GANDER, NL — Young athletes from Laval High in Placentia put on a clinic at the School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador 4A Girls Varsity Slo-Pitch Provincials in Gander.
Facing Roncalli Central High in the championship game last Saturday, Laval found itself down 5-0 after two innings. But the team regained its composure and went on to win 13-10.
"To be honest it was a feeling of relief," coach Michael Gambin told The Compass when asked about the team's reaction to winning. "Our team put a lot of pressure on themselves to win this banner this year after getting silver at home last year in provincials. Our goal from day one was to win this championship and the girls would not have been satisfied with anything less. The girls were incredibly focused and increased their intensity level as the tournament progressed, which is all you can ask for as a coach. They peaked at the right time in the playoff round."
The win was extra sweet given the Laval girls team's recent history with the school from Avondale. It was Roncalli who defeated them at provincials last year, and Laval beat Roncalli last month in the final of the regional 4A qualifier.
This year's Laval squad included four Grade 12 players who came close a few times to winning a provincial title — Haley Dobbin, Tyra Lannon, Hilary Neville and Abigail Gambin.
"It was great to see them get this banner in their final year," coach Gambin noted.
Laval went undefeated in seven games and scored 129 runs. At the regional qualifier last month, the girls team won all six of its games.
"Our team was really prepared," said coach Gambin. "Leading up to regionals and provincials we practiced three-to-four times a week. We had 6:45 a.m. practice, we had lunch time batting practice and the girls made an effort to attend each and every session."
The team's determined nature came in handy when it faced a particularly daunting challenge in Saturday's quarterfinal against Stephenville High. Down 11-4 in the bottom half of the final inning, Laval batted through the order to score eight runs and win 12-11.
"That took a lot of character to do this and to comeback in that game," said the coach.
The Laval girls slo-pitch team has a lot of strong athletes who in the last year alone have contributed to provincial wins in basketball, ball hockey and now softball. The Placentia area's dominance in the latter sport is well established, with male and female players making noise provincially, nationally and even internationally.
"I'd have to say that it has always been a part of our culture," coach Gambin said of softball's popularity in Placentia. "Certainly historically it's been fast-pitch softball that we are known for, but a lot of the defensive game and the approach to the game carries over to the slo-pitch high school game. Hopefully successes like this can help bring along the next generation of girls and get them into the game."