For a school that just made the big leagues in high school baseball, Neil McNeil is a surprise hit.
After stepping up to Tier 1 this season – the only East End Catholic school to do so – the varsity boys team edged past rivals Michael Power to land a spot in the Ontario championships.
It’s the best baseball season that anyone at Neil McNeil can remember.
The Maroons finally met their match in game three, which Aurora’s St. Maximilian Kolbe won 5-2, but not before they outran the Prince Edward Panthers with a commanding 10-5 win.
“Especially after being Tier 2 our whole high school life until this year, and then making OFSAA – it’s awesome,” said catcher Mason Debassige, a fourth-year player who is one of just two Grade 12s on the team.
Pitcher Oliver Rivera, the other Grade 12, spoke to Beach Metro News between games with a burger in one hand and an ice pack in the other.
Rivera threw seven strike-outs in the first five innings against the Panthers, several of them after taking a hard line-drive to his calf.
“Pain is temporary,” he told his coaches on the mound, borrowing a line from former head coach Al Baigent. “Victory is forever.”
While Rivera will spend his next baseball season pitching for a college prep team in Puerto Rico, most of his teammates will be looking for another record-setting season next spring.
Warming up for his third game of the day, Anthony Fera said lots of Tier 1 players play ball in Toronto’s Midget Elite League, and Neil McNeil is guaranteed to face top league competition from Bishop Allen and St. Mike’s, both of which made it to the provincial semis.
Still, after relieving Rivera in the 10-5 win against Prince Edward Collegiate, Fera sounded confident.
Asked what kind of pitcher he was, he replied, “Strike-out pitcher!”
Besides fresh jerseys from the school, head coach Tony Granato said this year’s team started their first Tier 1 season with a new level of dedication, running drills months before their first game and persevering in a largely West End league where all their games had to be doubleheaders.
“It’s nice to get a win at OFSAA,” Granato said.
“We’ve got a good core of players, younger players as well, so we should have a good returning team next year.”