By Sam Loveys
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for relief pitcher Reid Maika. His East Nepean Eagles were clinging to a 3-2 lead and their opponents had a runner in scoring position, with a berth in the Little League World Series on the line.
It had been more a week since the battle for a national title began, and weather delays had stretched their seventh game to over 3.5 hours.
When Maika fielded a tough hopper and threw it to Owen McBane at first for the final out, the Eagles and their hometown crowd exploded for the long-awaited championship victory.
“It feels unbelievable,” smiled Maika. “It’s something you can’t put to words.”
The last out Monday evening at the Nepean Sportsplex’s Hamilton Yards was the last of many pressure-filled moments Maika survived at Little League Canada’s senior baseball championships (for players age 15-16).
Earlier, while facing Ontario representative Oakville in the semi-finals of the July 15-24 event, Maika found himself at the plate in extra innings with a runner in scoring position.
“My buddy Justin (Morris) was on second. I knew he has wheels so if I could just get a hit into the outfield he was scoring and that’s what happened,” recalled Maika, whose team prevailed 5-4 with his walk-off hit. “I didn’t wanna get too ahead of myself, so I just squared up to the plate, saw the pitch and I knew it was time.”
Maika had been in teeth-chattering positions before. He pitched at last year’s nationals, though that time his Eagles lost.
“I wasn’t having that pain again,” underlined Maika. “But I’m still nervous right now, even after the game ended.”
East Nepean jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the championship game against undefeated Team Quebec. Without a single hit, they managed to snag a run thanks to a walk, a stolen base and an error. Pinch runner Jeffrey Luo executed a perfect backdoor slide into second base to avoid a surefire tag before Owen McBane rang him in on a dropped pop fly to center field.
In the top of the fourth inning, Eagles starting pitcher Nolan Beelen found himself in a jam: bases loaded, no outs. Quebec capitalized on the opportunity and scored twice, taking the lead 2-1. It was the only falter for Beelen, who threw for five and a third innings, giving up just those two runs on 97 pitches.
“Nolan throws hard and has great off-speed stuff – curveball, change – and he gets the batters off balance and makes his fastballs seem harder,” highlighted Eagles coach Matt Beelen. “Nolan was pitching really well and then he had to sit for 40 minutes (due to a rain delay). It’s hard to come back from that right away. But mentally the boys are resilient, one of their mantras is ‘we don’t make excuses because excuses are for losers’.”
The Eagles roared back by putting together a two-run fourth inning of their own. With two outs, fans reversed their rally caps as East Nepean exploited a hole on the left side of the infield. Crucial singles to left field from Evan Tao and McBane broke through the Mirabel Diamond’s tough, high-velocity pitching. McBane’s single to left center brought in the eventual winning run, though the drama was far from done.
After another hour-long weather delay, Nolan Beelen hit the pitch cap, bringing Maika to the mound from shortstop with five outs needed for the championship. Maika retired the first two batters he faced, but Quebec earned one last chance to even the score at the end.
To start the seventh inning, Quebec’s leadoff batter hit a deep pop fly that sat in the air for what felt like an eternity. The stands were deathly silent as the ball shifted in the wind, got caught in the lights and dropped. The height was too much for the Eagles outfielder and suddenly the Diamond had a runner on second.
But that didn’t phase Maika, who calmly retired the following three batters as if there was no pressure on his shoulders at all.
“When I saw the final ground ball go up, instinct took over. I was not taking the chance of misplaying it, so I got to it real quick,” recounted Maika. “It was an incredible moment.”
Championship game photo gallery
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