The Varsity Blues men’s baseball team wrapped up a wild season last Sunday with a 4–0 victory over the Brock Badgers to win the Ontario University Athletics championship for the second year in a row. U of T has now won the OUA championship four times.
Blues pitcher Andy Orfanakos pitched eight complete innings, allowing no runs on seven hits while striking out two. Orfanakos was named OUA championship MVP as well as OUA male athlete of the week for his exceptional pitching throughout the playoffs.
“Andy pitched an absolutely amazing game; he was calm and cool every time they had base runners on, and he really set the tone for the defense,” said Blues outfielder Jonathan Isaac.
“He did the job for us,” added head coach Jim Sheppard. “He did whatever we asked him to do and more.”
Blues outfielder Andrew Mannone led the way offensively, going 2–3 with an RBI. Catcher Stuart Fraser and right fielder Steven Hersch each added a hit. Despite out hitting the Blues 7–4, the Badgers were unable to capitalize, leaving 11 runners on base.
Brock starting-pitcher Ryan Beckett went 4 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits. The Blues’ Hersch and Jamie Lekas scored in the top of the first, on an error by Brock first-baseman Bill Sloat. Two more runs came in the top of the fifth when Fraser scored on an error by Brock third-baseman Craig Vannus and Hersch scored on a passed ball.
Beckett was relieved by pitcher Justin Ayles midway through the fifth inning. Ayles dominated the Blues in a late September game earlier this season. He was just as dominant in the final 4 1/3 innings of the game, not allowing any hits and striking out six. However, Toronto’s 4–0 lead proved to be too much for the Badgers offense to overcome.
The game culminated in a dramatic ninth inning, which proved to be a perfect ending to such a wild season for the Blues. Up 4–0 in the bottom of the ninth, the final at-bats for Brock quickly became the most exciting of the game, and to add to the drama, it started to rain.
“It’s pouring rain. I’m looking through the mist and the rain. The umpire wasn’t going to call it because it was too close to the end of the game,” recalled Sheppard.
With runners on first and second and two outs, the game was set up for a thrilling finish when closing pitcher Drew Taylor loaded the bases after walking a Brock hitter.
“The next guy hits a fly-ball to centre field. We’ve got all our bench guys lined up on the side there, almost on the diamond,” continued Sheppard. “We catch the ball and we’re champions. And you know what happens? The rain stops. I’m thinking this has to be a movie.”
The victory came against a Brock team that handed the Blues two crushing home losses in late September, pushing the Blues to a mediocre 3–8 record at the time. Despite their poor regular season, the Blues knew they had the pieces to succeed and refused to continue to fall in the standings.
“After the losses against Brock, we knew we were down but not out,” said Isaac. “The coaching staff and the veterans on the team did a great job of keeping the team focused on continuing to play one game at a time, one inning at a time, instead of focusing on the past or the future.
“Our team had all the people and skills we needed to win it all at the start of the season. Over the course of the season, we just needed to find how those pieces fit together and needed a little bit of urgency to push us over the top.”
The Blues would go on a tear for the rest of the season, finishing the last nine games with seven wins and two losses, capped with a blowout 15–0 win over Queens at home in the final game of the season. Toronto finished the regular season with a 10–11 overall record, and soared into the playoffs red hot off a three-game win streak.
“It was definitely a season of ups and downs as we searched to find our groove as a team,” said Isaac. “We did a great job of coming together when we needed to and pulling out the games that we needed to win.”
“What I saw the last half of the season was a bunch of guys who had a challenge, and got over it. To me that means a lot,” added Sheppard. “Whether we won or lost on Sunday, the fact that we got there is a tribute to how hard these guys worked the last half of the season.”
In the first two days of the OUA playoffs, Toronto defeated Brock 6–5 and Guelph by the same score in their first and second games, before falling to Brock 2–4 in the first game of the final. Because Toronto had already beaten Brock once in the playoffs, the Badgers came into the final having to win both games, while Toronto only had to win one.
“We went into Sunday only needing to win one game, while Brock had to beat us twice,” said Isaac. “After they beat us in the first game, we found ourselves with our backs against the wall and with no room for error. Unfortunately for Brock, that’s when we play our best baseball and that’s just what we did.”
With the threat of being eliminated from playoff contention looming after falling behind in the standings, the Blues rattled off win after win to squeeze into the playoffs, where they would continue their clutch play enroute to the OUA championship.
“I can’t get in their heads, but I think that they had the feeling that we could win this and get that ring,” said Sheppard. “Every guy. Score keeper, bullpen guy, whatever. We started to sieze the fact that we could get that ring.”
The Blues are hoping the excitement from this year’s thrilling OUA title will carry over to next season when they try to become the first team to win three consecutive championships since Western from 2005–2007.