Sunday afternoon at the 2017 Men’s World Softball Championship, the Canadians found themselves in a familiar situation.
On the heels of a tough loss to New Zealand 12-11 Saturday night, Team Canada needed two wins to defend their 2015 world championship win.
Their first would need to come Sunday morning in the bronze-medal game against Australia.
Despite a few home runs, it was not to be.
Canada lost 7-3 and was relegated to bronze while Australia would go on to fight southern hemisphere rival New Zealand for gold.
The Canadians took a moment together on the field to debrief before walking off the pitch and taking a seat to watch the final.
Catcher Ryan Boland sat with his head in his hands before taking his gear off for the final time in Whitehorse.
“We had one goal going into this and that was to get back to the gold-medal game and repeat,” said designated player Derek Mayson. “Anytime you come up short of your goal of two years in the making, it’s a lot at one time, so just kind of processing that and sticking together as a team.”
Mayson had two solo home runs in the game.
“I kind of just wanted to lead by example with more intense focus,” said Mayson, who was part of the 2015 crew that won gold in Saskatoon, “give the team a bit of a spark, whatever it took.”
The Canadians went undefeated in pool play last week, sweeping all seven of their games to take the top spot in pool A. Their playoff journey began Friday afternoon against Japan, which they eliminated from the tournament in a 2-0 victory.
On Saturday they suited up for a big rivalry game against New Zealand, who they beat in the world championship final two years ago.
The game, which lasted four hours, was played on a soggy pitch.
Before a rain delay was called, New Zealand first-baseman Nathan Nukunuku used a plastic spoon to scoop out the pitcher’s cleats between most pitches.
A 25-minute rain delay was called and the diamond crew laid out diamond dry on the pitching mound.
The game went on as rain continued to fall.
The Canadians were leading 9-2 ahead of the rain delay, but when play resumed, New Zealand had a monster fourth inning, scoring eight runs to take the lead.
“It was an emotional game,” said veteran first baseman Stephen Mullaley.
“Normally a 9-2 lead lasts. That wasn’t a normal game. Both teams had to battle through the weather and really there was one inning that shifted the momentum.”
New Zealand would go on to win 12-11 and gain direct entry into Sunday afternoon’s gold-medal game.
The Canadians, meanwhile, would have to do battle with the rising Australians for the second spot.
“It’s disappointing to end this way, I mean our goal was to come here and defend our world championship and no excuses, that game last night – that four hour game – took a lot out of us and it was tough,” said Team Canada coach John Stuart. “It was tough to come back and we fought right to the end.”
New Zealand would go on to win their seventh world championship – the most of any team – with a 6-4 victory over Australia.