THUNDER BAY – Greg Hamilton likes to think Canada vs. the United States is a burgeoning rivalry, much like the one hockey fans have enjoyed for the past couple of decades.
The rivalry will be renewed on Thursday night, when the two teams kick off their Super Round journey at the 2017 Under 18 World Baseball Cup at Port Arthur Stadium.
“We’ve certainly had some great battles with them over the years. They’re the standard and in hockey we’re the standard. I think it’s kind of in parallel a lot now,” Hamilton said.
“We have a puncher’s chance every time we see them, both with our junior team and our senior team now. We’re good enough to be on the field. They have more depth and probably on paper they’re a little bit better, in terms of bottom to top. But we’re good enough that on any given night we can beat them.”
As recently as 2012 the Canadians took down the Americans at the Under 18 tournament, knocking them off by a 1-0 count in the second round, en route to a silver-medal finish that saw them fall 6-2 to the United States in the championship game.
That’s probably how they’ll have to do it again, suggested Hamilton, looking at an American team that went undefeated during round robin play this week.
An upset isn’t out of the question, Hamilton said.
“You’ve obviously got to play defence and get a strong outing on the mound. I mean you’re not going to beat them 13-10,” Hamilton said, after Canada walloped Nicaragua 15-3 to secure a spot in the second round.
“Their pitching depth is too much and the arms are too good. You’ve got to keep the score low and hopefully you can run into the right one at the right time and win a close ballgame.”
Canadian confidence is at an all-time high, said outfielder Jason Willow, who homered in Canada’s 15-3 win on Wednesday over Nicaragua, the win securing his team’s spot in the Super Round, where they’ll begin with a 1-1 record thanks to their results against Australia and Korea.
Willow said he likes his team’s chances, based on part in their results against Korea and Chinese Taipei, the third and fourth seeds in the tournament.
Though Canada dropped both games, they had the winning run at the plate in their final at bat, meaning they were two swings of the bat away from going undefeated themselves – a distinct possibility from a suddenly powerful squad that led all teams with nine home runs in the opening round.
“Both teams were top caliber teams and we played good games against them. We had a chance to win both and I think that gives us good confidence. Those are three good teams, but hopefully we’ve got the skill set to win and go far in this,” Willow said.
Canada will also play Japan on Friday and Cuba on Saturday, needing to win at least one game to earn a spot in a medal game.
The Americans are led by an expected who’s who class ahead of next year’s MLB draft, including shortstop Brice Turang, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, right-hander Kumar Rocker and infielder Tristan Casas. Other potential first-rounders include Will Banfield, pitcher Ethan Hankins and shortstop Nolan Gorman.
Catcher Victor Cerny said Canada relishes the underdog role.
“We’ve just got to go out there and give it our all. It’s a good feeling that they’re going to underestimate us a bit. But we can do it,” Cerny said.
Eric Cerantola gets the call for Canada. First pitch is 6 p.m.