Welland Jackfish come back from 0-2 deficit to take first-ever title with four straight wins

By Bernd Franke Regional Sports Editor

A team that had 13- and 10-game winning streaks years from now will remember 2023 for a much shorter one.

On Saturday night, the visiting Welland Jackfish defeated the Barrie Baycats 17-1 for their fourth win in as many starts to capture their Intercounty Baseball League Dominico Cup championship in franchise history. Top-seeded Welland, which was one strike away from trailing No. 3 Barrie three games to one, took the best-of-seven series four games to two.

Jackfish starter James Bradwell was named the most valuable player of the playoffs after limiting the Baycats to one run on six hits and two walks over seven and two-thirds innings. He finished the post-season with a 5-0 record and an earned-run average of 1.02 in 35 innings.

Matteo Porcellato, who drove in a game-high five runs, and Gianfranco Morello each homered twice as Welland outhit the hosts 12-6.

Five Barrie errors resulted in the Jackfish scoring nine unearned runs in the rout. Welland made only one miscue in the field.

Jackfish president Ryan Harrison said at an awards ceremony held on the pitcher’s mound that he has been with the franchise for 12 years.

“Twelve years from Burlington, and we never thought this was a possibility there,” he said. “Now, it is here.”

He didn’t take credit for the title.

“It’s not my championship, I’m just happy to be a part of it. It’s all theirs,” Harrison said, pointing to the players and coaches standing in front of the visiting team’s dugout.

“These guys did it. Our staff on the field – Brian (Essery), Jason (McKay) – and everyone else involved.

“Guys, it’s your championship. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.”

Essery is the team’s manager and McKay is its general manager.

In his remarks, Harrison also singled out the team’s fans, who are known as the “finatics” since the ’Fish play home games in The Pond.

“Finatics, you’re the best in the league, no question about that. It’s all yours.”

Essery also paid tribute to the fans. He pointed out in an interview “we had hundreds of them in Barrie tonight” and that chants from Jackfish supporters were “way louder than Barrie.”

“Amazing fans in Welland!”

A seventh game, if needed, would have been played at Welland Stadium on Sunday afternoon. It was only a must-win game for the Baycats.

“We didn’t want to play Sunday,” Essery said. “We have had our backs against the wall in both the Toronto and Barrie series and responded, something we have done all season.

“We are a streaky team and when we get on a roll we are tough to stop.”

The fourth-year manager called pinch hitter Carlos Martinez’ two-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth inning in Game 4 a “franchise-changing hit.”

“Another huge moment of the series was Sam Cawker’s three-run home run in Game 3,” he said. “We went on a roll after that.

“James Bradwell’s playoff performance was unbelievable, 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA is just incredible.”

Essery suggested the franchise started changing last season with the acquisition of Gianfranco Morello, a 28-year-old outfielder from Toronto.

“The leadership and character changed the culture of the team,” the manager said. “Talented, confident, and a great group of young men who all believed they were going to the last team standing.”

A franchise that can trace its origins back to 2000 when it was founded as the St. Thomas Storm has enjoyed a remarkable – and immediate – reversal of fortune since relocating to Welland from Burlington at the beginning of the 2019 season. A 19-17 record in league play in their inaugural season playing out of Welland Stadium marked the first above .500 finish in franchise history.

The franchise also won its first-ever playoff series in its first season playing as the Jackfish. This season, they finished the regular season first overall for another franchise first by equalling their best-ever record of 31-11 set last season.

Welland earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by finishing the regular season in first place with a 31-11 record, five games ahead of Barrie (26-16), but each team went 3-3 in head-to-head play. The Baycats, 1-2 at home, 2-1 on the road; outscored the Jackfish 39-35 in the six-game season series.

The Jackfish advanced to their first championship final by sweeping the eighth-seeded Brantford Red Sox 3-0 in the quarter-finals and the No. 4 seed Toronto Maple Leafs three games to two in the second round.

The Baycats beat the No. 6 seed Hamilton Cardinals 3-1 and the second-seeded Kitchener Panthers 3-0 to reach their first final since 2019.

Reel Things: The Jackfish were facing the Baycats in the playoffs for the third time for the first time since 2021 when they were swept two games to none in the opening round. In 2019, the franchise’s first season since relocating to Welland from Burlington, Barrie, the eventual champions that season, swept Welland four games to none after the Jackfish defeated the London Majors four games to one in the opening round.