2021 Year in Review

by Jason Booth

2021 was another year that saw the COVID-19 affect the operations here with Team Ontario but at the same time we had the chance to take advantage of some opportunities that weren't there in 2020.

There's a ton to celebrate from the past year with team accomplishments, individual honours, college placements and some notable performances and accomplishments from our alumni. 

Our current group of players proved over the past year we have some of the best talent the province has to offer and our college/pro alumni have reflected that as well. 

Below, we take a look back at some of the best moments from the past year: 

Pair of fall championships

On Team Ontario's 13-day Fall College Tour, the team made stops in Atlanta and Indianapolis for a pair of tournaments. First up was the Perfect Game SE Underclass Championships in Atlanta with an Orange and Grey team both entering the tournament. The Grey team would ultimately go 5-0 over the two days en route to a 12-3, 5-inning mercy rule victory in the championship game. 

Frank-Anthony Caietta would claim Most Valuable Pitcher honours while 18 Team Ontario received All-Tournament Hitter/Pitcher honours. 

The following weekend with just a few days remaining on the fall trip, Team Ontario headed to Grand Park in Indianapolis for the Pastime Tournament's Wood Bat National Championships. Again, Team Ontario would enter an Orange and Grey team and this time it would be the Orange squad that brought home the title. Shawn Lynn's group would go 4-0 on the weekend with a walk-off single to send the team into championship game where they came out victorious with an 8-6, come from behind win.

College trip

After missing out on Fall College Trip in 2020 due the pandemic, the program was poised to send the players back across the border and in front of college coaches. The 13-day trip included games against nine U.S. college opponents in eight different states from the NCAA Division I, DII, NAIA and NJCAA levels (although their were some changes throughout the trip). The trip got underway with a flight to Chicago, followed by a short trip to Indianapolis to take on the Division I Butler Bulldogs. It was a great experience for our players to get in front of college coaches at the DI level, but also to go up against players of that caliber to see how they stack up. J.P Tibbits was the early standout with three hits. 

After the game against Butler, the squad took the bus South to Atlanta for the Perfect Game tournament where the Grey team claimed glory. The team got back on the college route on the Monday with 14 innings against Lenoir Community College (NJCAA, North Carolina) followed by a split-squad on Tuesday with one team up against Garrett College (NJCAA, Maryland) while the other took on WVU - Potomac State (NJCAA, West Virginia).

The following day, Wednesday, October 15 would be on the highlights of the trip for our players as we took on one of the NCAA DI mid-major powerhouse programs in the VCU Rams. The Rams won their A-10 Conference this past season and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The team also shares their stadium with Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels, affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The score didn't make in this one as our players got the full experience at VCU, with on-field BP in their beautiful stadium going up against some elite college talent.

After the VCU game is where things got tricky as we had a split-squad set for the following day against Taylor University (NAIA, Indiana) and Indiana Wesleyan University (NAIA, Indiana), followed by 14-innings on Friday against Prairie State College (NJCAA, Illinois). Due to bus malfunctions, these games didn't take place but gave our players the rest needed to go out and compete for a championship that weekend in Indianapolis.

After the squad won their second championship of the trip, there was just one date left on the Fall Tour schedule, a split-squad against DII powerhouse Davenport University (Michigan) and Aquinas University (NAIA, Michigan). After a tough matchup against Davenport, Team Ontario played solid defence while the bats came alive and they ultimately left Grand Rapids with their first college win. 

It was incredible two weeks for so many different reasons but ultimately, getting these players back across the border and creating some exposure after such a difficult two years on amateur Canadian baseball players. This trip is a great opportunity in the moment for players, getting the chance to live like a college player for a 14 days but it's just the opportunities after the trip that are just as important as we continue to place players with college programs.

College placements

Team Ontario placed a total of 25 players to the collegiate level in the past calendar year with 18 of them heading south of the border and seven staying right here in Ontario. The breakdown has 18 players from the 18 from the 2021 class, six from the 2022 class and one from the 2023 class. Our biggest signing of the year came just days ago with 2023 left-hander Matthew Marsh committing to Niagara University, an NCAA Division I program in Lewiston, New York.

Players across the program will be headed to the following States: West Virginia, California, North Dakota, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Florida and New Jersey.

