UNITY — After winning the U19 BW Softball Sask. provincial championships, the Unity U19 Panthers had earned their place at U19 Western Canadian Softball Championships, playing as Team Saskatchewan.
The team had set their goal for championship Sunday and their opening two games showcased the talent and skill that had brought them this far in their season as they defeated Manitoba 2, 6-4, in their opening game, although Mother Nature did cause some delays delivering rain.
In a high-scoring affair, the Panthers defeated British Columbia 2, the Cloverdale Fury, 14-6, in game two of the event. However, the opening day, Aug. 4 would end with a loss as the Panthers struggled to find their groove against the Elnora Eagles, Alberta 1, losing by a score of 7-1.
Aug. 5, the team squared off against highly rated British Columbia 1 team, Ridge Meadows Rage and could not catch up the Rage, losing game four of their tournament by a score of 9-2.
With no quit in them, the Panthers duked it out in another Friday game against Manitoba 1, only to come up one run short, losing game five of their event. This put the Panthers in the precarious position of a record of two wins and two losses.
The team regrouped on Friday night through some team bonding activity and headed to the diamonds on Saturday, knowing they needed to play three games to keep their playoff hopes alive and all three of those games were must-win situations. Aug. 6 turned out to be a showcase of Panther determination and desire to play in championship Sunday as they team rattled off three consecutive victories.
Aug. 6 started off with a 6-2 victory over the Blackfalds Exteme from Alberta, coming from behind to capture the win. Adrenaline started to build in players and coaches as they knew they needed two more wins to stay in playoff contention.
A second game on the same day, the Panthers came out swinging in a tie breaker and their blowout victory over Manitoba 1, by a score of 13-5, allowed them to play yet another game on Aug. 6.
The quarter-finals lined up the Panthers against familiar foes, the Elnora Eagles, and Unity would not be denied as they stunned the Alberta team with a 14-4 victory. Paige Schultz was credited with four RBIs in this match.
In addition to medal, team highlights three consecutive must-win game victories
While playing three must-win games in one day might sound exhausting it was motivating to the Panthers, who were now headed to medal rounds of the Western Canadian Softball Championships for their final day of competition Aug. 7.
The end result was a bronze medal losing to Ride Meadows Rage, by a score of 6-2. The results no where near reflected the resiliency and perseverance the Panthers demonstrated throughout their championship event. Despite seeing adversity, the Panthers remained steadfast in their goal to be playing in finals Sunday.
In her last year with Unity Minor Ball, pitcher Abby Rutley said, “All three games on Saturday were the highlight of my weekend. We knew we had to win each game to keep playing, and we played the best ball we have played all year. Not only did we defeat Alberta 2 for a chance at playoffs, but we also beat Manitoba 1 and Alberta 1 after previously losing to them earlier in the weekend, to earn us bronze.”
While many individual accomplishments were achieved throughout the weekend including Abby Rutley earning the win in the home run derby, four Panthers participated in the skills competition running event which spotted the Panthers fourth place. A throwing event had the Panthers earning third spot.
Jaymie Myszczyszyn was twice rewarded with game most valuable player nods out of her first five games, acknowledged for her powerful hitting and stellar catches in field.
Panthers coach, Pat Risling, said, “Jaymie made a catch today and if TSN was there, she would have been on the highlight reel for eternity.”
Paige Schultz, who plays second base, also in her last year of Unity Minor Ball, adds, “We went into the weekend wanting to medal and we knew that if we played well, we could do it. On Saturday we had to win every game to play championship Sunday and after beating Alberta 2 and Manitoba 1 Saturday morning we could not give up then since we came so far. Beating Alberta 1 Saturday night was the highlight of my weekend, we hit the ball so well and made no errors earning ourselves a medal. “
Regardless of individual accolades, players maintained the mandate that there was no “I” in team. Fans and supporters noted that it is amazing what this team accomplished not caring who was getting the credit as they were playing for each other and Panther pride. Pitching power, batting strength and strong defensive skills all factored into the Panthers bronze medal.
Coaches were also credited for calm reassurance and strong leadership throughout the weekend that helped the players believe in themselves and their abilities.
Catcher Devyn Mclean says, “For a lot of us this was the last time we would be playing ball together. We have played together for so long and accomplished so much together that we felt that this was our last chance to bring a medal home. Playing in the must-win games on Saturday was tough each game but we all pulled it together at the right time and came out on top.
“Going into westerns our goal was to get a medal. At the time, the colour didn't matter to us but after seeing what we had achieved in a must-win situation we wanted the gold. Although we fell short of a gold or silver, the bronze means just as much for all of us girls.
“For being a bunch of small-town girls, we have accomplished remarkable things throughout the years and ending with a bronze medal at westerns against some tough teams was a great end of an era for us. “
McLean also adds, “My biggest take away from this experience was the memories we made as a team not just on the field but also off the field. From trips to and from the diamonds as a team and touring together these are memories that will last forever.”
Teams at Western Canadians were amazed that this team of small-town girls that held no try-outs and did not choose to pick up any additional players for the Western Canadian event, played at the level they did. Talent, work ethic, determination and drive and a lot of true grit were shown by the Unity team at the event.
Another note of pride was the event host and competing teams noting the camaraderie of the Unity team when a faulty sprinkler caused some diamond issues and the dads from the team jumped into to help rake and prepare the diamond, as this was what is always done in Unity for any game, or any event held.
Unity fans and supporters flooded social media with their congratulations and Panther pride following the medal win.
Seven of the 11 players will graduate from the minor ball ranks. A Western Canadian medal win was the perfect way to end their minor ball career.