Tag: world championship

Cerantola one of country’s top young arms at Tournament 12

The Eric Cerantola on display at Rogers Centre during the fifth-annual Tournament 12 this year is an incredibly different one than the right-hander who put himself on the map at last September’s event.

From not knowing what the Blue-Jays hosted showcase was or what the prestigious tournament entailed, to taking the spotlight in the event just a year later, Cerantola knows that he has come a long way in a short time.

“Tournament 12 was a great experience and I really loved playing at Rogers Centre,” he said. “Honestly, I wasn’t quite familiar with what it was at the beginning of the year, but it was a really good experience, and good exposure at the same time. From last T12 to this one, I’ve matured a lot physically. My stuff has gotten better, I have cleaner mechanics, and it’s a lot better than it was last year.”

After joining the Great Lake Canadians program before last season began, the Oakville native’s appearance at Tournament 12 gave him a shot at the Canadian Junior National Team, with which he has become a mainstay. Between Team Canada and Great Lake, he has emerged as one of Canada’s top young arms, with more on the horizon.

“He’s grown a lot,” said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. “He’s got some gifts, obviously. You can’t take credit for teaching some of the things he brings to the table…He’s got size, he’s got an easy arm, he’s got great plane, and he spins the breaking ball.

“It’s just a matter of growing into that understanding and realization of the talent he has, and not getting too caught up in being in a hurry for all that to come together, and making changes rapidly…He’s got the makings of everything you’re looking for in a real, legitimate arm.”

Cerantola’s arrival on the Canadian baseball scene was fast and furious, making strong impressions everywhere he’s been. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound hurler is grateful for the coaching and experiences he’s had with the GLC program, after his previous team folded and left him without a diamond to call home.

“Joining the Great Lake Canadians was a really good decision for me,” Cerantola said. “Before, I was with the Ontario Diamondbacks, and they don’t exist anymore, so I was looking for a place to play. The GLC saw me at a tournament in Oakville…when I started looking for a team, I gave them a call, and they were interested, so I went there to join them.

“I’ve evolved a lot as a pitcher since I joined their program. My mechanics, velocity-wise, everything has gone up and the mechanics are much cleaner, and overall everything has improved quite a bit.”

Beyond crediting his parents Lucy and Franco Cerantola for allowing him every opportunity he’s been afforded, the young pitcher is thankful for the experience and wisdom that has been passed onto him from GLC pitching coordinator Adam Arnold, who’s enjoyed watching the teenager’s progress.

“We continue to work on keeping athleticism in the delivery, and having a plan and a purpose, starting right when he picks up the baseball,” Arnold said. “We had Eric start throwing from a hands-over-head delivery to create some rhythm and fluidity throwing the baseball. That gave him a chance to start separating over the rubber, be on time, and ultimately sync his body.

“He started to show some consistency with it, working more freely with a better tempo and the athleticism, natural strength, and ability followed along…As he has matured as a baseball player, his daily process, mentality, and plan when he picks up a ball have given him a chance to iron out some of the smaller day-to-day adjustments it will take to be successful in this game.”

As he continues to get better and grow, Cerantola believes that he has truly begun to learn how to pitch.

“My biggest asset is my pitchability,” the righty said. “With my stuff, my breaking balls and my off-speed stuff to go with my fastball, that’s what my best offering is. And I try to go out there and compete every single outing.”

Facing pros, and heading into the U18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay with Team Canada just before Tournament 12, Cerantola has been helped over the last year by facing a higher calibre of competition than ever before, elevating his game.

“The junior team has been a great opportunity to get to face professional batters, and to get to learn really how to pitch against those kind of batters,” the Mississippi State commit said. “It’s completely different than being at home, playing against other high school players. You really have to bring out that third pitch and learn how to locate. If you don’t locate, the mistakes are bigger. But it’s been fun.”

When his team’s run in Thunder Bay comes to an end, Cerantola will return to the event that has been the highlight of his young career, looking to put everything he’s gained over the last year on display on his hometown stage.

