Sunday, August 9, 2020

McCullough’s day at Bob Van Impe

Saskatoon product powered Canada to golden comeback

Devon McCullough in 2015. (Photo by Louis Christ)
Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Devon McCullough wasn’t walking into an enviable situation, when he entered the championship game of the 2015 International Softball Federation Men’s World Championship tournament.

Playing in front of his hometown fans at Bob Van Impe Stadium, McCullough entered the contest to pitch relief for Canada in the top of the third inning against powerhouse and defending champion New Zealand.

New Zealand had just taken a 4-0 lead with one out and had a runner on second.

Despite the tough circumstances, McCullough remembered the 7,000 in attendance that night hadn’t given up on the Canadian side.

“The crowd was going nuts, and it was loud,” said McCullough, who was the youngest player on Canada’s roster at age 24 at that time. “It was pretty much the biggest moment I’ve been in I figure in my life especially up until then.

“I was definitely a little nervous going in, but I was also excited at the same time.”

McCullough’s first task was to stop New Zealand from potential running away with the game at that point. He got the first batter out he faced on a groundout.

He proceeded to hit the next batter he faced with a pitch. Following that development, the Canadian coaching staff elected to load the bases by intentionally walking the next batter.

After loading the bases, McCullough walked the next batter he faced allowing New Zealand to go up 5-0.

He proceeded to stop the New Zealand rally at that point with a strike out to end the top half of the inning. McCullough said getting that strikeout to strand three runners on base proved to be key to help his side start to get some traction.

Devon McCullough (#24) fires a pitch. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
“That was a big game changer,” said McCullough. “If I give up a hit there or something, they could have scored three runs right off of that.

“The game could have been done right there.”

Canada’s offence proceeded to come to life after that. The Canadians scored four runs in the bottom of the third to cut New Zealand’s lead to 5-4 changing the complexion of the contest.

McCullough pitched a scoreless top of the fourth, and in the bottom of the fourth, Canada scored four more runs to go ahead 8-5. The younger chucker said the excitement rose for the host country as momentum had totally changed sides.

“The whole atmosphere in the dugout had changed,” said McCullough. “Everyone was standing up and loud.

“I think we pretty much knew by that point that we weren’t going to be stopped that day. We were just on a roll.”

Canada scored two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to cement a 10-5 victory.

McCullough pitched the rest of the contest to pick up the win striking out eight batters while scattering one hit and five walks over four-and-two-thirds innings. Throughout the game, he heard chants of “Devo” coming from the crowd.

Devon McCullough was the hero. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
He put down the last two batters he faced in the top of the seventh with swinging strike outs. After he recorded the final out, McCullough couldn’t believe the energy rush.

“It was like a shock almost,” said McCullough. “It was like, ‘Holy (explanative) we just won.’

“It was pretty much just yard sale everything.”

Since age 13, McCullough played numerous games at Bob Van Impe Stadium leading up to that world championship win. He has continued to play many more games at his hometown park and remains a member of the national team at age 29.

He has played at two world tournaments win Canada since earning bronze medals each time out.

While McCullough would love to help Canada win another world championship, he doesn’t expect anything will surpass winning it all representing his country in his hometown. When you add in the fact he was winning pitcher that helped turn around a dire situation, it becomes a fairy-tale script.

“It was awesome,” said McCullough. “I’ve told everyone that it doesn’t matter whether I go out and play and win anything else in ball, but nothing will ever top that.

“That is the number one thing that you probably would ever want as any ball player would want.”

An artistic picture of Devon McCullough. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
McCullough believes he has watched the video of that championship game about 100 times since it happened. He said people in Saskatoon come up and talk to him all time about that world title win, especially if he is at one of the diamonds at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex at a weekend tournament.

“I see them in the beer tent just stopping for a beer,” said McCullough. “You are just talking about it like all the time.

“It is pretty special that is for sure. No one can ever take that one away from you winning the world championship at home. It is pretty awesome to think about.

“That was a pretty awesome day.”