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Cardinals have high hopes

St. Albert midget AAA baseball team strong contender for provincial honours

By: Jeff Hansen

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am

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The St. Albert Cardinals start spreading their wings towards nationals in tonight’s season opener in the Norwest Midget AAA Baseball League.

The first pitch against SEEBA 1 is 6:30 p.m. at Legion Memorial Park for last year’s Tier 1 provincial finalists and Western Canadian champions.

Field manager Cam Houston said expectations are “very high” with more than half of the team’s 18 Red Birds back in the fold.

“You always have a goal of going to nationals but this year even more because of our success last year and the amount of guys we have coming back. Our goal is to make it to Quebec this year and play for a national championship,” said Houston, who guided the last midget AAA St. Albert team to nationals in 2008 to a sixth-place finish.

Houston takes over the dugout duties from C.J. Jayasekera, the team’s head coach the last three years who will pilot the junior Cardinals in the North Central Alberta Baseball League.

Houston and associate coach Taylor Burns, a former Cardinal who assisted Jayasekera last year, have also worked with several of the players through the Prospects Baseball Academy.

“We’re going to have a very good squad this year as far as all-around depth of the team. We do a lot of things really well,” Houston said.

A bumper crop of returnees includes Mat Brisson, the tournament MVP at westerns who pitches and plays the infield and outfield; towering right-hander Jackson Wark, a Team Alberta bronze medallist at the 2013 Canada Summer Games; Tanner Karpinski, the team’s top pitcher in the Norwest regular season (5-0, 1.44 ERA in 34 innings); Connor Burns, a strong hitter (.324 average and 19 RBIs in 21 games) who also fanned a team-high 25 batters in league play; as well as infielder Aaron Watamaniuk and catchers Jake Fischer and Matt Quartel, an accomplished high school quarterback and basketball player.

“The group that is coming back will definitely know what we want to do. They will also help the new guys come in and a couple of guys we’ve added are very quality guys,” said Houston, who bolstered the lineup with the addition of St. Albert southpaw Dylan Gates, the 2013 Baseball Alberta bantam AAA player of the year.

Pitching and athleticism have the Cardinals perched on the edge of greatness.

“We have all of our pitchers from last year coming back and they did a great job. We’ve added a few more too,” said Houston, who has at least nine throwers at his disposal. “Our overall speed as a team is going to be a huge factor as well.”

The Cardinals are ready to fly into action tonight after several indoor sessions and the odd outdoor appearance.

“It will be good to get out on the field and start playing some games. Hopefully it’s a good start to the season,” Houston said.

Last year the Cardinals won their last seven league games to finish 18-10 for sixth place before going 6-2 at provincials. Ranked fifth in the five-day, 13-team, 41-game tournament the Cardinals knocked off the No. 2-ranked Okotoks Dawgs Black, the 2012 national champions and 2011 silver medallists, 5-4 and in the final against the No. 3-ranked Dawgs Red they let a big lead slip away and an error in the seventh resulted in the go-ahead run in the 11-10 loss. Dawgs Red went on to claim silver at nationals.

Houston stressed there is no clear-cut favourite in the 12-team Norwest league, which sets the stage for provincials.

“It’s a pretty strong league. Each team has got a couple of guys that definitely can shut you down on any given day. You have to really go and battle if you really want to be at the top of the pack. You’ve got to do a lot of good things to roll into the end of the year in order to have a good shot at winning,” said Houston, who coached the Cardinals to a Norwest title and silver medal at westerns in 2007.

“It’s going to be an exciting season.”

Saturday the Cardinals host the Red Deer Braves in a doubleheader at 12 and 3 p.m. at Legion park.


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