“T12 last year was a really fun experience and the best thing I’ve done over the last couple of years so far,” Cerantola said. “I don’t think I’ve had anything quite like that, and our team made it that way. The team was a really fun group, and then add the fact that you’re playing in a major league stadium, there’s no better feeling than that.”

Dondrae Bremner soaks in final junior trip before Cincinnati

Down to his last day with the Canadian Junior National Team, Dondrae Bremner is hoping to move onto his next step and head to the University of Cincinnati with a bronze medal in his back pocket.

Before joining the Bearcats, the 18-year-old infielder and the rest of his Team Canada teammates will take on Japan at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup, Bremner’s final matchup with the group. The bittersweet moment will signify the end of an era in which he’s made the most of every moment, and is extremely grateful for.

“It’s been a really good time,” the 31st-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds said. “I love all the guys. I’m really going to miss it, especially playing for my country. I feel like this opportunity has prepared me for both university, and if I do get drafted in my junior or senior year. I feel like it’s done a really good job of that…

“It’s weird thinking that I’m pretty much not going to play with any of these guys ever again. It’s been a blast. I’ve loved it. But it’s been a little sad these last couple of days, realizing that it’s almost over and I might not see them.”

Bremner’s final trip began with two immediate World Cup losses to Chinese Taipei and Korea at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, leaving Team Canada in a hole it had to win its way out of. An epic ninth-inning comeback against Italy got the team started, and after rolling through Australia and Nicaragua, it was onto the super round, where it beat Japan and Cuba to secure a rematch against the Japanese squad for bronze on Sunday.

“We had a really good start, but we just couldn’t pull out the wins,” Bremner said. “But the intensity has gotten way better, and as a team we’re getting the job done. These last games have been really exciting…International baseball is exactly what Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] said it was going to be – high intensity, and we’ve pretty much got to be all in if we’re going to win.”

Hoping the crowd is on his team’s side on Sunday, the Toronto native believes the fans in Thunder Bay played a prominent role for the host nation early in the tournament, and in its most intense matchup, and will take all the help it can get as it fights for a medal.

“The crowd is amazing and that’s helped us,” Bremner said. “Some games, they haven’t been as intense as they were in the Italy game, but the crowd really helped us out in that game because they got us going…

“Against Italy, we played a good game. I felt like at the beginning we were putting too much pressure on ourselves and we weren’t doing what we needed to do. But towards the end, it got really intense, because we started playing the way we usually do, and we came back and pulled out a big win. This whole tournament has been a blast. I love it, especially playing for your country in front of your fans.”

Helping prepare Bremner for both his adventures with the Junior National Team as well as moving onto the American Athletic Conference has been the Toronto Mets program, where he has impressed with his development both on and off the field.

“Playing for the Mets really developed me, especially playing in the [Canadian Premier Baseball League],” the shortstop said. “We don’t usually see any arms that aren’t good; there are good arms coming at us every single game.

“Pretty much the talent here with the junior team, and in our league with the Mets, has been really good, and the coaches in the league have done a really good job of prepping me for what’s next.”

One of Bremner’s coaches over the years has been Chris Kemlo, who has seen firsthand the amount of progress the young player has made, and is excited for his next step, knowing that his ceiling is yet to be determined.

“At Cincinnati, he’s going to be someone who comes right in as a very athletic player with a lot of tools,” Kemlo said. “He’s nowhere near where he’s going to be when he leaves Cincinnati. There’s a lot of upside, and the biggest thing is the athleticism he brings. He’s got all the tools, but he has yet to reach his potential. There’s a lot more there.

“He’s come from being a skinny kid with little strength and lacking confidence…to somebody who wants the moment. He wants that at-bat with the game on the line, wants that ground ball with the game on the line, wants to be the guy. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously his body’s changed but his baseball IQ – forget all the tools – the way he approaches the game and the kind of person he is, those are the biggest changes.”

Beyond looking to get into game action with the bronze medal on the line on Sunday, Bremner is also excited to get the next step going once the World Cup comes to an end.

