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Gander Pilots win first senior B baseball championship in 24 years

The Gander Pilots stunned the host Corner Brook Barons to win their first senior B baseball championship in decades at Jubilee Field this past weekend. - Submitted photo
The Gander Pilots stunned the host Corner Brook Barons to win their first senior B baseball championship in decades at Jubilee Field this past weekend. - Submitted photo - Contributed

The first time Dave Parsons won a provincial senior baseball title was in 1995.
He was 14 at the time and playing for his hometown Gander Pilots at the Art Walker Memorial Field in the community. 
Parsons and the Pilots went up against the Mount Pearl Blazers in a final where they had to beat the top-seeded Blazers twice if they wanted to claim the title. 
Backed by the performance of tournament MVP and top pitcher Peter Butler, the Pilots did just that as they beat Mount Pearl 3-0 in the first game and followed that up with a 6-5 win in the second game to win the championship. 
Thinking back on that time, Parsons remembers storming the field in jubilation with his teammates after the final out was made.  
It would be Gander’s second senior B title in three years but the last for more than two decades. The team – reborn in the early 2010s –  had been close a number of times, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.  
That wait ended July 14 as the Pilots beat the Corner Brook Barons 2-1 in the final of the provincial senior B tournament held at Jubilee Field in Corner Brook. 
Parsons was a part of that team, too, playing infield and wielding a steady stick in the meat of the order. 
Like 24 years ago, the Pilots’ elder statesman pointed to the celebration that took place as his teammates stormed winning pitcher Riley King. 
“This one was sweeter. This one was cool,” said Parsons. “I’ve always loved baseball and this was the best part of it.” 
Pilots’ manager Justin Kelly pointed to a revamped pickup system brought online in the last couple of years that allowed his team to assemble the pieces to build off the core group, comprised of mostly Gander players and one from Grand Falls-Windsor, and push his team towards their victory this summer. 
Among those pickups this summer were pitchers Ben Murphy (St. John’s) and Nick Curran (Mount Pearl), as well as veteran infielder Steve Crouse (St. John’s), who all proved invaluable to the championship run. 
Those players combined with local boys Riley King, AJ Whiffen, Mike Dyke, Shane Barnes, Blair Penney and others to push the team to the top. 
“We were able to slowly build up talent,” said Kelly. “It’s been a long road.” 
Winning the senior B crown means the Pilots will have the opportunity to face off with the perennial provincial champion St. John’s Capitals in a best-of-seven final series scheduled for July 26-28. 
The team will get to select up to four players who played in this year’s senior B tournament to help fortify its 21-man roster. 
Then, they will take their best shot at dethroning the Capitals, who have won 17 of the last 18 provincial championships. 
“We aren’t going to leave anything in the tank against the Caps,” said Kelly. “We’re going for it. 
Normally the winner of the senior B title would host the first three games of the series but here is where things get a bit complicated for the Pilots. As an aside, the winner of the senior B also gets to host the senior B tournament next summer. 
Gander has no baseball field suitable to host a senior men’s competition. The Art Walker Memorial Field lacks the proper infield nor does it have lights. 
That means the Pilots will have to look at one of the three senior baseball fields in the province – Jubilee Field in Corner Brook, St. Pat’s in St. John’s or Smallwood Field in Mount Pearl – and use the facility as their home field. 
It isn’t ideal for Kelly and his team, but he's hoping to use the senior B win as a way to motivate the town to pump some money into its facilities. 
They’d love to host senior baseball in Gander again. 
For a town known more for its connection to senior hockey, the senior B win is sure to remind people that Gander has a strong connection to baseball in the province. 
Kelly thinks the latest provincial win is something that will remind the province baseball is still being played and at a high level. 
“We hope it inspires kids playing in Gander to keep going in baseball,” he said. 

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