Cardinals awarded silver
Baseball Canada U18 national finalists
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 06:00 am
Silver was as good as gold for the St. Albert Cardinals at the Baseball Canada U18 nationals in Magog, Que.
The Alberta midget AAA Tier I champions lost Sunday’s final 16-6 in the rain to an all-star team representing Quebec.
“We deserved to be there and we just fell a little short,” head coach Cam Houston said in a phone interview Monday. “The kids were very disappointed. They played their hearts out all weekend and it didn’t go in our favour but I’m pretty proud of the guys and the coaching staff and everybody who helped out in getting us there.”
It’s the first U18 medal for the St. Albert Minor Baseball Association since the Cardinals were awarded silver as the host team at the 2004 nationals.
The Cardinals were also finalists in 1984 (Moncton, N.B.) and 2002 (host team) and bronze medallists in 1985 (Windsor, Ont.), 1999 (Red Deer) and 2000 (Stonewall, Man.)
“We had a goal at the start of the season to get to that point for a shot at the gold and it all turned out that way. The kids — the blood, sweat, tears they put in throughout the winter and throughout the whole season — they just battled their butts off,” Houston said of the Cardinals’ first trip to nationals since 2008.
The Cardinals won four and lost twice to Quebec to finish a season to remember at 47-16.
“It was a fantastic experience and all the guys on the team had a hand in everything that went on this season. Everybody contributed,” said second baseman and pitcher Mat Brisson, prior to boarding the plane for the trip home Tuesday morning. “We had something special this year with our team and I don’t know if that will be replicated again but hopefully next year.”
In the final, gold turned to silver after Quebec scored four runs on two hits in the first, added four runs on four hits in the second and pushed a pair across in the third on one hit and one error for a sizeable 10-0 advantage.
“We kind of beat ourselves a little bit in the final,” Brisson said. “The stage doesn’t get any bigger than that and we were all pretty nervous. (Quebec had the) home crowd advantage so we were hearing it a little bit from the fans but as soon as we loosened up we started playing a lot better baseball.”
Last year’s provincial finalists and Western Canadian gold medallists rose to the challenge in the top of the sixth with six runs, highlighted by Jake Fischer’s two-run homer and Erik Sabrowski’s two-run single.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that are battlers. I’ve never seen a group of kids that came back from a 10-run deficit and chip away and put up six runs and make the game tight again,” Houston said. “Both teams were pretty into it. It was a pretty emotional game. It was probably one of the biggest venues in terms of the excitement and the crowd and the fans of both teams.”
Quebec put up a three spot in the fifth and after a rain delay in the top of the sixth completed the mercy-rule victory with three runs in the bottom of the sixth to finish 6-0 in the tournament with 62 runs scored and 18 against
“That wasn’t a club team or anything like we are. It was very tough,” Houston said.
Starting pitcher Jacob Melville, a pickup from the Spruce Grove White Sox, was tagged with the loss after allowing eight runs on six hits in 1-1/3 innings. He faced 15 batters and walked five and struck-out one.
Brisson replaced Melville and gave up five runs, three earned, on four hits. He also issued five walks and fanned one batter in 3-2/3 innings.
Sabrowski closed out the loss with three runs on two hits and one walk.
The Cardinals banged out eight hits against two pitchers. Brisson batted 2-for-4 with one RBI and Dylan Gates was 2-for-3.
The Cardinals stranded nine players and Quebec left eight men on base. Quebec was also charged with five errors.
“We definitely had our chances to win that game but we didn’t throw it very well. We walked a lot of guys and when you walk too many guys it’s tough to really do too much,” Houston said.
In Sunday’s semifinals Quebec hammered British Columbia 14-0 and the Cardinals edged the host Magog team 2-1.
“It was really crunch time for us. Everybody went out and played their hearts out and left nothing on the field and that’s what got us to the final,” said Brisson, who singled home Gates with one out in the bottom of the third to open the scoring.
In the fifth, after Magog tied it at in the top of the inning, Logan Harvey scored on an error by the right fielder after advancing to third on a two-out double by Austin Watamaniuk.
Fischer and Watamaniuk both went 2-for-3 at the plate as the Cardinals collected six hits in total.
Connor Burns tossed a two-hit gem while going the distance. He struck-out five and walked five while stranding five runners.
“It was a pretty exciting game and pretty intense and very stressful for the players, coaching staff and parents,” Houston said. “Offensively we didn’t get much going but we found a way to scrape a couple of runs together and Connor Burns pitched unreal. He found a way to pitch his butt off. Actually the last pitch he threw (strike-out for the third out) was the last pitch he was allowed to because it was his 105th. He did what he’s done for us all year. Every big game we’ve needed to win he’s gone out and done it for us.”
The Cardinals got off to a roaring start at nationals with a dramatic 5-4 extra inning decision against Ontario in pool A on Thursday. The Albertans scored four runs on three hits after the Ontario reps from London capitalized on three errors for three runs without a hit in the top of the eighth.
Fischer’s two-out double with the bases loaded scored Watamaniuk and pinch-runner Anthony Owen to seal the deal.
“Winning your first game is huge and being able to do it in that fashion definitely gets the kids more pumped up and excited and gave us a better chance to do what we wanted to do down the road,” Houston said.
Friday the Cardinals lost 3-2 to Quebec despite out-hitting La Belle Province 6-3 and shut out Magog 2-0.
Kurt Meeberg, a pickup from SEEBA, allowed three runs, two earned, against Quebec despite throwing a two-hitter over four innings. He fanned four and struck-out six. Melville pitched the last two innings.
Brisson drove home two runs and Sabrowski batted 2-for-3 in the loss.
Taran Oulton fired a four-hitter against Magog. He struck-out five and walked one over six innings and Melville earned the save.
Gates and Watamaniuk scored runs as the Cardinals mustered only one hit, a single by Burns.
The Cardinals also struck-out eight times and made two errors.
Saturday the Cardinals knocked off Saskatchewan champions from Saskatoon 5-3 as Gates mowed down seven batters and walked two while surrendering three runs, two earned, over four innings. Brisson picked up the save.
Burns recorded two RBIs and Sabrowski and Watamaniuk added three hits apiece.
Sabrowski led all Cardinals offensively at nationals with nine hits, including two doubles, for a team-leading .450 average.
“We played pretty well in all of our games. Each game was a pretty big battle. All the teams are the best of the best. It’s tough to beat those teams by a lot, so you just try and do everything right. One little error can change a lot really quick but we did a pretty good job of keeping our heads on straight, even when we booted the ball around in the top of the eighth against Ontario (three errors for a total of seven in the win) we locked it down and found a way to get it done with Jake’s two-run walk-off double,” said Brisson, who shared the team lead in RBIs with Fisher with five apiece. “I’m sure proud of the way everybody played in this tournament.”
The Cardinals were destined for greatness this year while racking up a first-place 26-5 NorWest league record and as the provincial hosts celebrated a memorable 8-1 rout of the Sherwood Park A’s in the final in front of one of the largest crowds to watch a game at Legion Memorial Park in years.
“The final was definitely a special game at provincials. Everybody had a big fan base out. It was kind of like a dream come true. It’s one of those moments when you’re a little kid lying in bed late at night and you envision playing on your home field. It wasn’t quite the World Series but it’s definitely up there,” said Brisson, 17, who batted .350 at nationals, the second-best mark on the team, on the strength of seven hits.