Fittingly, the 37th season of Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) Women's Softball begins Friday in the city where last season concluded.
Last autumn in Kitchener, the Durham Lords successfully defended their provincial banner, winning a record 17th OCAA gold medal. The St. Clair Saints, Durham's victims on this particular day, return to the Tri-Cities on Sept. 8 to take on the Conestoga Condors in the opening doubleheader of the 2017 season.
It marks the beginning of 42 doubleheaders (or 84 games) to be played over the next five-plus weeks.
All teams will see action on opening weekend. The defending champions open their season on Saturday in London against the 2017 bronze medalist Fanshawe Falcons, before a rematch with the Saints on Sunday. The remaining three teams begin Sunday, including the Humber Hawks, Mohawk Mountaineers and Seneca Sting.
While the regular season is obviously important (the top four of seven teams advance to the OCAA championship hosted by Humber College in Brampton this fall), it is not a clear indicator of how the podium will end up, a credit to the parity across the league. In fact, St. Clair has finished as regular season champions in each of the past four seasons, having just one gold medal (2014) to show for these efforts.
Roster turnover is always a theme heading into a new season, but some notable players are making their return to the diamond. Reigning OCAA Player of the Year, Brittany Bell (New Hamburg) of Conestoga, a two-time reigning batting champion, looks to improve on her .496 career average and lead the Condors to the post-season for the first time in three seasons.
MacKenzie Kelly (Oil Springs) of Fanshawe, reigning OCAA Rookie of the Year, cannot repeat for obvious reasons. But she looks to improve on her solid debut season, in which she had a batting average of .450 going 27-for-60. She scored 17 times, while contributing 17 RBI.
Other returnees for 2017 include Ashley Black, an OCAA Championship All-Star last season with the Lords, who was third among pitchers last season with an ERA of 2.29. St. Clair's Sarah Bondy (Amherstburg) and Megan Lumley (Windsor), who combined for 66 hits and a .391 batting average last season, look to end St. Clair's bridesmaid status.
Mohawk's Aimee Leduc (Princeton), a OCAA League All-Star last season with her work at the plate and from the rubber, look to lead the Mountaineers to the post-season for the first time since 2010. Myranda Pierson (Pickering), who along with Leduc was one of four pitchers to throw over 72 innings in 2016, looks to be the workhorse for Humber again this season. Finally, another of those four hurlers, Brianna Bader (Pickering), who led her Seneca teammates with a .429 batting average, returns as the Sting looks to erase memories of a winless 2016 season.
2017 OCAA Schedule: http://ocaa.com/sports/fastball/2017-18/schedule
2017 OCAA Rosters: http://ocaa.com/sports/fastball/2017-18/rosters
2016 OCAA Regular Season Standings: http://ocaa.com/sports/fastball/2016-17/standings
OCAA Records: http://ocaa.com/sports/fastball/records
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