Cross border battle

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Canadian centre fielder Jordan Pomeroy gave bunting techniques to younger players during a softball clinic at Optimist Field Thursday.

When it comes to starting off a major event, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.

Following the opening ceremonies for the 2018 Junior Men’s World Softball Championship Saturday evening at Rotary Field, which will get underway at 6 p.m., Canada and the United States will square off at 7:30 p.m. in their first game of Group B round-robin play.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Canada centre fielder Jordan Pomeroy said. “Just the thought of having the opening ceremonies, being the host team for the tournament and then playing the United States is very exciting.”

“These events are why we play the game,” United States coach Ty McKinney said. “To go up against one of the top teams right off the bat…we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Both sides wrapped up their exhibition slates Thursday, as Canada split a doubleheader with Japan in Shellbrook and the United States picked up a victory over Denmark at Optimist Field.

“We feel like we’re ready to go,” United States infielder Jeff Lewis said. “We got hit in the mouth a bit in our first game here against Japan Wednesday, so it was nice to see the guys fight back a bit ahead of that big game against Canada Saturday.”

“It’s been a long road for us with all of the training camps and the games we’ve had around Saskatchewan, but now it’s starting to feel a bit surreal with everything about to begin,” Pomeroy added.

Having won the tournament once in 1993 in Auckland, New Zealand, Canada is looking to build off of their bronze medal showing at the last World Championship in Midland, Mich.

“Our team has a good all-around balance with great hitting, pitching and defence,” Canada coach Jeff Ellsworth said. “They’re like brothers and the chemistry they have is huge.

“I’m friends with (head coach) Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights and one of the things he told me that stood out about their group was how they always came to the rink ready to play for one another. Our team is exactly like that.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Jeff Lewis of the United States attempts to field a bunt in front of teammate Anthony Wark during an exhibition game against Denmark Thursday night.

Meanwhile, the Americans are looking to reach the podium for the first time since 1985, when they won a silver medal in Fargo, N.D.

“We’re a scrappy team that does the little things well,” Lewis said. “We don’t have a star player that can take over a game, but we’re a pretty solid group from top to bottom.”

New Zealand, who is the top overall seed and the reigning silver medalists, are also in Group B along with the Czech Republic, Guatemala and Hong Kong.

Group A features the defending champions Japan, Argentina, Australia, Mexico, Denmark, South Africa and India.

Round-robin action will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. with Mexico playing Denmark at Rotary Field and the Czech Republic taking on Guatemala at Kinsmen Field at 11:30 a.m.

New Zealand will face Hong Kong at 12:30 p.m. on the Rotary Field Diamond, while South Africa will match up with Denmark at 2 p.m. on the Kinsmen Field Diamond.

Australia will go up against India at 3 p.m. at Rotary Field and Japan will open up their title defence at 7:30 p.m. against Argentina at Kinsmen Field.

Canada will return to action Sunday evening against the Czech Republic and will then face off with Guatemala Monday night.

Both of those games will take place at Rotary Field and will get underway at 8 p.m.