After a dominant romp through the tournament competition this weekend, the Canby Rebels softball team took home the title Sunday in their bracket of the 2020 North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) Summer Nationals, which were held in Newberg.
It was the second time the Rebels have won the annual tournament, which caps the summer softball season and draws teams from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. The Rebels have also won three straight state titles, from 2016 to 2018.
Based in Canby and coached by former Canby High standout athlete Ty Kraft, the Rebels are composed of some of the top high school talent from Canby and the surrounding communities, including four incoming CHS sophomores who form its core: centerfielder Ava Carroll, catcher Ella Kiehl, shortstop Kenna Kraft and pitcher Regan Rourke.
“Regan Rourke has been our starter in all five of our championships,” Kraft said after winning the final contest Sunday morning. “She pitched a complete game today. She had a beautiful game.”
He spoke highly of all four Canby athletes, including his daughter Kenna, who swatted a triple to drive in three runs during a critical juncture of the final contest.
He’ll coach them at Canby High School this spring, assuming the season goes forward (high school-sanctioned sports fall under the jurisdiction of the Oregon School Activities Association and may fall under different coronavirus rules).
As of this summer, softball leagues governed by NAFA were able to practice, scrimmage, play games and even hold tournaments, but strict rules were in place in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Players, coaches and support staff were required to wear face coverings inside athletic facilities — including dugouts — but not on the field. Sharing equipment ws prohibited, and a limited number of balls were issued to each team.
Attendance at the games was also extremely limited; most parents were required to watch the game from outside the arena — beyond the centerfield fence.
“The girls can’t share bats, helmets, any of the equipment,” Kraft said. “You can’t high five, can’t get into group huddles. Being that we’re outside as well, they do a really nice job of keeping that distance and making the play safe as much as they can.”
The challenges presented by the continuing pandemic made this weekend’s victory all the sweeter, he said.
“It definitely does make it sweeter,” he said. “I think that everybody just kind of has the attitude that we’re happy to be out here playing softball.”
The coronavirus did curtail the number of summer games the Rebels were able to play, from between 50 and 60 to about 25. Still, the Canby team was able to play more scrimmages than most before the NAFA Summer Nationals, and the preparation showed.
“We came into the tournament having played more games than a lot of other teams,” Kraft said. “We were kind of more in midseason form. Our pitchers were pitching really well, managing the games well.”
The Rebels won every game by the mercy rule, which stops a game after five innings if one team is winning by seven runs or more. They took the championship game Sunday 10-3.
Kraft gave a lot of credit to the city of Canby, which owns Maple Street Park. The team was not able to use Canby School District facilities, as current OSAA and school guidelines prohibit access to rec teams, community groups and other third parties.
“They’ve been really great to work with,” Kraft said of the city. “They’ve been allowing us to put protocols in place, allowing us to practice and have scrimmages and games. We’re doing the things that we can do, but we’re trying to be really safe about it, too.”
Some outbreaks of the novel coronavirus have been linked to high school athletics this summer, one of the largest of which was a youth baseball team in Newberg, where the NAFA tournament finals were held.
Kraft said the health and safety of their athletes, families and the community is a top priority, and something they take very seriously. But he also feels that keeping sports in the lives of student-athletes — if possible — is an important part of their health and overall well-being, too.
“I definitely don’t take the coronavirus lightly, what an awful thing it is, how it’s impacted people and will continue to impact people until we can get a handle on it,” Kraft said. “But from the mental health side of it for kids, I think it’s critical to do what we can to get them some sort of normalcy in their daily lives. So, when they wake up in the morning, they have something to look forward to.”