Manager Ernie Whitt believes Canada's baseball team missed its best chance at qualifying for the 2020 Olympics after being eliminated at the Premier 12 tournament in South Korea.
Whitt and his team aren't happy after losses to South Korea and Australia left them needing to secure the one spot available in the Americas qualifier in March in Arizona. The timing of that tournament complicates things for Whitt, because with major league teams in the heart of spring training, putting together a roster in March will be more difficult.
"Our goal was to qualify for the Olympics and we failed to do that," Whitt told CBC Sports after this team finished 1-2. "I was very disappointed, and the team is very disappointed. There was no question this was a great opportunity for us.
"I really felt that we had a team that had the capabilities that could go on to Tokyo and try to win a gold medal. We still hope to do that, and we have a second chance to do that come the end of March."
WATCH | Canada eliminated from Premier 12 after loss to Australia:
Whitt said a lack of offence doomed the team, but he was pleased with his pitching.
"I think we averaged three hits a game and we aren't going to win a lot of ball games like that," Whitt said. "I thought our pitching was outstanding. All three of our starters pitched extremely well and our bullpen did a nice job. When you give up, I don't even know how many runs we gave up for the three games, I think it was maybe seven runs that we gave up. That is a pretty good pitching staff, but the bottom line is we didn't hit, didn't get hits in key situations."
Aumont pitched for future job
One of those starters that had success was Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., who threw eight shutout innings in Canada's opening-game win over Cuba.
"Obviously, I couldn't get more excited than that. To do it in the first game, Cuba was a team we needed to beat. To start off the tournament 1-0, it put us in the driver's seat," Aumont told CBC Sports. "It had us going right off the bat. I was excited, I was able to give the team eight strong innings. It was good for me to showcase as I'm looking for a job in Korea or Japan so that worked out for me on that front. It was a good start.
"Obviously, I want to be here in March. I am going to press hard wherever I go and really emphasize I want to do this and want to be a part of the Olympics," said Aumont, who helped Canada win gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. "At the end of the day, if it comes down to me not getting a job or playing in March, obviously I am going to have to tell Team Canada I won't be there."
Whitt and his staff will have to take a hard look at what they want to do come March. There will be key decisions to be made like if they want to compete for the Olympics or bring in a young team and look toward the future.
Whitt said the coaching staff will watch every game to see what went wrong and what changes will be made for the March tournament.
"We need to inject some younger players that are up and coming," he said. "Whether or not we win with them or build ourselves for the future is up in the air. But, that is what we have to do.
"I am sure we are going to have a mixture of players. It is us getting the ability to have access to these players will determine what type of team we will have," he said. "I'm a firm believer in having strong defence and pitching, but we need to have solid hitters, too. It is something we will work on over the next three months and come up with a team and win a spot in the Olympics."
In the meantime, Aumont will try to erase the sting of defeat.
"It is a real slap in the face because we could have beat Australia. Australia shouldn't be able to compete with us," he said. "It is unfortunate but it is another example that the game is played between the lines and you can't sit back and coast through a win with some of these teams. Right now, it is a bitter taste that we have to pack our bags as we are on a flight, but not on a flight to Japan like we wanted but a flight back home. It's bitterness, man."