Best in the west
Midget AAA Cardinals win westerns
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 04:15 pm
The next best thing than going to nationals for the St. Albert Cardinals was winning the Western Canadian Midget AAA Baseball Championship.
Sunday the Tier I provincial finalists were crowned Best in the West after branding the Cloverdale Colts 5-0 losers in Winnipeg.
“Everybody wanted this just as bad if not worse than provincials,” said Mat Brisson, the tournament MVP at westerns. “After losing in the final at provincials everybody was kind of bummed out.”
Last month’s 11-10 loss to the Okotoks Dawgs Red at provincials left the Cardinals gutted.
“It was pretty heartbreaking, especially on the ride home from Okotoks,” said Jackson Wark, the winning pitcher in Sunday’s gold-medal game. “It would’ve been nice to go to nationals but to take westerns is pretty awesome.”
In the provincial final at Okotoks the Cardinals gassed a big lead in the first inning and an error in the seventh resulted in the go-ahead run.
“We deserved to win that game more than the other team. We were very close but sometimes things happen with plays and you don’t get the bounces,” Brisson said. “Next year we’re losing three or four guys so we’re going to have the entire team returning and we’re going to be right there again with everybody else.”
Field manager C.J. Jayasekera was proud how the Cardinals rose from the ashes of defeat at provincials to the top of the mountain at westerns.
“It’s fantastic for the kids because they’re putting the time in, plus their parents and obviously St. Albert minor baseball and my coaching staff all deserve this moment,” said the Cardinals’ third-year dugout boss. “It’s the cherry on the topping.”
It’s been several years since a St. Albert midget AAA team accomplished what the Cardinals did this year.
“It’s been a great adventure and we’re certainly elated and thrilled to be part of it,” Jayasekera said. “The process has been one game, one inning, one pitch at a time, so for us to extend our season with this group is obviously to be rejoiced.”
The Cardinals played their best baseball down the stretch, winning their last seven games in the Norwest league to finish 18-10 for sixth place before going 6-2 at provincials. Ranked fifth in the five-day, 13-team tournament, the Cardinals upset Okotoks Dawgs Black, last year’s national champion and 2011 silver medallist, 5-4, before pushing the No. 2-ranked Dawgs Red to the brink of defeat. At nationals this year Dawgs Red lost the final.
At westerns the Cardinals dropped only one game in the six-team round robin for a shot at the gold.
“As a team they worked together battling and scrapping and that’s sort of how we played every game,” Jayasekera said. “At the same time the triumphs and the shortcomings and what not have made us build character on this team to become who they are right now.”
Jayasekera described the final against the Colts as a redemption game after letting a 2-0 lead slip away in the 3-2 extra-inning walkoff loss to the B.C. reps.
“We knew what we had to do: take care of business and control things we do,” he said. “All we had to do was pitch well and our defence had been stellar all the way so we knew and trusted and believed that we were able to do it.”
In the top of the fourth the Colts broke up Wark’s no-hitter with a bloop single over the first baseman.
In the fifth the Cardinals put up a five spot and Wark responded with zeros the next couple of innings before a pick-up from Red Deer moved down the side in the seventh.
The 16-year-old Wark, a Grade 11 Bellerose Composite High School student, tossed a three-hitter while striking out four and walking six.
“I hadn’t pitched in a week or so because I hurt my arm so it was a great way to come back from that,” said the intimidating six-foot-six righty who won a bronze medal with Alberta at the Canada Summer Games.
Brisson, 16, said the Cardinals’ will to win was greater than the Colts.
“It was a well played game by both teams but we seem to have that little extra push after coming so close (at provincials),” said the Grade 12 St. Albert Catholic High School student.
Brisson pitched in the tournament opener, complete game 3-2 win against Regina, before spending time at second base and the outfield. His consistent play on the field and at the plate also earned him MVP honours.
“It means a lot but there are also 18 other guys that were beside me and anyone of them could’ve won it. Everybody did their job and that’s how we ended up winning.”