Island girl pitches with B.C. champions

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A 14-year-old Salt Spring athlete has had a taste of her future possibilities after being called up to help another team secure a provincial softball trophy. 

Salt Spring Storm pitcher Ryen Dunbar joined the Langford Lightning for total domination at the U16-C girls’ softball provincial championships, which were played at Kamloops’ Exhibition Park from July 16 to 18. Langford won every one of the eight games it played over the weekend, and Dunbar was a strong part of the package as a player in seven of those games.

“She pitched in most of them and pitched very well,” Ryen’s dad and regular coach Bruce Dunbar reported. “Langford had their own star pitcher finish with the last game, but Ryen was very instrumental in the other games, bringing runners in and getting last outs.”

Ryen has been involved in the world of minor baseball since starting T-ball around nine years ago, with plenty of coaching help from her dad along the way. While their Salt Spring U16 fastpitch team was defeated by Langford in the district finals during the heatwave in early July, Ryen’s skills did not go unnoticed by the other side. 

“It was really hot. We suffered a lot and didn’t play very well. But the coach on the other team recognized Ryen’s ability to pitch when we were warming up. He told me he thought his team might be in some trouble,” Dunbar said.

Following their Friday night loss, Dunbar took a few Salt Spring team members back to support Langford in the final at the end of the weekend and received an email of thanks from the coach. Then on the Monday night that coach contacted Dunbar to ask if Ryen would join the Langford team for the provincials in Kamloops — the catch being they needed to finalize their roster by noon the next day. 

“She thought about it overnight and then said yes, she would do it. Obviously it was a bit of a struggle for a new girl to join a team she didn’t know,” Dunbar said. 

Dunbar explained that teams can’t pick up just any player, but they can add a pitcher to round out a full roster of 14. It turned out several teams had their eye on Ryen. The Saanich Extreme contacted the Dunbars on Tuesday morning and they heard a third team was also interested. 

“If you can pick up a pitcher that’s pretty solid, that’s going to help you win,” Dunbar noted. 

The entire Dunbar family headed out to Kamloops on Thursday, July 15, arriving on a very smoky day when the air quality index was at its worst possible rating. Fortunately there was a shift the following day and the skies cleared so the tournament could go ahead.

Langford played two games on the Friday, three on Saturday and a final three on Sunday without suffering a single loss. 

The championships were located in a large stadium filled with cheering fans — a far cry from Salt Spring’s humble but beloved home field in Fulford. Dunbar said his daughter definitely rose to the occasion.

“It was very exciting for her. I asked if she was nervous at all but she was just excited to play at that high level,” Dunbar said. 

With that experience behind her and the Canadian women’s softball team winning a historic first with a bronze medal-finish at the Tokyo Olympics last week, Ryen is starting to realize there may be an exciting future ahead of her. 

She is clearly a very talented athlete, but also has strong leadership qualities. Dunbar described how his daughter and her teammate Miranda Bantel went out of their way to coach younger Salt Spring girls in pitching, which they did every Thursday of the past season on their own accord. They can take some credit for the U12 girls winning the bronze trophy in their finals, Dunbar said. Ryen also helped with T-ball on Sundays.

Dunbar said Ryen remembers the way older player Emma Hambrook used to help out with her team and took up the good example.

“She just wanted to give back; that was the real proud moment for me,” he said. 

Dunbar observed that girls’ fastpitch has grown over the past decade or so on Salt Spring. There are now six divisions just for girls, who proudly sport their bright-pink jerseys.

Pre-season training will start again this fall and girls are encouraged to sign up at saltspringbaseball.ca. For more information, contact Dunbar at Bruce@shaw.ca.

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