Welland Jackfish ousted from IBL playoffs after exciting season


Published September 8, 2022 at 11:22 pm

Sam Cawker and the Welland Jackfish had a tough end to their IBL season. (YouTube / Welland Jackfish)

Anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Welland Jackfish and No. 1 starter Jake Harford early while they had no margin of error left.

The Jackfish are a disrupter in the Intercounty Baseball League, thanks in part to their offence, which resembles a relay race where a discerning batting eye is a prerequisite, into the fan-friendly entertainment package. Their 1980s St. Louis Cardinals affect had little effect on Thursday once the Toronto Maple Leafs got to Welland and Harford in a do-or-done Game 4 of the IBL semifinal. Relying on situational hitting instead of the longball at the cozy Dominico Field at Christie Pits, Toronto built a seven-run cushion en route to a 9-5 win and a 3-1 series victory.

Toronto will await the victor of the Hamilton Cardinals-London Majors semifinal. Hamilton, down 2-1, hosts London in Game 4 at Bernie Arbour Stadium on Friday (7:35 p.m., IBLCardinalsBaseball on YouTube). The final, for the Jack and Lynne Dominico Cup, is a best-of-seven.

Welland could only pare the Toronto lead to three runs. Toronto righthander Angel Castro bounced back from being knocked out early in the series opener on Sept. 3 to contain Welland for seven innings. Castro got nine of his 12 strikeouts at the expense of Welland’s 2-3-4 hitters — IBL home run champion Justin Gideon, Mattingly Romanin and Sam Cawker. Castro struck the trio out in succession to limit a fifth-inning Welland rally at two runs.

Castro’s Dominican countryman, Franklin Hernandez, ran the strikeout tally to 18 by getting all of his outs in that fashion over the last two innings. Gideon snapped his bat when he struck out for the fourth time on the night.

Allowing seven earned runs in just two innings left Harford with a 13.89 playoff earned-run average. In the regular season, he had a 2.73 ERA in a team-most 89 innings.

Thrown out on the bases

Welland tallied 202 stolen bases in the 42-game regular season, which was more than four entire teams in the eight-team IBL. They put together a regular season that included a team-record .738 winning percentage in the regular season, a vast upgrade over a .519 mark in 2021. The Jackfish, under manager Brian Essery, were No. 1 in runs scored at 10.14 per game, nearly a full run ahead of powerhouse London Majors (9.31).

They ranked just fifth in home runs, even with Gideon hitting eight of his league-leading 19 after moving south from Hamilton. Topping the IBL in on-base percentage (.410) and long hits (a combined 139 doubles and triples) attested to how, more often than not, they bent the game by harrying opposing pitchers, catchers and fielders.

Tapping into their trademark aggression on Thursday, though, led running into outs not once, not twice, but thrice. Welland’s first two steal attempts failed, including a double-steal try in the third when Toronto shortstop Jose Vinicio made the relay throw to home plate to get Zarley Cina. The score was 5-1 then, with lefty power hitter Gideon at bat in a stadium where the right-field foul pole is only 299 feet from home plate.

The margin was four runs again in he seventh when Gideon got to third base with none out. He was also thrown out at home after trying to score on a sharply-hit ground ball, with third baseman Johnathan Solazzo making a perfect throw.

Castro got out of that inning, enabling Toronto to provide Hernandez with plenty of cushion to bring it home.

Along with an Angel on the bump, Toronto might have a couple of others inspiring them.

Longtime owner and president Jack Dominico, co-namesake of the IBL championship trophy, died in January at age 82. Last Monday, Peter Topolie, a well-regarded sportsman and educator and father of Toronto designated hitter/general manager Damon Topolie, died at the age of 76. The elder Topolie was a three-term president of the Ontario Baseball Association and also worked closely with the Toronto Blue Jays. He served as a Toronto coach from 2015 to ’21.

Hamilton held a moment of silence to honour Topolie prior to their series-extending win against London on Wednesday.

Pitching, power bats come down to earth

Welland pitching allowed 39 runs over the four games against Toronto. Offensively, Welland continued to get a spark from the bottom third of the batting order, but their power bats were in tough against playoff pitching.

Outfielder Hogan Brown scored twice on Thursday out of the No. 8 spot, to finish the playoffs as the team leader in OBP (.517) and runs (10) over seven games. Matteo Porcellato also scored two runs while boosting his playoff OBP to .500.

But Brendan Nicholson and Gio Morello, who were 1-2 in stolen bases in the regular season, struggled to get on base in the playoffs. Nicholson was 0-for-16 before being replaced by Cina. Morello, the leadoff man and centrefielder, had a .294 / .300 playoff slash, a big dip from his regular-season .453 / .497.

Gideon finished at .364 / .739 in the playoffs, with three home runs and eight RBI over seven games. Cawker, while juggling the demands of catching with batting cleanup, finished at .344 / .346. His regular-season rates with the bat were a combined 300 points higher.

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