“I’m excited to go to school and get ready for the college life,” Bremner said. “Especially being down here, we go on two-week trips or three-week trips, it really preps you for being on your own and not with your parents. I feel like it’s done a really good job of that, so I won’t be scared or anything of university. I’m pretty much used to not being with my parents.”

Bremner is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by Mets teammates Landon Leach and Denzel Clarke, Ontario Blue Jays Noah Naylor and Harley Gollert, and Great Lake Canadians Eric Cerantola, Lucas Parente and Griffin Hassall.

Photo credit: WBSC/Christian Stewart

Lucas Parente enjoying final experience with Junior National Team

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Lucas Parente is having the time of his life at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup on home soil in Thunder Bay.

When the 18-year-old outfielder was first added to the Canadian Junior National Team almost a year ago, his sights were set on just making the next trip with the squad, with no eye on the world championships more than 10 months later. Now, he can’t imagine dreaming of anything else.

“Everything has been amazing,” Parente said. “This is probably the best group of guys I could ask for. I love them all. And the crowd – it’s just something that I might never experience again, so I definitely want to soak it all in and enjoy it. This is my last trip as a junior. It’s different, because when I made the team last October I wasn’t really thinking about this trip – I just wanted to stay on the team after each trip. So once the Dominican trip happened [in May], I really focused on making this team.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Like Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] always says, this is going to be one of the most special athletic things you do in your career and your life. Once, he told us how [Toronto Blue Jays outfielder] Dalton Pompey would say this is one of the coolest things he’s done, and that made me want to make it even more and I’m just glad that I did. I’m really glad I’m here.”

Parente and his Canadian teammates began their journey to the medal round at the world championships with an extra-inning heartbreaker against Chinese Taipei, before losing their second game against Korea and landing in a hole that forced them to win three straight matchups at Port Arthur Stadium in order to advance to the super round of the event.

Staving off relegation to the consolation round, in a must-win contest against Italy, Team Canada didn’t hold a lead until the ninth inning, completing an epic comeback before adding dominant wins against Australia and Nicaragua to move on.

“We didn’t expect to be in that 0-2 hole early, but Korea and Chinese Taipei are good teams, so I knew those were going to be tough games,” Parente, a native of Burlington, Ontario said. “Our intensity definitely changed after those first two games, because we knew if we lose another one, we’re out. So it was do-or-die every other game…The game against Italy was probably the most intense game I’ve ever played, and it was probably the most fun, when we won.

“The crowd here is nothing that I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this before, and just having them on your side is something that definitely helps us and gets our intensity up a lot.”

When the tournament is all said and done – after Parente and the rest of the national team compete for bronze on Sunday, after beating Japan on Friday to move into the medal round – the 5-foot-9, 170-pound outfielder will move to London, Ontario, to work further with the Great Lake Canadians program that he believes got him right to where he is currently.

“I don’t think I would be playing for Team Canada if I didn’t go to GLC,” he said. “Working with Adam Stern, Chris Robinson, Adam Arnold, and all the coaches there, it’s a different level of coaching. If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t be here, and this has been a pretty cool experience.”

Taking some additional time after high school to find a desirable opportunity for his post-secondary education, Parente wants to explore his options and make a better-informed decision before heading off to school next summer.

“I want to get better and hopefully find a school I like, a program that I want, and a nice place to live for four years,” he said. “I’m looking for a good program and good coaches, and somewhere I can develop. I also want to go somewhere that I’ll actually get a chance to play right off the bat.”

Experiencing a lot of growth over his last couple of seasons with the Canadians, Parente is hoping to keep that progression going even further as he makes baseball his primary focus for a little while, and continues to work hard and get better.

“I’ve evolved a lot since I started with them,” the young player said. “Before I was there, I had a little bit of talent, but going to GLC made me aware of how to play my game and use that ability, because I’m a smaller player and I need to play a different game. I’m not supposed to hit home runs. They taught me really how to play my game to the best of my ability.

