thursday games, although the scores were getting tighter. Plattsville beat the Terrace Mariners from British Columbia by a score of 10-7, while Tara defeated the second-ranked Ontario team, Napanee, by a score of 12-10.
The Twins beat the Saskatoon SIGA Selects to open play on Friday by a score of 11-9, while Plattsville blanked the New Brunswick Selects by a score of 1-0.
However, later that day, fortunes turned for the Tara Twins. The Plattsville Lightning beat Team Quebec by a score of 5-1, while the fourth-ranked Ontario team, the Wilmot Thunder, brought Tara to its knees, beating the Bruce County-based team by a score of 13-12, handing the Twins their first loss of the tournament.
On Saturday, the Twins righted the ship and beat Napanee by a score of 5-4, followed by another Plattsville win, this time over the Wilmot Thunder by a score of 6-0, sending both teams into play on Sunday.
The final day of the tournament began with an 8-0 victory by Team Quebec over the Wilmot Thunder, followed by an 8-0 shutout victory for Plattsville over Tara, halting momentum for the Twins and continuing the Lightning’s undefeated run in the tournament.
The Napanee Express then beat Team Quebec by a score of 4-0 to further clarify the championship picture. Hot off of their victory, the Express then faced the Tara Twins, who had been stung by the Lightning, but triumphed over the Express by a score of 7-4, setting up a championship match-up with the undefeated Plattsville Lightning.
Then, in the end, it was the Tara Twins who defeated the Lightning by a score of 4-1 in the final to win the Canadian championship.
McCutcheon pitched the entire final game for the Twins - in addition to many others throughout the tournament - and was named the most valuable player for the tournament’s final game.
McCutcheon said he knew the team had a chance to be successful in the tournament, especially after how they had played in Stratford, but the Twins went into the tournament as a bit of an underdog.
He said it was amazing to take part in the tournament and to play such a big role in its success, spending so much time on the mound in some of the biggest games of the tournament.
Groves agreed, saying things felt different for the team as it moved through the qualifying tournament. The team had always been good, but something special was happening and that momentum carried them through to a national championship.
Once he and his teammates arrived in New Brunswick, he said the level of play was at another level. “It was some of the best baseball I’ve ever been a part of,” Groves said in an interview with The Citizen.
He said it felt great to win and it was thrilling to run out onto the field and celebrate in the middle of the field with all of his teammates.
Neither knows what the future holds, but they hope to keep playing with Tara. Furthermore, they hope to keep up with their Brussels baseball as well.
McCutcheon said he has learned a lot as a member of the Bangers, though the team itself had a tough first season, finishing in last place in the Huron County Fastball League standings with a record of 2-19-1, but he said playing with those experienced players had taught him a lot.
In contrast, Groves was a member of the Huron County Fastball League champion Brussels Tigers, which finished the season with a record of 20-2 and won the year-end tournament in Goderich.
However, with the skill on that team, Groves said he didn’t get to play too much - he plays mostly in the outfield for Tara - but that he cherished the innings he was able to play and has learned a lot from the Tigers’ veteran members.
For the Tigers, Groves played in 15 games, making 20 plate appearances. He scored five runs with four hits and three walks.
McCutcheon pitched in 15 games for the Brussels Bangers for over 66 innings, allowing 49 earned runs and striking out 86 batters. At the plate, he had 14 hits and five runs over the course of 51 plate appearances in 16 games. He hit two home runs for the team and had eight RBI over the course of the season.