Cardinals rise up in midget AA
St. Albert midget AA baseball team is 17-1-1
Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 06:00 am
The midget AA St. Albert Cardinals are playing baseball like a AAA team with 17 wins in 19 games.
The winners of the St. Albert Early Bird and Sherwood Park Doc Plotsky tournaments have lost only one game and another was a seven-inning scoreless stalemate.
“One of the philosophies I had as the team’s first-year coach was to run this team as close to the AAA level as possible,” said head coach Jason Enright. “We have a good balance of players. A lot of them would be AAA eligible if our AAA team wasn’t so strong this year (at 14-2 in the NorWest league) and that AAA team is just phenomenal.”
“But as a AA team we would give our AAA team a little bit of a battle I think.”
The Cardinals are ranked first overall in the Baseball Alberta midget AA standings at 9-1 and in the second of three rounds to determine the provincial qualifiers they are 3-1 with road games against the Clive Coyotes (3-0 and overall 8-1) today and Sherwood Park Athletics (1-0 and overall 5-2) Thursday.
“The team is bonding extremely well. We have eight second-year players and eight first-year players and the younger kids want to get more playing time so they’re pushing the older kids to play the best they can,” Enright said of the 16-player lineup (five were on the bantam-age team he coached during its 2014 Goodwill Tour of Cuba), compared to last year’s 13-man roster. “It’s made everybody look over their shoulder. They know that if they’re not on or focused then there is somebody really ready and willing to take their position.”
There are 25 midget AA teams scattered throughout the province and there are some like the Cardinals who have a AAA team in their association.
“Some of the smaller towns that don’t have AAA baseball have fantastic AA baseball. Clive, Olds (1-3 and overall 6-4) and Bonnyville (1-1 and overall 5-3) are very strong teams this year,” Enright said. “We’ve seen almost everybody except for some of the northern teams. North Peace (3-0 and overall 6-3) is very strong. Slave Lake (1-2 and overall 7-2) is strong and so is Barrhead (3-0 and overall 4-5).”
The third round leading up to provincials will give Enright a clearer picture of how good the Cardinals really are.
“The way AA works is you get tiered into teams in your similar area and as the season progresses they kind of branch off. Our first tier was all local Edmonton teams and now we got put in with teams in the south and then they will re-tier the teams and I’m sure some of the teams from the north will be combined with us for that final round before provincials,” said Enright, who hopes to have the Cardinals play as many as 60 games this season, more than double last year’s total.
The Cardinals are bidding to host provincials during the August long weekend. The winner advances to westerns Aug. 15 to 17 in Swift Current.
“Hopefully we make the best run at it as we can,” said catcher/third-baseman Jordon Kroeker, a returning Red Bird. “We just want to play as best as we can. We have lots of good guys, even the first years. They’re doing phenomenal. They’re playing just as good as our second-year players. We’re all clicking together.”
Beating teams by the mercy rule is a badge of honour for the Cardinals.
“We’ve done it a lot and it really brings up the confidence level obviously,” Kroeker said. “Once we mercy a team we’re really proud of ourselves and we want to do it again because it’s such a shot of adrenaline.”
Offensively the Cardinals are averaging 10 runs per game.
“We’re all on the sticks really good, getting everything out of the infield and picking our spots really good, “ Kroeker said.
The Cardinals have allowed 3.2 runs per game on the strength of five shutouts.
“I’ve got basically a designated pitching staff, the same way the AAAs would as well,” Enright said. “Our pitching staff has been phenomenal, probably the best pitching staff in our league that we’ve seen with five starting pitchers that are awesome on the mound.”
Defensively the Cardinals have their pitchers’ backs.
“Our infield is just stellar and nothing gets past us. If it’s a fly ball then the outfield has it,” Kroeker said. “The goal is not let anything get past us and make no mistakes that we shouldn’t make. If there is something you can get to, you better get there.”
Kroeker, 16, credits Enright – a longtime St. Albert Minor Baseball Association board member and third-year rep dugout boss in his eighth year coaching in the association – for the team’s startling turnaround from last year.
“It’s more than night and day. Last year was fun. We had a lot of good guys on the team as well … this year we just really know what we have to work on at every practice and Jason has done a really good job at that,” said the Grade 11 St. Albert Catholic High School student and noted downhill and mogul skier.
FOUL BALLS: Wednesday the Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season, 10-6 in Sherwood Park. It was 9-2 for the home team after three innings.
The Cardinals were outhit 12-7 and committed four errors, compared to two for the Athletics.
Tanner McLean-Poll and Ben Grabia batted 2-for-2. Grabia drove home two runs and swiped two of the team’s six stolen bases. McLean-Poll, Kroeker and Nate Brisson had one RBI apiece.
Brad Macuch allowed all 10 runs in 3-1/3 innings while walking two and striking-out three. Conor Bronson and Mason Libich pitched in relief.