A sizzling offensive effort by the Firemen in the game that mattered most has earned them the title of 2023 Bowen Island Fastpitch champions, their second championship in three years.
The offensive outburst in a 12-8 win over the Diggers in the final may not shock some, as the Firemen averaged over 10 runs per game during the season. But against the stingiest pitching and defensive team on the island in the reigning-champion Diggers, every one of the dozen-deciding runs was well earned.
“I would say that we were just feeling confident,” says Firemen manager Liam Zahara on the final game, where the team got out to an early lead and never gave it up.
“Our lead-off batter Sam (Franklin) got a hit right away and we were just feeling it… When you come in and you’re fired up and everyone’s playing confidently and seeing the ball and there’s no ego of ‘I have to do this.’ It’s let’s do this for each other, let’s have fun, and let’s get out there and hit the ball.”
Hitting the ball was something the Firemen did well all season, their 211 regular season runs scored second only to the Cruisers 216. Johnny Franklin had a particularly devastating bat, hitting a .525 average with 8 home runs and 26 RBI. For his part, Zahara hit .492 while smashing 10 home runs and 27 RBI.
“When your team is flowing well together you kind of just roll and you feed off of each other’s energy. So when one guy or a few guys are hitting it really encourages the rest of the team to just to do their part and it helps out with the confidence level,” says Zahara.
Though the Firemen didn’t have the deepest substitute list for many of their games this season, they still managed a 2nd place finish with a 12-7-1 record. Zahara credits every player doing their part to overcome the nights where the team’s dugout featured only a lonely player or two.
“We have guys from age 19 to 70. And everyone is just there to support one another. We had a few guys this year, it was just their second year, and that’s a huge part of continuing the Firemen family,” says Zahara.
“Everyone figures out their role, and builds a new role as they get a little bit more comfortable on the team… You have some guys who have played baseball since they were born. And some guys who started playing baseball in their 20s or 30s. And that’s what makes this league so special. You get a full range of abilities,” he adds.
Tournament begins with tie
The Firemen opened the tournament against the Cruisers, and as expected it was a high-scoring affair. It was a back-and-forth game, starting 5-0 for the Firemen, moving to a 6-6 tie, an 11-8 Firemen lead, and finally a 12-12 final, a sacrifice fly by Keelan Hondro in the bottom of the 6th which brought home Cruisers teammate Spencer Grundy serving as the final run of the game.
Despite giving up the lead late, Zahara says his team didn’t get dejected. They instead looked for the positives, such as escaping a bases load, 0 out jam in that bottom of the 6th by only giving up one run. “I think that was just our mindset going into it. If you make an error or if you strike out, okay, figure out what you did wrong and what you can improve for next time and then just forget about it. So we weren’t upset, sure we would have liked to have won, but we weren’t upset with how that game unfolded,” says the manager.
Team morale was clearly not shaken as the Firemen came out just two hours later and ran over the Twins 13-0. The team hit 4 home runs, 2 from Johnny Franklin and 1 each from Sam Franklin and Malcolm McEachern. Johnny also pitched 4 innings of shutout ball while giving up only 1 hit, and Corby Bernard took the mound to close out a scoreless 5th.
The win clinched their spot in the semi-finals, so a Sunday morning loss to the Brewers (who were still fighting for a spot in the next round) wasn’t concerning. The focus was an afternoon rematch with the Cruisers. This time the bats were swinging again, and the Firemen managed to limit the Cruisers offense a little bit more than Saturday morning. The result was a 12-8 win for the Firemen, and with it a trip to the final.
Last two champions go head-to-head in final
The Diggers prevailed over the Brewers in the other semifinal (a rematch of last year’s final, also won by the Diggers), setting the stage for a meeting between the 2021 and 2022 champions. “Those guys obviously have a lot of experience. They’re a really fun team to play against and we have really good games against them,” said Zahara of the reigning champions. “I think the two teams get along with one another and we’re able to joke around on the field but also have really good competition.”
Again the Firemen got on the board early, later opening up a 9-3 lead mid-game. The Diggers never gave in though, cutting that lead to 9-6 and in the final inning reducing the Firemen’s 6-run lead to 12-8. “When they got two runs it’s like Diggers are doing Diggers things… And you never know what could happen,” said Zahara.
But Zahara credits a sprinting catch by left fielder Kevin Harding for calming the team down in the face of the Diggers rally. A strikeout after by Bernard really turned the tables back in the Firemen’s favour, and shortly after Corby worked a grounder back to him which he tossed to first to seal the trophy.
“We always have a lot of fun out on the ball field together. Sure we show up to win, but also to just have a good time. And I guess the wins kind of follow suit with that,” says Zahara.
Firemen Championship Roster
Sam Franklin, Malcolm McEachern, Johnny Franklin, Ewan McEachern, Liam Zahara, Adam Franklin, Corby Bernard, Dallen Jennings, Kurt Stuart, Burns Jennings, Kevin Harding, Aidan Holland, AJ Ballou, Escher Fisk, Rick Sinke, Mark Koonts, Laurin Macdonald
- Reporting from Kat, Cheri, George, & Alex. Have a great offseason, and see you next year!