The Burnaby Bulldogs, in grey, showed that they will be fierce competitors in the 2019 GFI, after dumping the Cuban team Unión de Reyes on Tuesday night. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

GFI Day 1: Speed, upsets and stolen bases

Teams look to impress on their returns to James Donaldson Park

JACOB NOSEWORTHY for the Grand Forks Gazette

Hundreds of baseball fans turned out to James Donaldson Park on Tuesday to welcome back the Grand Forks International after a one-year hiatus due to the flooding of Spring 2018.

The 2019 tournament began with four games featuring new and returning teams alike.

Day one featured three close, competitive games and a surprising blowout to end the long day of baseball action.

Houston Westchase Express 2 at San Francisco Seals 4

Pitchers: Jake Hernandez (Houston) and Tim Brokop (San Francisco)

The 2019 GFI kicked off with a hard-fought game between two 2017 quarterfinalists as the San Francisco Seals won 4-2 over the Houston Westchase Express.

A series of defensive errors and a controversial call at second base gave the Seals the lead early in the first inning before they doubled their lead off a Jimmy Cain RBI single in the third.

Although Houston fought back twice later in the game to narrow San Francisco’s lead to one, the Seals were able to hold on for the two-run victory.

The game was also a showcase for the speed of the two teams, as players on both sides showed off their agility on the base paths with a total of seven stolen bases.

Ryan Diaz of the Express currently leads the tournament with three stolen bases.

An excited group of Perley Elementary students also joined the crowd for the morning game as they emphatically cheered on both teams when they were at bat.

Redmond Dudes 7 at Reno Astros 5

Pitchers: Rhyse Frey (Redmond) and Alexander Bates (Reno)

Although the Reno Astros made their first appearance at the GFI in a decade on Tuesday, the newcomer Redmond Dudes spoiled their welcome back party with a 7-5 win in a game that went 11 innings.

A series of both fielding and throwing errors cost the Astros in the fourth inning, when the Dudes capitalized by putting up five runs.

The Astros fought back to tie the game, however, and they even had an opportunity in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off victory but left three runners stranded on the base paths.

The Dudes utilized two walks, shrewd base running and a two-run single in the 11th inning to earn the victory.

Reno starting pitcher Jeremy Erisman put up a strong performance despite the errors around him and only allowed one earned run while striking out seven.

Additionally, Reno’s starting centre fielder was forced out of the game early on, with a right calf strain after attempting to chase down a fly ball. The Astros’ coaching staff hope he’ll return by Saturday for their game against the Seattle Studs.

Everett Merchants 7 at Northwest Honkers 4

Pitchers: Jackson Webber (Everett) and Josh Snider (Northwest)

In the late afternoon matchup between Pacific International League rivals, the Everett Merchants came out on top with a 7-4 win over the Northwest Honkers.

The game started furiously with the Merchants scoring two from sacrifice flies in the top of the first, while the Honkers scored three in the bottom of the inning to take the lead, much to the enjoyment of the horn-honking fans outside their dugout.

A sacrifice groundout for Everett tied the game in the fifth, however, and the Merchants took control with a four-run sixth inning which created an insurmountable lead.

Two notable standouts for the Merchants were designated hitter Patrick Chung, who went four for five at the plate and scored three runs, and second baseman Austin Hauck, who made several important defensive plays to prevent hits and allow his team to hold on for the win.

Despite the loss, Honkers’ right fielder Chaz Lopez made his mark on Grand Forks in the sixth inning with a home run down the left field line that forcefully struck one of the trees lining the east side of the ballpark.

Burnaby Bulldogs 11 at Union de Reyes, Cuba 3

Pitchers: Shawn Shaefer (Burnaby) and Essiel Fuentes (Cuba)

The small but dedicated crowd remaining at James Donaldson Park at 12:04 a.m. on Wednesday morning was surprised as the 2014 champion Burnaby Bulldogs shocked Union de Reyes of Cuba with an 11-3 win in a game that was stopped after eight innings due to the mercy rule.

Despite much of the crowd supporting the Cuban side (though the cheering section’s numbers dwindled as the night wore on), strong pitching for Burnaby and poor pitching for Union de Reyes decided the game.

The Bulldogs took a 5-0 lead after only three innings thanks in part to eight walks by Cuban starting pitcher Essiel Fuentes.

Burnaby earned another run in the fifth inning, two in the seventh, and three in the eighth to put the eight-run mercy rule into effect and end the game.

While Burnaby’s success on the scoreboard came thanks to the team’s 12 hits and Union de Reyes’ 11 walks, starting pitcher Shawn Schaefer shone for the Bulldogs.

The 2014 GFI Most Valuable Player allowed only two runs and five hits over seven innings pitched while striking out 12.

With much of the focus of the tournament centred on the Cuban side, the lone Canadian team showed that they are still a title contender with the commanding victory.

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