For the very first time, Alberta has won both the men’s and women’s national slopitch titles in the same year with many Taberites figuring predominately in the feat at the Independent Electric and Controls 2013 Senior Men’s and Women’s Slo-Pitch Canadian Championship in Leduc.
Moviesque in how the men’s title unfolded, the Alberta Oilmen claimed its first gold medal after defeating Ontario’s Naturals in consecutive games by extra innings with scores of 21-19, 21-20.
“Back-to-back games for extra innings in the final, that’s pretty much as close and as exciting as it gets….it was pretty awesome,” said Jeff Zanolli who played shortstop for the Oilmen.
The win is historic on many other levels as well including the first time in 27 years since an Alberta team has won the championship and 20 years before an Alberta team has even medaled in the top three.
“Winning a championship of any kind takes a lot of things. It’s a week-long tournament, so throughout the week some things went our way and other things didn’t go our way. There was a team buy in from all the guys and I think that was the number-one thing. If you don’t think you can beat the big dogs, you are probably not going to. We never panicked when we were behind and had total team belief that we could win.”
The Oilmen were not favourites by any stretch in the 13-team field from across the country. Teams play 10 games of round robin and have to finish in the top eight to advance to the playoffs. The top four teams get double life where they have to be defeated twice in the playoffs to be knocked out where the fifth through eight teams have only one life.
“You lose and you’re out,” said Zanolli, adding the Oilmen only managed sixth place for the single life in the playoffs.
“Never in the history of the tournament which goes back to the mid-70s has a team from outside the top four come back to win.”
There was a very strong Taber connection in the Alberta Oilmen as Jeff and his brother Josh (catcher) manned the field along with Dennis Bassett (third base), Dugan Broadfoot (pitcher) and Tyler Ottenbreit.
Broadfoot had struggled through some injuries according to Zanolli, being on the Oilmen for three seasons in which pitching in slopitch has to be an art from with how people can tee off on it to keep damage to a minimum.
“Getting him back form injury was huge. He does an excellent job of mixing his height and his speed and the depth from where he throws it from. He does a good job of not just letting hitters stand there and take batting practice,” said Zanolli. “ And he defends the middle really well which is important in men’s slo-pitch. With limited home runs where you are only seven per game (before they count as automatic outs), the easiest spot for guys to pick on for an easy base hit is driving it right back up the middle. If a pitcher can take that away, it’s an easy out for you and shortens up the game.”
The men’s championship is a long time in the making as the core group of Oilmen were formed way back in 2002. Little pieces have been added on or taken away where the team got to a point where it could compete nationally. And it’s not like you get rich off of playing slo-pitch and so the dedication with how the travels is while balancing other commitments is a feat in itself.
“You have to find talented players for sure in order to compete with the best teams in the country, but it also takes a ton of commitment and sacrifice in your personal life. You basically have to ask guys to take their holidays playing softball which most people don’t do,” said Zanolli. “You have to find the right type of person to sacrifice for the guys. We know each other so well, we’re basically each other’s family almost. We’re getting married, we’re having kids and we know each other’s families. It’s a great family to be part of.”
The women’s national slo=pitch title was won by the Edmonton Sparqs which featured Taberites Rhonda Burge and Kareena Zanolli. The Sparqs won its second-ever championship, and first since 2010, knocking off the defending champion Ontario Ladybirds 8-4.
“It was a real history-making day for Softball Alberta. For it to happen at home in our own province with friend sand family, it was awesome,” said Zanolli. “When you have seven out of 34 players when you combine the two rosters who have come from Taber, that’s pretty cool.”