“My game is pretty much built around speed. I use bunting, try to hit line drives, and beat out ground balls, stuff like that. That’s what I try to do. I work on my speed a lot, and my hand-eye coordination.”

Parente is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by GLC teammates Griffin Hassall and Eric Cerantola, Toronto Mets Denzel Clarke, Dondrae Bremner and Landon Leach, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor.

Harley Gollert impressing out of the bullpen at U18 World Cup

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – There’s nothing like being on the world stage.

Though Ontario Blue Jays southpaw Harley Gollert has been in the midst of excitement on the field before, playing for the Canadian Junior National Team on home soil at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay is something he’s never experienced the likes of.

“The excitement and energy levels are definitely on a whole other status,” Gollert said. “It’s not even comparable to anything else. And then obviously there’s all the little mix and different parts of the game, like the extra-inning rule, we got to see that Game 1 and that was pretty cool. It just adds to the pressure and intensity. Even the crowd is another factor. We’ve never played in front of this many people, so it’s made it a unique experience.”

Team Canada began its quest for gold at the World Cup with an extra-inning heartbreaker against Chinese Taipei, before losing its second matchup to Korea and landing in a hole that meant it needed to win three straight contests at Port Arthur Stadium to advance to the super round.

In a do-or-die matchup against Italy, the Canadians didn’t hold a lead until the ninth inning, completing an epic comeback before adding two dominant wins against Australia and Nicaragua to advance.

“The Italy game was actually a bit of a wake-up call for us,” Gollert said. “That’s the best way to put it. Those first two games, as good as they were, it was almost like it wasn’t an embarrassment to lose those. They’re definitely good clubs, and Italy, skill-wise, we should have been able to handle them a lot better. That’s when we realized we can’t just go out there and throw our best on the field and expect to win.

“That’s not really going to work, especially down here when everybody’s playing for their country with all this pride and they really want to succeed and do well and represent their country well. That was the biggest thing, and then with the momentum swing of getting that wake-up call and rolling with it, I don’t think we’re intimidated by anybody at this point, even the [undefeated] Americans. We’ve all played competition at just as good or better levels, so we can all play with [teams] like that and be successful.”

With Team Canada, Gollert has been called upon in some tough situations out of the bullpen, taking on Chinese Taipei in extra innings, where runners begin on first and second base; squaring off against Italy and trying to keep it close; and facing a bases-loaded, none out jam against Nicaragua. Typically a starter, those situations are relatively new to the 18-year-old lefty from Toronto, but he knows that each outing makes him stronger.

“It’s been different for me,” Gollert said. “I’m more just coming in with the idea that I want to win and however they want to use me, I’m just going to do whatever I can in that situation. It’s definitely a bit of a challenge, even the whole warmup idea, where I can’t control the length of my warmup and stuff like that. It’s definitely different.

“But putting myself in those situations will only make me better in the long run, and more versatile in the future. I’m happy I’ve been able to go through that, even though there have been wins and losses, and I’ve been successful and haven’t been so successful, but it helps me overall.”

Happy to have the confidence of his coaching staff, Gollert has so far proven them right in every situation he’s faced.

“It shows they have trust in me,” the Austin Peay commit said. “I’ve always been pretty good under pressure. I’ve shown that throughout my career, so being able to use that trust and confidence they have in me and letting my own confidence show on the mound, whatever situation I’m in, it helps. I’m making sure I do what I can do.

“If they beat me, they beat me, but I’m not going to let myself and the energy get to me. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I enjoy the trust, and I don’t get nervous when I come into situations like that, it’s just not the type of person I am.”

Not shying away from looking at times when he finds less success on the mound, Gollert believes that every outing is a learning opportunity and that occasional mistakes allow for more growth.

“I’ve been maturing, even when it comes to my non-successes, being able to deal with them and realizing that you’re not always going to be good or always on your game,” he said. “But being able to bounce back the following times has been a really big thing for me, especially in a tournament like this. It’s so up and down, and you saw it after Day 1, we looked like we were definitely in the gutter. But we’ve definitely bounced back here.”

