DALTON, GEORGIA – SPA will now have to name their “National” Championships the “International” Championships as Canada’s Windsor Chiefs 55’s became the first team outside the United States to win a SPA Nationals’ Division crown.
“This is a dream come true for me,” SPA President Ridge Hooks said, “I’ve waited a long time for SPA to have teams from Canada join our organization and compete in SPA tournaments. To have such a class Canadian team like Windsor win a National title is just very, very special.”
Canadian teams which are registered with SPA are Brantford Nissan 55’s, 60’s,65’s and 70’s; Windsor Chief 55’s, 60’s and 65’s; Brooklin (Scardborough) 60’s; CAVCO (Windsor) Sports 60’s; Mississauga Legends 60’s and 65’s; Donneybrook (Dorchester) Legions 65’s. All are from the province of Ontario.
The Windsor Chiefs became the first Canadian team to win a National by beating Wholesale Builders 26-12 in the title game. The Builders had come out of the losers bracket to beat Windsor 21-17 and force a “winner take all” showdown game.
“The championship game was a lot closer than the score,” Windsor Chief manager Rick Masaro said, “ It was only 2-1 after two innings but we got hot in innings three through six scoring 20 runs and holding them to 10 runs.”
It was the second time this year Windsor had beaten Wholesale Builders in a final game to win a SPA tournament, having done it earlier at THEE Buckeye Classic with a pair of 16-10 and 24-23 wins.”
The Chiefs made the most of their tournament in the States' 2011 opportunities, participating in five tournaments. In addition to winning titles at Dalton and Akron, the Chiefs won the Sylvania, Ohio and Lansing, Michigan tournament and finished second in the Columbus, Ohio event.
“This (playing SPA tournaments) has really been an enjoyable experience for us,” the SPA 55 AAA Manager of the Year said. “ In Ontario (Province) there are only five teams and we continually play those same teams every season. In the States the competition is stronger and we see so many different teams. The playing facilities were well groomed and maintained, especially in Dalton."
Masaro said the biggest difference between the Chiefs and United States teams “is our overall defense."
“The teams from the States can really hit, I imagine the bats like the Ultra helps a lot,” he explained.“In Canada we can’t use the Ultras but it didn’t take us long to start using them in the States. In Canada the teams put a lot of emphasis on defense and I think that gives us a little edge when playing American teams.”
One Chief, who really made use of the Ultra was Dalton tournament MVP Mark Tuson. The leftfielder was 24-for-30 (.800) in the 12-team tournament and also sparkled defensively for the champs.
“Mark (Tuson) had a great defensive game but so did all of our outfielders (Larrie Pukay, Rocky Barash, Gary Rowen, Dan Blaise and John “Quags” Quagliotto),’ Masaro said, “The six of them can be rotated in the four positions and we don’t lose a thing. Their combined speed and arm strength is what helps separate us from other teams.”
If Masaro had any problem with the SPA Nationals it was having the team pick five All-American tournament selections.
“How can you single out five players from an entire team like ours and say they are the best?” the manager asked. “We could have very easily put everyone’s name in a hat and pulled out five names. We play as a team and win as a team; we are not individual stars.’
However, as difficult as it was to select five players to the All-Tournament team, nobody can argue with the choices.
Players selected were Scott Seguin (1b .640), Bob Taylor (2b .560), Stuart MacPherson (dh .785), Rick Goyeau (P .777) and Larrie Pukay (lc .692). Masaro called Goyeau “the best 55-plus pitcher in all of Canada."
Other “unofficial All-Stars” were assistant manager and third sacker Rick Chittle (.680) Gerry Thompson (who had an outstanding last day at shortstop, .571), Dwight Velichka (.650), Barash (.680), Rowen (.714), Blaise (.667) and Quagliotto (.500).
Steve "Beep Beep" Pukay, who Masaro refers to as the “road runner” was a force on the bases. Used primarily as a pinch runner, he was used at least 50 times during the pool and tournament play. Sandy Pukay, Steve’s wife, also came in for some special thanks from the team for doing a great job serving as the scorekeeper at the Dalton tournament.
Beside the titles and awards the Chiefs received this year, Masaro had high praise for Hooks, SPA, Dalton and the host committees they encountered at the different tournaments they played this year.
“This was truly a great experience for all of us,” Masaro said. “ Ridge (Hooks) treated us like royalty and the Dalton people and SPA staff couldn’t do enough for us. The opening ceremony was spectacular. The way SPA recognized the military and paid tribute to the fallen Americans left not one dry eye in our group. We are looking forward to next year. This was a very special year for us.”
When reminded that the Chiefs will have to move up to the next level of Major division teams in 2012, Masaro wasn’t fazed.
“Isn’t that what it is all about?” he asked, “to get better, be recognized as an upper level team and continue to play great competition? We look at the move up as being recognized as a very good team. We are looking forward to the challenge.”