By Don Descoteau
After advancing to the medal round in dramatic fashion then losing a tight semifinal in the seventh inning to Quebec, the Victoria Vipers simply ran out of steam at the Canadian bantam (age 14-15) baseball championships.
The B.C. champion Vipers finished fourth after losing 10-4 to host Windsor Riverside Royals in the bronze medal game Sunday. The Royals blew open a close game with five runs in the bottom of the sixth to make it 10-3.
"We did about as good as we could have done," said Vipers' head coach Ron Arcuri. "We just were so close to getting to the gold medal game."
The Vipers went 3-1 to finish second in their round robin pool and came from behind to win all three games. The lone loss was a 2-0 decision to eventual champion Calgary Cubs.
The medal round clincher was a 4-3 eight-inning victory over Manitoba that ended when Vipers pickup Rob Noble of Vancouver was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Victoria dodged a bullet in the top of the seventh with some fine defensive play. Manitoba had scored one to make it 3-3 and had runners on second and third with one out. But Viper pickup player Sean Heil of Vancouver caught a fly ball to right field then quickly fired a strike to catcher Dan Welch to nail the runner trying to tag up from third.
There was no shortage of drama in the semifinal, either, won 3-2 by Quebec.
Having opened up a 2-0 lead by the third inning, Victoria gave up a two-run homer in the bottom of the third. It was one of few mistakes Vipers ace pitcher Adam Jung made in the game. He finished with 12 strikeouts and gave up just four hits.
The Vipers threatened in the top of the seventh when Jung was hit by a pitch and stole second. He was thrown out at second on a failed bunt attempt and the Vipers lost their momentum.
The winning run was scored with one out in the Quebec seventh on an overthrow of third base on a steal attempt.
The last game, which started just 20 minutes after the semifinal, saw Victoria pull to within a run of Riverside at 4-3 after four innings but run out of gas afterward.
Making it onto the all-star team from Team B.C. were outfielders Noble and Jamie Benn, a Peninsula bantam house pickup who hit a team-best .450 for the tournament. Benn also pitched three strong innings of relief in the Manitoba game.
Perry Wilkinson hit .368 overall for the Vipers and led the way with four runs scored. Jung posted a 2.10 earned-run average and had a tournament-best 21 strikeouts.
Arcuri called the tournament an "invaluable experience" for the players.
"They know how they compare to the rest of the country now - three come-from-behind victories and maybe two hits away from a win over Quebec to play for gold," he said.
"They really learned how to play under pressure. It'll give them confidence going up to the midget level."