With more to come, he’s enjoyed the experience so far.

“It’s definitely been good,” Gollert said. “Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] always talked about the excitement and the energy we were going to get in a world tournament like this, and you can talk about it for as long as you want, but until you get there and actually experience it, you can’t really understand it.

“We’ve actually been one of the teams in the tournament that has experienced the most of that momentum swing. It’s definitely awesome. We’re all growing together, and when we go through stuff like that together, it’s only going to make us better as a group. We’re able to bounce back from adversity better, which is going to be a key going forward, especially as we face better competition.”

Gollert is one of eight Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by Ontario Blue Jays teammate Noah Naylor, Toronto Mets Landon Leach, Dondrae Bremner and Denzel Clarke, and Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Eric Cerantola and Lucas Parente.

 

Photo credit: WBSC/Christian Stewart

Noah Naylor gets his own taste of World Cup competition with Team Canada

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Noah Naylor had heard about world championship experiences before.

Heading into the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup on home soil in Thunder Bay, the 17-year-old catcher and third baseman had watched from afar when his brother Josh – the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft – played for Team Canada on the world stage in Mexico and Japan.

“This is one of the biggest events overall,” Naylor said. “Playing against different countries, representing Canada across my chest, it’s definitely something to be thankful for…Events as big as this, seeing other players go through it, like [Canadian 2016 second-rounder Andrew] Yerzy, Josh, and a whole bunch of others, it’s just something that I’ve always dreamed of being in.”

Joining the Canadian Junior National Team almost two years ago, Naylor learned from his older teammates what the experience was like in those other countries. The native of Mississauga and his teammates had also gleaned insight into what it might be like from Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams.

“This is amazing,” Naylor said. “Having the home crowd behind you, and Greg has preached this a lot, having the sea of red in the crowd, it’s…an unreal moment for a few days, and I look forward to everything that comes along the way.”
But the experience has really been something that Canada’s current top prospect heading into next year’s draft has needed to feel firsthand to fully understand.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Being around my brothers, playing with them, and having a great time outside of the game as well. We’ve got a good chance ahead of us, we just need to stay with our game and just play our hearts out and not take anything for granted.”

Entering his third year with the junior squad and his final season with the Ontario Blue Jays after the World Cup, Naylor has spent much of his time drawing comparisons to his brother while trying to create a path for himself.

“I’m still in the midst of creating my own identity,” he said. “Having Josh going through this whole thing before me has been helpful. He’s told me about all of his experiences, and I’m just trying to make it all my own and build my career around me, and give thanks to everybody who’s helped along the way.”

When the younger Naylor was first invited to join Team Canada, he was originally given a jersey with the No. 35, the same digits his older brother had worn through his four years with the national squad. A little less familiar to all those around him than Josh was at the time, Noah asked if there was any possibility of a trade.

“I asked for a different number,” Naylor said in the spring. “I didn’t want to change anything, but it’s probably more about creating my own path rather than having the same number and doing everything the same as Josh.

“I’m obviously honoured and thankful to have him as a brother, and to carry the same legacy on and have the same number, and that would be cool, but I felt like a different number would be different for me, just to see me go through a different path. It’s something that I look forward to.”

Ironically, at this year’s World Baseball Classic – Josh’s first opportunity to play with the senior national team – he was given Noah’s new No. 32. But with a couple of seasons under both of their belts since the original switch, and a multitude of chances for Noah to separate himself, it was something for the brothers to laugh about.

“We definitely have differences,” the younger Naylor said. “Since Josh is a lefty, he’s definitely limited in terms of positions, but we’re two different players hitting-wise because he’s more of a power guy, and I feel like I’m more of a line drive, gap-to-gap guy with a little bit of pop. That’s the main difference between us, besides the fact that he’s bigger and he’s got a really good arm and stuff like that. Other than that, there’s not too much different about us.”

