Year of the Cardinals
St. Albert midget AAA team is 39-13 as the host team for next weekend's Tier I provincials at Legion Memorial Park
Saturday, Jul 26, 2014 06:00 am
Greatness awaits the St. Albert Cardinals at the Baseball Alberta midget AAA Tier I championship.
The Cardinals are poised to celebrate their first provincial title since 2008 next weekend as the tournament hosts at Legion Memorial Park.
Last year’s provincial finalists and Western Canadian gold medallists are ranked No. 1 in the NorWest league at 26-5 while compiling a remarkable 39-13 overall record.
“It’s pretty exciting to work all season just for this one weekend,” said shortstop Austin Watamaniuk of the date with destiny. “Down the stretch we’ve been getting better and better each game and just bonding as a team so by the time provincials come we should be all set.”
The winner will represent Alberta at the Aug. 14 to 18 nationals at Magog, Que. and the runner-up advances to westerns, Aug. 22 to 24 in B.C.
The Cardinals will be challenged by the Calgary Dinos (24-5), Sherwood Park Dukes (21-7), SEEBA 1 (22-9), Spruce Grove White Sox (19-12) and Okotoks Dawgs White (14-19) for provincial honours.
The tournament draw features the top-six NorWest finishers and the remaining six teams in the league are competing this weekend to fill the last two spots.
“The Calgary Dinos and Sherwood Park are probably the two teams that really have a chance to give us a run for our money but if we’re not complacent we can get everything done that we want to accomplish,” said southpaw Taran Oulton.
Teams are gunning for the Cardinals because to be the best you have to beat the best.
“Everyone is, like, we want to play them and we want to kick their ass. They don't want to lose to us,” Oulton said. “After finishing first (in the NorWest league) you’re expected to be one of those teams that move on to nationals or westerns.”
Everybody is a contender at provincials regardless of their ranking in the NorWest circuit.
“Every team has a chance and any team can knock you out in any game so you just have to show up to the field and play each game your hardest,” Watamaniuk said.
Playing at home also intensifies the pressure to perform.
“It definitely does, especially hosting. We’ve got to show up and definitely make the final and not lose out in the round robin,” Oulton said.
However there are advantages as the host team.
“We’ll have our fans here and we know the diamond better so that should help,” Watamaniuk said.
Last year in Okotoks the Cardinals were seeded fifth in the five-day, 13-team, 41-game tournament and finished 6-2 after gassing a big lead in the final against the No. 3-seeded Okotoks Dawgs Red. An error in the seventh inning resulted in the go-ahead run in the 11-10 loss. Dawgs Red went on collect silver at nationals.
“We have most of the same team as last year and we can improve upon what we did and that feeling you get when it’s just out of your grasp a bit,” said Watamaniuk, a returnee from last year’s sixth-place 18-10 NorWest team.
This year’s edition of Red Birds is one of the most talented in years.
“We’ve really been improving since the start of the season. We’re coming together and meshing as one,” Watamaniuk said. “The big thing is everyone is playing for the team and not just individually. It’s more of the team stats rather than just ourselves.”
Oulton described the Cardinals as mentally focused with a knack for finishing strong.
“We show up to the field with lots of intensity and we don’t get complacent. No matter who the team is we keep everything the same and go as hard as possible,” said the first-year Cardinal. “We’ve also been getting the job done in the last few innings. Sometimes we do really bad at the start of the game but then when it comes time to really strap down and get it done it’s usually in the last two or three innings when we really get as many runs as we need to get.”
The fourth straight NorWest win by the Cardinals before provincials – they rattled off seven in a row before last year’s tournament – was Tuesday’s 10-0 mercy rule decision against SEEBA 2 (12-18) in St. Albert. It was the second 10-0 five-inning result in three days, as the Cardinals blanked Dawgs White in Okotoks.
Oulton, 17, improved his NorWest record to a team-high 5-0 while striking-out seven and walking one in four innings of work in his seventh start and 11th appearance on the mound. The Rocky Mountain House product leads the league in strikeouts with 50 in 42 innings and his a 1.83 ERA is second best on the Cardinals behind Connor Burn’s 1.02 mark. Burns is 5-2 with 41 strikeouts in 41 innings.
Oulton, one of three lefties on the pitching staff, credits his teammates for his success.
“I trust my team. If I get my job done then I trust they will get their job done behind me. If I strike someone out then that’s good on me and if I get a ground ball and they make the out, everything is good,” said the former midget AAA Red Deer player who mows downs batters with a nasty curveball.
Oulton hooked up with the Cardinals after spending the offseason working out with the Prospects Baseball Academy travel team coached by Cardinals’ bench boss Cam Houston and assistant Taylor Burns.
“They asked me if I wanted to try out,” Oulton said. “It’s awesome here.”
Tuesday’s offensive attack was spearheaded by Jake Fischer’s two RBIs. Mat Brisson and Matty Quartel also banged out two hits apiece.
Watamaniuk, 16, also swiped his team-leading 16th base while going 1-for-3 with one RBI. His batting average is .299 and has drawn a team-high 16 walks while driving in 12 runs and has scored 18 times.
“I’m just trying to read the pitchers and catchers and read the throw-backs and try and get good jumps off them,” said the Westlock resident in his seventh year of playing ball in St. Albert.