Maple Leafs lose late to Barnstormers

By Rob Vona

The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Chatham-Kent Barnstormer on Sunday afternoon at Dominico Field at Christie Pits by a score of 6-4, dropping to 0-4 to open up the season. 

The Barnstormers remain undefeated in their short-lived Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) tenure, starting off the season with two wins and no losses. 

Jesse Hodges got the nod for the Maple Leafs, in his first start of the 2024 season he registered four scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out four batters. 

“It was a good start for me,” said Hodges. “I felt good out there.”

The Maple Leafs struck first in the third inning, first baseman Jordan Castaldo cashed in left-fielder Greg Carrington with a sacrifice fly to centre-field, giving the Maple Leafs the 1-0 lead. 

The bats continued to pave the way for Toronto as third baseman Johnathan Solazzo teed off on an offering from Barnstormers starter Ken Williams, launching one over the newly-extended right-field fence for a solo blast in the bottom of the fourth inning. 

Barnstormer catcher Mitsuki Fukuda would respond with an RBI single in the top of the fifth inning, taking advantage of the runners on base to cut the lead in half, making it a 2-1 game. 

Williams settled in after giving up the home run to Solazzo, posting a clean six innings that saw him give up only those two runs and register four strikeouts. 

Julian Valdez came in to relieve Hodges, the 25-year-old recorded seven outs and gave up three earned runs, the RBI single to Fukuda, an RBI infield single to centre-fielder Miles Norman and was responsible for a sac-fly off the bat of third baseman Jalen Butcher, even though Dean Christidis had already entered the game. 

The Maple Leafs trailed 4-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning when Castaldo ripped a double off of the left field fence that scored one run. 

He later scored on a sac-fly from centre-fielder Marcus Knecht to knot the game up at four heading into the final two innings of play. 

Second baseman Robert Mackie took Christidis deep for a solo shot that gave the Barnstormers the lead yet again, in his last four games against Toronto, Mackie is hitting five-for-nine (.556) with two home runs and four RBI. 

After a walk, an infield single and an error allowed for the Barnstormers to load the bases, Chris Nagorski entered the game for Toronto and walked in another run, making it a 6-4 game. 

The Maple Leafs couldn’t quite crack the Barnstormers bullpen, Sam McKinlay registered two innings, allowing two earned runs en route to his first win of his IBL career, while Garret Day got the final three outs of the game to record his first save in his IBL career.

“We’re competing, you can take that right off the board,” said Hodges. “Things will click, baseball is a long season, it’s a grind, it’s a sport of failure and we can’t hit the panic button yet.”

The Maple Leafs are back at home at Dominico Field at Christie Pits on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. for their ‘Party at the Park’ themed game against the only other winless team in the IBL, the Kitchener Panthers.