A left-handed hitting backstop and infielder with good bat speed, a strong arm, an impressive ability to hit, and some power, Noah has been nothing short of impressive on his own merit throughout his high school career.

“Noah brings a lot to the team,” Hamilton said. “He slows the game down, he plays under control, he plays with confidence, he’s a good, complete hitter, he gives you a good at-bat. I look at him as a good hitter with some power, as opposed to his brother, whose power kind of defined him but he was also so good hitter. I see the inverse with Noah, being a good hitter with some power. Your eyes don’t pop out with the power, where with Josh it was the power.

“They’re different personalities too. One’s going to run overtop of you and step on you to beat you, and the other competes very well. With Josh it was a vicious competitive streak, and a good kid outside of it but he was going to be a real tough, hard-nosed kid on the field. Noah plays pretty level, and plays with ease, and he has a more laid-back type personality, but he has a really good chance to be a really good hitter.”

While Josh’s competitive nature may have been more evident in his time with Team Canada, Noah believes that is definitely something they have in common.

“We compete in anything and everything, you name it,” the Texas A&M commit said. “Whether it’s a video game, or just pick-up basketball or anything. We’re definitely competitors. That’s something that we do share with each other, and I don’t think that will ever go away…

“He always beats me at video games. I don’t know why, there’s something with them, he’s always been good at those and I can never get one over him. Maybe the occasional game I’ll win, but it’s an effort, and never really by a blowout or anything like he would beat me. But for outdoor sports like basketball, pick-up hockey on the street, I would beat him at that. I like being outside more, but that’s kind of how it’s been throughout our lives.”

The middle child among three Naylor boys – 12-year-old Myles a standout talent in hockey and baseball – Noah has started to take charge a little bit more on the field lately than ever before, stepping up as one of the longest-tenured players currently wearing the red-and-white uniform.

“I do portray a little bit of a leadership role, but I definitely feel that as time goes on, I’m going to have to start to pick it up,” Naylor said. “Along with some of my other teammates, be a leader for everyone to look up to and follow, because why would I want to be someone who nobody would look up to or follow?

“Seeing these guys leave, they definitely helped me and I hope I’ve helped them get better. Being a leader, and showing the next group or some of my other teammates, helping them get through everything, that’s the key.”

Naylor is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players currently at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by OBJ teammate Harley Gollert, as well as Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Eric Cerantola and Lucas Parente, and Toronto Mets Dondrae Bremner, Landon Leach and Denzel Clarke.

Eric Cerantola takes on Team USA in World Cup competition

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – As Team Canada moves into the super round of the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup, the stakes only continue to get higher, the competition better, and the stage bigger.

Advancing from its pool with Korea and Australia, the Canadian Junior National Team will take on the best of the opposing group, matching up against USA, Japan and Cuba on the road to the medal round. On Thursday, Canada starts its super-round run with the three-time defending champs, and will send 6-foot-5, 195-pound right-hander Eric Cerantola to the mound to square off against the Americans.

“I’m as ready as it gets,” he said. “I’m excited that the coaching staff is handing me the ball and I’m ready to go. I found out probably 20 minutes after the game [against Nicaragua], when [pitching coach Mike Johnson] came up to me and told me, and I’m ready for it…I got a quick taste of the tournament in my last outing [against Korea] and I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

Despite Team USA looking like the team to beat in Thunder Bay, its pitching staff having allowed only one earned run through its first five games, Cerantola isn’t worried about who his opponent is or what the team has done, because it doesn’t change anything for the 17-year-old righty.

“I like to think that I won’t be thinking too much about who we’re playing,” Cerantola said. “I know they’re going to be a good team, and I just need to stick to my game plan, keeping hitters off balance and throwing strikes. If I can do those things, I’ll do just fine…

“Our guys are really good and they’ve been hitting the ball all over the place, in clutch situations, or using the long ball, and you never know what they can do. And defensively, we have very solid defenders and that’s part of my game plan, throwing strikes and letting the defence do their job.”

