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Team Canada looks to young players to carry torch

Canada will have a handful of young stars - including a pair of White Rock Renegade pitchers – on the roster when the Canadian Open begins.
At last year's Canadian Open

For longtime fans of the Canadian Open – and its predecessor, the Canada Cup – the names of national players blasted over the Softball City P.A. system were familiar ones.

In left-field and batting leadoff for Team Canada, Melanie Matthews; at second base, Kristy Odamura; at catcher, Erin Cumpstone; playing first base, Sheena Lawrick…

All were longtime fixtures in the Canadian lineup – and some still are.

But now, a new wave of young stars is set to take centre stage when the team hits the field this weekend in South Surrey. And helping lead the youth movement are former White Rock Renegades pitchers Jocelyn Cater and Marina Demore.

Demore, who just completed her junior season at Oregon State University, and Cater, who doesn't even turn 18 until later this summer, will both be in the lineup after making the cut at a tryout camp in Oklahoma City earlier this week; the camp was followed by the World Cup of Softball.

"It's a really great experience," said Demore, who won the Canada Cup's Showcase Division as a 15-year-old with the Vancouver Wildcats.

"I used to watch this team play when I was little, and now to be playing with them, and to be a part of it, is pretty cool."

Demore didn't play for Canada at last year's event, choosing instead to return to Oregon State for the summer, but she first donned the Maple Leaf jersey at Softball City in 2010, pitching a handful of innings for Canada.

"My first game, I think it was against USA Elite, and I got thrown in for an inning or two. I was really nervous, but it was exciting," she recalled.

"That gave me a lot of confidence, and make me realize I could compete with anybody. I was out there against the best, so now, this year, I have a little bit different mindset.

"I'm definitely a lot more calm now. I've been put in big situations before, at college."

Cater, too, made a good first impression. Last year, at just 16 years old, she became the youngest player to ever suit up for Canada's national squad, when she pitched two innings against high-powered Australia. She did not allow a hit, struck out a pair, and was credited with the win.

And this year, the Maple Ridge native – who will pitch next year at the University of Washington – is looking to improve on that performance.

"This year, I have a more mental attitude. Last year, I just threw the ball,” said Cater, a student at North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary. “I’m more positional with my throws, I watch the batters and see where they like to stand in the box, and study what pitches the left-handed hitters struggle with."

Batters struggled with her fastball a year ago, but she is relying on more than just her speed this season.

“I’ve developed a drop-ball/change-up,” she said earlier this month, before accompanying Team Canada to Oklahoma.

“It’s about 10 miles an hour slower than my fastball, which is good because you have to slow your pitches down every now and then.”

And while the summer is a whirlwind of travel – from Oklahoma to South Surrey, and later this summer to Whitehorse for the women's world fastpitch championships July 12-22 – Cater, like Demore, is excited to play in front of family and friends at the Canadian Open.

"Playing at home is so much better, you see people you know in the stands and they support our team,” she said. “I watched the Canada Cup… when I was a kid, so I always wanted to play in a tournament like this.”

And while Cater and Demore are likely to be relied upon more heavily than in their rookie seasons with the national program, both still rely on the steadying influence of the team's veterans when it comes time to play big games. If she ever finds the nerves getting the best of her in the pitcher's circle, Demore, for example, thinks back to one of the nuggets of advice Cumpstone – Canada's longtime catcher – once gave her.

"She just told me to go out there and relax, and have fun. It's not any different – it's still just a game."

- with files from Rick Kupchuk