Here's a list below of every Team Ontario commitment from the past year:

Class of 2021
INF Brayden Ingoglia | Salem International University (NCAA DII, West Virginia)
INF Noah MacDonald | Bethesda University of California (NAIA, California)
OF Matthew Moscuzza | University of Jamestown (NAIA, North Dakota)
RHP Liam Wedge | Elmira College (NCAA DIII, New York)
INF Steven Fiorino | Danville Area CC (NJCAA, Illinois)
OF Jaylen Wood | Bethesda University of California (NAIA, California)
RHP Tyler Kelly | Lakeland CC (NJCAA, Ohio)
C Michael Malinowski | Bay College (NJCAA, Michigan)
LHP Matt Rogers | Southwestern CC (NJCAA, Iowa)
OF Jack Gagliardi | Cornerstone University (NAIA, Michigan)
SS Kaedan Thompson | Southwestern CC (NJCAA, Iowa)
RHP/INF Connor King | University of Guelph (OUA)
RHP Dylan Cardoso | Humber College (OCAA)
RHP/INF Jack Larmer | Wilfrid Laurier University (OUA)
2B Conner Durocher | Wilfrid Laurier University (OUA)
INF Tyler Romandel | George Brown College (OCAA)
INF Micah Colbert | George Brown College (OCAA)
C Brady Wagenhoffer | George Brown College (OCAA)

Class of 2022
RHP Brendan Clarke | Saint Leo University (NCAA DII, Florida)
INF David King | Ventura College (CCCAA, California)
SS Will Jackson | Lewis & Clark CC (NJCAA, Illinois)
1B/RHP Aaron McLeod-Smith | Ventura College (CCCAA, California)
RHP Evan MacFadden | Antelope Valley College (CCCAA, California)
LHP Jax Nyberg | Sussex County College (NJCAA, New Jersey)

Class of 2023
LHP Matthew Marsh | Niagara University (NCAA DI, New York)

Axford and leroux make canadian olympic qualifying roster

Chris Leroux and John Axford both saw their names appear on the Canadian Olympic Qualifying roster this past summer and each of them took the mound in West Palm Beach dawning the Red and White. The pair of Team Ontario alumni both pitched in the big leagues throughout their careers and have been a major part of Team Canada's Senior National Team program these past 10+ years or so.Leroux graduated from Team Ontario in 2002 and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays but ultimately decided to attend Division I Winthrop University. He was then drafted again in 2005 by the Marlins where he would make his debut in the big leagues in 2009. Leroux pitched 71.2 innings in his MLB career that ended in 2014 with the New York Yankees. 

John Axford will be highlighted below for his return to the big leagues.

axford returns to the big leagues

John Axford signed a minor-league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays in June, marking his return to pro baseball after an elbow injury in 2018 that many thought would end his career. This came after Axford opened eyes just weeks earlier at the Olympic Qualifying Games with a fastball that sat in the upper 90s. 

Axford looked good in the Blue Jays system and was ultimately dealt to the Brewers in early August for the purpose of an opportunity at the big league level. That would come to fruition on August 2nd when he took the mound at American Family Field in Milwaukee, WI agains the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would pitch 0.1 innings before leaving the game with an arm injury. 

It was a gut-wrenching ending to an incredible comeback story. Our program is proud of all he was able to accomplish throughout his career and especially his hard work and perseverance over the past couple years to get to this point. 

Mackinnon signs indy ball contract

2016 Team Ontario graduate Alex MacKinnon signed his first pro contract this summer with the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent Pecos League and finished his summer with the Houston Apollos, another independent club. 

MacKinnon was dominant with the Pacifics, going 3-0 in nine appearances (27.2 innings) with an ERA of 1.63 and 37 strikeouts to just 11 walks. His impressive run was highlighted at the Pecos League Awards where he was named Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Division. 

After a strong start to his pro career, our program is looking forward to seeing where his career takes him next. 

Graeham Luttor signs overseas

2016 Team Ontario graduate Graeham Luttor signed his first pro contract overseas with the Ennepetal Raccoons of the German Bundesliga. The first baseman has always been a bat first player and he proved that during his time at Midway University. In four seasons (one covid shortened season) Luttor played 140 games, picking up 23 home runs, 29 doubles and 115 RBI while getting on-base at a clip of .401.

His consistency throughout his college career proved he's ready to continue playing baseball and his ability to become a starter in his freshman year has put him on a good developmental trajectory. The Team Ontario program is incredibly proud of Luttor's hard work to put himself in position to play at the pro level overseas.

kyle perrett/noah murciano receive all-conference honours

2017 Team Ontario graduate Kyle Perrett had a strong senior season with the University of Northwestern Ohio Racers, earning First-Team All-Conference honours. He pitched 25 innings throughout the 2021 season a 2.88 ERA and 27 punchouts. Not only was it a great individual season for Perrett, but his team also claimed the WHAC Conference title. 

It was a good year for 2020 graduate Noah Murciano who put together a good freshman season at Sussex County College, earning First-Team All-Conference honours in the GSAC. After batting .340 with an OBP of .407 as a freshman, Murciano announced he is transferring to Division I Coppin State University for the 2021-2022 school year. This is a great step up for Murciano who's always stood out for his ability behind the dish. 