With a front row seat for all of the action Canada provided in its run through the opening round, Cerantola has enjoyed not only what his squad has accomplished on the field, but also the reaction of the home-country crowed through it all, with almost 15,000 people passing through the doors at Port Arthur Stadium to watch the boys in red and white.

“The experience so far has been amazing,” the native of Oakville, Ontario said. “Having the home crowd behind you, it’s just an incredible feeling that they’re cheering for your side. We’re just glad that we’re playing well for them and we hope to keep it going. It’s so much fun playing with the fan support, and it really is just a great experience.”

After an extra-inning heartbreaker to start off the tournament against Chinese Taipei, a tough loss to Korea, an epic ninth-inning comeback over Italy and two dominant wins against Australia and Nicaragua, Cerantola and his teammates have experienced almost everything international baseball has to offer, and have been forced to adjust quickly to the learning curve.

“I’ve learned that in international baseball, every team can beat any team at this point,” Cerantola said. “Even [Wednesday], we kind of let Nicaragua come in a little bit, and it was a game at one point. So every team can beat any other team on any given day, it’s just a matter of going out there and playing your heart out.”

Throughout the last year with the national squad, the Great Lake Canadians hurler and Mississippi State commit has been preparing for the World Cup, using outings against professionals to get ready to pitch on the highest international stage, and continuing to learn and get better the entire time.

“The junior team has been a great opportunity to get to face professional batters, and to get to learn really how to pitch against those kind of batters,” Cerantola said. “It’s completely different than being at home, playing against other high school players. You really have to bring out that third pitch and learn how to locate. If you don’t locate, the mistakes are bigger. But it’s been fun.”

As the fun turns into intense competition, the Canadian squad is confident in the progress Cerantola has made and what he can bring to the table as it looks to continue moving forward.

“He’s grown a lot,” said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. “He’s got some gifts, obviously. You can’t take credit for teaching some of the things he brings to the table. I don’t think any of us can or should. He’s got size, he’s got an easy arm, he’s got great plane, and he spins the breaking ball.

“It’s just a matter of growing into that understanding and realization of the talent he has, and not getting too caught up in being in a hurry for all that to come together, and making changes rapidly…He’s got the makings of everything you’re looking for in a real, legitimate arm, so he’s got a chance to be really good.”

Already the greatest experience the former hockey player has ever had in baseball, Cerantola is hoping to keep riding that wave into the super round and beyond.

“This is incredible,” he said. “Just the fact that you’re playing international baseball against the best of other countries, and that you’re at home at the same time, it’s just amazing.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s everything from the games – the games are always intense – everyone’s in it, everyone’s playing to win, the guys are awesome, we all have the same goal in mind, and that’s to win the gold medal, and the crowd has been awesome as well.”

Cerantola is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players currently with the Canadian Junior National Team at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by GLC teammates Lucas Parente and Griffin Hassall, Toronto Mets Denzel Clarke, Dondrae Bremner and Landon Leach, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor.

Griffin Hassall gets the ball for Canada against Nicaragua

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Heading into another must-win game at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Team Canada will look to Griffin Hassall to secure the squad’s third straight victory.

The 17-year-old right-hander from Newmarket, Ontario will take on Nicaragua in the team’s final matchup of the first round of play, and though Canada’s opponent is winless so far at the World Cup, Hassall and his teammates have learned not to underestimate anyone in the tournament after two early losses to Taiwan and Korea, and an epic ninth-inning comeback against Italy.

“I’ve got a mix of nerves and excitement,” the 6-foot-3, 170-pound righty said. “You can’t take anybody lightly, it doesn’t matter who it is or what their record is, it’s the country’s best, so anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You’ve got to prepare like you’re playing the best, because you are…

“Playing Italy for example, you don’t really think that they’ll be that difficult, but anybody can beat anybody and this is the best competition we’ve ever faced. It definitely has changed my outlook and I’m not going to take Nicaragua lightly.”

Heading into Wednesday with two straight victories against Italy and Australia, the mood has shifted in the Canadian clubhouse, and they couldn’t be more ready to get another game underway.

