The Sarnia Braves are Ontario’s new baseball champions

The Braves are, front row, left: Anthony Shepherd, Wade Babula, Vince Caschera, Justin Randall, head coach James Grant, Brad Hill, Nick Baljeu, Tristan Buntrock, Brennan Healy and Alex McLean. Middle row: trainer Jake Butler, Kevin Gardner, Kyle Blunt, McKenzie Maxwell, assistant coach Lance Hart and executive Sandra Shaw. Back row: Eric Steeves, assistant coach Joel Ainsworth, Jake Burgess, Jake Near, Sasha Gerster, Julian Service, Paul Sheeler, Nolan Nicholson, Brett Allardyce, Tyler Groulx, Josh Taylor, Mike Damchuk, Keegan Brandon and Jameson Hart.

Troy Shantz

The Sarnia Braves are headed to the national championships.

The city’s ‘AAA’ baseball club emerged victorious at the Ontario finals in Windsor recently to secure a trip to the Canadian championships in New Brunswick this month.

“That’s basically the hardest tournament to win in the country,” said coach James Grant of the provincial title, only the third in franchise history.

Sarnia was undefeated in the 21-team tournament heading into the final day of play. But that momentum ended abruptly with an error-plagued 4-3 loss to the Thornhill Reds on Aug. 5, leaving the Braves on the brink of elimination.

“We were kind of dejected,” Grant said.

But Thornhill needed to beat the Braves a second time to win the double-knockout format. And Sarnia pitcher Mike Damchuk, who had given up the loss to Thornhill in the final inning, wouldn’t let that happen.

“Mike said he wanted the ball and he was going to go out there and win us the game. And he goes out there and throws a complete-game shutout,” said Grant.

“It was unbelievable to watch. He was just a machine out there. It was the most focused we’ve ever seen him.”

Damchuk gave up just four hits and struck out five on route to the Gold Medal. And McKenzie Maxwell scored with two out in the 9th to edge Thornhill 1-0 and capture the 2019 Ontario ‘AAA’ Baseball Championship.

The thrilling victory came on the 25th anniversary of the team’s first provincial championship, and the 60th anniversary of its first.

“All the guys wanted to win for Sarnia,” Grant said.

The Braves will now represent Ontario when they travel to the nationals in Miramichi, N.B. on Aug. 22-25.

They’re scheduled to face off in the first round against Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

The Braves finished first in the Southwestern Baseball League where they held a 15-4 record. But the league playoffs will have to take a back seat to the national showcase, Grant said.

That means Sarnia’s top pitchers, Damchuk and Wade Bebula, need to rest and won’t likely see much action in post-season play locally.