Team Canada won’t take scrappy Czech team lightly

Players on Canada’s National Women’s Softball Team have plenty of reasons to celebrate, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking it easy.

The defending Olympic bronze medalists touched down in Saskatchewan this week to begin preparations for a five-game series against the Czech Republic. The Czechs have never finished higher than ninth at the World Softball Championship, and didn’t qualify for the last tournament in 2018. Regardless, head coach Kaleigh Rafter said they’ll take nothing for granted.

“They (the Czechs) are a scrappy team,” Rafter said during a phone interview on Tuesday. “They’re training right now for their European championships, so we know that they’re progressing, just like we are, to the worlds. They’re really trying to key in right now to progress to their European (Finals). I think it’s going to be a pretty good series.”

Games 1 and 2 are scheduled for Wednesday in Melfort before both clubs make the trip to Prime Minister’s Park in Prince Albert for Game 3.  Games 4 and 5 are scheduled for Canada Day in Saskatoon.

The Canadians are coming off a 4-1 defeat to Chinese Taipei that knocked them out of the Canada Cup in Surrey, B.C. Rafter said they have to be ready for a Czech team that relies on strong pitching to keep opposing teams out of the win column.

“They have some really top-end pitching, so I think we have to have some quality at-bats,” Rafter said. “That’s something we have been talking about as a team—really trying to hone in on quality at-bats, top to bottom.”

While Canada hopes to get the win, the trip to Prince Albert is as much about growing the sport as it is competition. Rafter said winning bronze at the last Summer Olympics really helped boost softball’s profile in Canada. They’re hoping to boost it even more by training and playing in places like Prince Albert.

“We wanted to capitalize on this momentum and build and grow and get some role models for some of these younger softball athletes,” she explained. “They can see these players, talk with them, get their autographs, and see what it’s like to play at this level.

“Obviously, we’re pretty passionate about this sport. We think this sport is amazing, so we definitely want to do as much as we can in these next few years.”

The five-game series in Saskatchewan is the second series during the national team’s 2022 Celebration Tour. The squad went undefeated during a four-game series against the Netherlands in mid-June, winning 6-2, 9-2, 3-1, and 7-4 before heading to the Canada Cup.

Rafter said it’s been a great opportunity to connect with young softball players while playing in front of a hometown crowd.

“The support we’ve had on this tour is amazing, and we’re expecting it to continue here in Saskatchewan.”

Thursday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. at Prime Minister’s Park. The gate opens at 5:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 14 and under. All Prince Albert Minor Softball players wearing their Aces, Astros, or house league jersey get in free.

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