“After those first two losses, guys were upset, and they wanted to do better than that,” Hassall said. “But we had to respect both those teams. They were two really strong teams. But now coming and getting two wins back to back, our momentum is going strong now, everybody’s upbeat, we know we can pull this off, and everybody’s been staying positive, which is really good.”

Following the late-inning win against the Italian squad, the Canadian Junior National Team gave itself some breathing room against the Aussies, putting up six runs over the first two frames of the game and never looking back, and is hoping the trend continues.

“Going down 0-2 was a pretty rough start,” Hassall said. “But we’ve had two good bounce-back wins, the nice comeback against Italy, and then a much less stressful game against Australia, which was really nice to get an early lead and just hold it from there. It’s been great.”

A huge additional factor for the host nation’s squad has been the audience the team has seen in Thunder Bay for its games. They crowd has brought the excitement and enthusiasm for each of Canada’s wins, up and down with each out and run, with 12,262 fans through Port Arthur Stadium’s doors during the team’s first four games.

“Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] would always talk about the atmosphere, and it’s been crazy,” Hassall said. “It’s been an up-and-down tournament, but I didn’t expect how much the fans would be into it, how loud it can get, and really how quickly a game can turn around from one minute you’re down and all of a sudden you’re back in the game, or vice versa.”

Playing into extras and facing the international extra-inning tie break rule in its first matchup, and staving off relegation to the consolation round for the last two days, Canada has truly felt the experience of the game on the world stage, and Hassall is just hoping to keep it going as long as possible.

“International baseball is crazy,” he said. “Facing each country’s best is an unreal experience and this is probably going to be one of my best memories and accomplishments in baseball, so this is something really special.”

Coming out of the bullpen on Sunday against Korea, the Great Lake Canadians hurler is happy that he got his feet wet in the World Cup before heading into the most important game of his life, but Hassall understands that emotions might be a little bit higher on Wednesday. He believes he can temper them, and focus on what got him here to pull him through.

“It definitely got some of the nerves out,” the young hurler said. “But starting is going to be different against Nicaragua. Being out there and getting used to how it feels to have a crowd was great, because I’ve never pitched in something so big. That definitely helps, because it gives you a little experience to what it’s like, so that will help me…

“I’ve just got to pitch to what I’m capable of. I can’t try to do more than that. I’m not a big velocity guy, I’m more of a control-and-movement kind of guy, so I’ve just got to keep pitching to my strengths. And I definitely want to use the crowd and its support, but not get too jacked up on adrenaline and just lose it. You’ve got to stay calm, but also do what I’m capable of doing.”

Though the matchup looks lighter on paper than some of the heavyweight opponents Canada has faced so far, the team is coming off of its two wins with only one goal – another one. There are no other options for the squad in red and white as it looks to move forward on home soil.

“As I said to the guys after, I don’t want to dampen the celebration or be that guy, but it’s all for nought if we’re not ready for [Nicaragua],” Hamilton said. “And as [the game against Italy] showed, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s not always easy. They had nothing to lose. They’re playing with house money, and when you’re playing a team that’s pretty much got nothing to lose, if you give them a little life, it can be hard. So we’ve got to get out early, and try to do what we did [against Australia].”

Hassall has all the confidence in the world in the team behind him, and is going to do everything it takes to make sure that it tournament doesn’t end on Wednesday.

“This is amazing,” Hassall said. “I know that everyone on this team, one through nine and even the guys on the bench can hit. They’re showing off their power now, so I’m confident they can get us runs and even if I give up a few, they can get it back quickly, with our speed, power, contact. We’ve got everything on this team.

“And it’s such an honour to be able to represent your country and play for Canada and have all the fans behind you. Playing at home is really cool, and it’s surreal. The support has helped us a lot.”

Hassall is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players with the Canadian Junior National Team at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by GLC teammates Lucas Parente and Eric Cerantola, Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor, and Toronto Mets Landon Leach, Denzel Clarke and Dondrae Bremner.