3 teams make cpbl postseason semi-finals

After a very strong 2021 regular season that saw the 15U squad go 22-9, highlighted by a 15-game winning streak, the team would go on a good run in the postseason as well. Entering the tournament as the No. 4 seed, Team O would go 1-2 in round robin and a good run differential would put them through to the semi-finals. The team would fall 5-2 in the a tightly contested semi-final matchup against the Ontario Blue Jays, marking the end of an incredible 2021 season from our 15U squad. From start to finish, the 15U team was one of the strongest across the organization and heads into 2022 at the 16U level looking for that championship.

A good showing in the regular season from our 16U squad saw them enter the postseason as the No. 5 seed with a record of 22-13. They opened the postseason tournament with a tough loss, 8-6 to Watson Elite, put responded quickly with a 13-2 victory over the Ontario Terriers. Another big win over the Great Lakes Canadians by a score of 5-4 would send Team O to the semi-finals where they would ultimately drop 10-9 game to Toronto Mets. The team was just one run shy of heading to the championship and between the fall/summer seasons, the team would amass 40 total wins.

While our 17U team didn't dominate the standings throughout the season, the team battled hard from start to finish and earned a trip to the postseason. Their scrappy, next-man up style of play saw the team go 1-1 in round robin play, defeating the Ontario Nationals 6-4 in the opening matchup before dropping their second one to the Great Lakes Canadians. The 17U's became our third team in the program to make the CPBL semi-finals but they came up short at the hands of the Toronto Mets.

coaching staff additions

Shawn Lynn joined the staff in June and became a major piece of the program for the remainder of 2021. He first made his mark working with the 17U program but would also lend a hand down the stretch with the 14U Orange team as well. Lynn was also a big part of our College Prep programs throughout the fall and coached the College Prep Orange team to a Pastime Tournaments Wood Bat World Championship, also coaching the club against college programs south of the border. Lynn has over 20 years experience coaching at the elite level and had a good college career at Seminole State (OK) before being drafted both in 1998 (Blue Jays) and 1999 (Padres). Lynn has been an important addition to the program and we look forward to seeing what he can accomplish in his first full year with the program.

Brendan O'Flynn joined the program in April and worked with our hitters and outfielders. He now works with Lynn and College Prep Orange team. His coaching career includes four seasons with the Oakville Royals, working as an 18U Assistant, as well working with outfielders and college placements. O'Flynn played his college career south of the border Erie Community College (NJCAA), as well as Oklahoma Panhandle State University (NAIA). During his playing career, O'Flynn also played for the Guelph Royals in the IBL.

A pair of other important additions to our coaching staff came later in the summer with alumni Kyle Perrett and Jamie Trull. Both have great playing experiences that will benefit them as they work with our players and prepare them for the next level. Trull will work as an assistant on our College Prep Orange team while Perrett will work with our pitchers.

coach shaun mcguire named akba coach of the year

14U Orange head coach Shaun McGuire was named Aurora King Baseball Association's (AKBA) Coach of the Year. McGuire has long been a staple in Aurora's baseball program and currently serves as the president of the organization. McGuire spoke to 'The Auroran' this past week saying he was taken aback by the award.

“Very humbled by that. Really truly was. It came out of nowhere. Andrew Backer had nominated me and he didn't even tell me until I got the message from Laurie [Mueller of Sport Aurora],” McGuire said.

Coach McGuire has put a lot of hard work into Team Ontario's program and gives that same effort into his AKBA program as well. We are very happy for McGuire on this accomplishment and would like to congratulate him on this amazing achievement!

first full-year in our new facility... thank you!

2021 was our first full year in our new facility and we couldn't more happy with how the facility is looking right now. It obviously doesn't look the way it does right now without an incredible amount of help and hard work from many people around the organization. 

We would like to extend a HUGE thank you to all of the players, parents, coaches, staff and anyone else who lended a hand in any capacity during the transition and setup of our new facility. A lot of the hard work seems so distant looking back on when we first moved into the facility but there's been a ton of hard work that's been put in behind the scenes over the past year and still continues to this day as we continue to make improvements. 

We would like to specifically thank Jon Stoner, Craig Robertson and Stephano Johns for all of the hard work and labour they've put into our new facility. We could not be where we are today without the selflessness and expertise of these three. Please, if you see them around the facility going forward, give them a thank you as they've mold this facility you get to call HOME!

sponsors... THANK YOU!

Lastly, and importantly, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of our sponsors for the 2020-21 season and another thank you to the 2021-22 sponsors! Again, we wouldn't be able to do what we do without the support.