Western Fastpitch Championships, Day 2: Carnduff sets pace in women’s division

Tiny Carnduff, Sask. has proven over the years to be one of the great hotbeds of women's fastpitch in Canada.

Pondering how Carnduff, a town of 1,100 people located in relative isolation in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, came to host an elite women’s fastpitch program, Allan Hubbard concedes it’s hard work.

After founding the Carnduff Steelers as a minor bantam team back in 1991, Hubbard shepherded the club into the senior women’s ranks, where it’s proven to be a perennial force at the Western Canadian Senior B Fastpitch Championships.

The Steelers won a Western title in 2002 and took silver in 2004, and they’ve claimed the pole position through two days at the 2012 edition of the tournament at Abbotsford’s Exhibition Park. After a pair of wins on Friday – 3-2 over the North Delta Sunfire and 4-1 over the Red Deer Panthers – they own the best record in the women’s round robin at 4-0.

“It’s tough to run a fastball team out of a small town,” Hubbard noted. “But we have a good name, so girls like to come and play for us.

“We’ve had some great tournaments, some great teams. We’ve tried to keep a core and just keep building with young girls all the time.”

Five members of the Steelers’ current 17-player roster hail from Carnduff proper, while the others come from communities across Saskatchewan.

“We have a girl who’s been playing for us from Wilkie, which is on the other side of the province,” Hubbard noted. “They don’t make many practices, but we’re a tournament team.”

For Hubbard, running the Steelers is a family affair. His son Darren is an assistant coach, and daughter Alana Gardiner plays for the team.

Evaluating the Steelers’ undefeated start, Hubbard had to think long and hard to find something to quibble with.

“Our bats have been working at the start of every game, we’re getting solid work from our pitchers, and then our defence has been holding us in there,” he mused.

“But we’ve had times where we could probably bury a team, and we just can’t seem to get that extra hit. So we’ve been playing a lot of close games . . . That would be the only issue I have with my team right now.”

North Delta sits second in the women’s standings at 3-1, while Red Deer and the Warrior Pride are tied for third at 2-2.

YARD DOGS ON THE BRINK

On the men’s side, the Lloydminster Steel Dodgers have been the class of the field, riding a deep pitching staff to victories in their first five round-robin games.

The Saskatchewan champion Bruno Merchants and the Pomeroy Mets of Grande Prairie, Alta. are tied for second at 4-1, while Nanaimo Wheatsheaf is fourth at 3-2.

The Yard Dogs, the lone Abbotsford team on either side of the draw, find themselves outside the playoff picture with a 2-3 record after falling to Wheatsheaf (10-7) and Pomeroy (7-6) on Friday.

The latter loss was particularly galling, as the Yard Dogs led 6-0 in the second inning before watching the Alberta squad rally to knot the score and eventually win in eight innings. Ron Head drove in the game-winning run, smacking a single to right field off Dogs pitcher Travis Kunz, and Richard Clarke kept the Abby squad off the scoreboard after coming on in relief of starter Ryan Krebs in the third inning.

“It’s very tough to chew on, that one,” Yard Dogs coach Bob Avery said afterward. “They changed pitchers, and their guy (Clarke) just kept throwing downballs. He kept it down, and we couldn’t get anything into the outfield.”

With just one round-robin game remaining, the Yard Dogs still have a flicker of hope. If they can beat Bruno on Saturday (12 p.m.) and if Lloydminster beats Nanaimo (10 a.m.), they would play Nanaimo in a tiebreaker for the fourth and final playoff berth at 2 p.m.

The good news is, the Yard Dogs will receive some pitching reinforcements in the form of Craig Pidcock. He pitched the team to a 3-2 win over the Delisle Diamond Dogs on Thursday, but was unavailable Friday due to work commitments.

“He’s a Vancouver fireman,” Avery explained. “But he’ll be here for Saturday, so we’ll have some throwing help. He’ll start (against Bruno).”

The tourney continues through the weekend at Exhibition Park, culminating with the men’s and women’s championship games at 1 p.m. Sunday. For complete schedule information, visit 2012westerns.theinsidecurve.com.

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