The Ottawa-Nepean Canadians won the 16U Championship last weekend, but how did they get there?
On Sunday, August 29th, the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians won the PBLO 16U Championship, finishing up a terrific season with the ultimate prize. Ending the regular season with a 21-3 record, the Canadians were the massive favourites going into the weekend — but they were pushed to the brink. Losing the opening game to the host Tecumseh Thunder, the ONC had to battle throughout the rest of the weekend, and that’s exactly what they did on their way to the trophy.
“The guys got exactly what they came for,” Tyler Rathwell described when discussing his team’s reaction to winning the weekend’s festivities. “I’m happy for the players that got to take something out of a season that, in a lot of ways, was disappointing for them. COVID created a ton of ups and downs for these guys, and it was nice to see them playing baseball that could create lasting memories for them as a team.”
Rathwell has been coaching with Ottawa-Nepean for four years, citing the impact he gets to have on kids as they move from level to level as the driving force for why he does what he does. “It’s the program that my father, Rob Rathwell coached, played for, and helped build; it’s my family’s team. Doing everything I can in my current role to keep the program moving in the right direction is something I’m extremely passionate about.” When he was a teen, Tyler Rathwell also played for the Canadians and has been reunited with many former players that played with and against him in competition — now reintroduced as coaches across Ontario.
After having a season like that of the 16U Canadians, it is easy to become complacent and rest on your past successes. But, this team did not feel that going into the Championship Weekend, or throughout any of the season. “Whether its at practice or during a game, if you didn’t do something to make you better than you were the day before, you’ve failed,” Rathwell explained. “That 'get better everyday' mentality is what helped them through it all. We also kept reminding the guys of their end goal; they all want to go on and play college ball.” The mix of team goals as well as personal development seemed to work in Ottawa’s favour — and it should continue the growth of the ballclub into next year and into the players’ post-secondary careers.
After two games on Championship Weekend, all of the 16U teams had a 1-1 record — meaning that it was win or say goodbye to the PBLO Championship. “We had one of our go-to guys in Sam Dube throwing against Sudbury in that 3rd game so our hitters knew that he was going to give them a chance,” Rathwell said. “Every team in the tournament proved throughout the season that they can win any given inning, and if that inning came at the wrong time at anytime during the tournament, our opportunity could have been over and done with.” In a speech to his players during that third game of round-robin, Rathwell gave them a choice that they could relax and go have dinner and play for a bronze, or focus and earn anohter day of meaningful baseball. They chose the latter.
In the PBLO Championship Game versus the Tecumseh Thunder, the Canadians were ready for the rematch that saw them lose Game 1 of the weekend. “I’d never seen them more focussed and determined to beat a team than I saw that day,” Rathwell explained. “When we got to the field Sunday, us as a coaching staff didn’t have to say much. There was some tension between the Tecumseh bench and our players pre game, but as they learned the hard way, the smallest spark can motivate our guys.” This led to an offensive explosion and a 12-1 victory for the final piece of the championship puzzle.
“The team’s attitude going into the tournament was focussed. They knew they had a job to do and were looking forward to getting it done for weeks.” There can be a ton of pressure going into a tournament where you are the odds-on favourite. However, the 16U Ottawa-Nepean Canadians must have forgotten about that part of the process as they came out and won it all.
Now, the team’s focus is going into next season where they will be promoted to the 18U division and more difficult and experienced competition. Coach Rathwell believes in his squad and their ability to adapt. “I truly think these guys have a shot at the 18U title in 2022. Although it wont be easy, I think that they now have the talent and baseball IQ to compete at any level. They’ll have a target on their backs for sure, but I know that they’ll want nothing more than to take the title
away from the Tecumseh Thunder, and as their former coach, I’d love to see them do it.”