by Sam Aucoin

BARRIE – Exciting baseball has returned.

On a beautiful Thursday night in Midhurst, the Barrie Baycats defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in their home opener. As the daylight passed and the night sky came, it seemed to bring out the best in the Baycats. Canice Ejoh smacked a go-ahead three-run home run over the left field fence, giving Barrie a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, and that would prove to be the difference.

“[It was a] pretty cool moment,” Ejoh said postgame. The 27-year-old went three for five in the game, scoring three of Barrie’s five runs. But it was his first pitch stroke off Adam Marra that had the crowd at Vintage Throne Stadium on its feet as the horn sounded. 

Before that inning, the Baycats had only recorded four hits as Maple Leafs starter Sam Greene was dealing. Greene would only pitch three innings, but he definitely made the most of them, striking out five and surrendering just one hit.

“He was solid,” said Ejoh. “He definitely showed up today, especially those first couple innings.” The Baycats centre fielder would explain that Greene had great command with his pitches – which he definitely did – making it hard at first for the home side.

A John Solazzo first-inning single off Barrie starter Juan Benítez gave the Leafs an early lead as Jose Vinicio would come in. Benítez would pitch four innings, allowing just the one run and punching out six.

When Toronto turned to their bullpen in the fourth inning, reliever Max Lanoue walked four Baycats in a row, tying the game. The Leafs would get out of that inning with Lanoue striking out the next two batters, then turning things over to Dean Christidis, who would get Adam Odd to fly out.

The fifth inning saw 2023 ace Frank Garcés enter the game. Garcés was not his usual self, walking six but gutting out a five-inning outing to finish the game, striking out 10. Frank would get the win in this one, his first of 2024.

“He wanted to push himself,” said Baycats manager Josh Matlow, talking about Garcés. “When we take the lead, it fires him up.” 

One of the seven hits the Baycats would rack up in the game was from Ricky Phillips, which was his first as a Baycat. Phillips would end the night going one for three, walking twice, and stealing a base as well.

“I feel great,” Phillips said with a smile after the game. “I’m just happy we came out with the [win].” The 27-year-old talked about his first impressions of the Intercounty Baseball League. Growing up in Ohio, these are new surroundings for Phillips, but he is pretty excited for the year ahead.

 “We [are ready] to keep this momentum going,” Phillips added.

They will certainly need it, as a stop in Welland is next on the schedule. The Baycats will play the Jackfish this Saturday. Manager Josh Matlow announced that Carlos Sano would be making his debut with the club, something he is very excited for. 

“We’re all looking forward to it,” he said.

Baycats win 5-4!

Cover Photo: Bob Hurley