The team to beat at the midget AAA Tier I provincials this weekend at Legion Memorial Park has unfinished business after losing last year’s final.
The St. Albert Cardinals were on the verge of going to nationals for the first time since 2008 but dropped the ball as a big lead slipped away in the 11-10 loss to Okotoks Dawgs Red.
“We kind of had an upset last year in the final so hopefully this year we make it back to the final and win it,” said Jake Fischer, a catcher who also plays second base. “We have a good shot this year and hopefully it will work out good for us.”
Instead of going to nationals the Cardinals won gold at westerns.
“Last year was kind of a heartbreaker but winning westerns was still good,” said pitcher Tanner Karpinski. “We definitely want nationals this year.”
Provincials started Friday with the Cardinals playing Fort McMurray and the Spruce Grove White Sox. Scores were unavailable at press time.
The last pool A game for the Cardinals is against SEEBA 1 today at 3 p.m., followed by the opening ceremonies for the midget, bantam and peewee AAA tournaments at 6 p.m.
If there are no tiebreakers the top two teams in pools A and B crossover in Sunday’s semifinals at 9 a.m. and noon for a spot in the 3 p.m. final
The Calgary Dinos, Sherwood Park Dukes, Okotoks Dawgs White and Calgary Rockies are grouped in pool B.
Visit www.stalbertbaseball.com or www.baseballalberta.com for schedules and results.
The Alberta champion goes to nationals (Aug. 14 to 18 in Magog, Que.) and the runner-up competes at westerns (Aug. 22 to 24 in Coquitlam, B.C.).
“It will definitely be exciting this weekend but really anyone has a shot at winning it,” Fischer said. “We played Fort Mac at the start of the year so we don’t really know what to expect from them because we haven’t played them in a while. Spruce Grove we’ve done quite well against. We usually face their best pitching and we haven’t done too bad so I’m not too worried about them. SEEBA 1 is probably our biggest competitor (in pool A) I would say at this point from what we’ve seen from them.”
The top six Norwest teams qualified for provincials and the league’s remaining six teams competed in a tournament last weekend to declare the last two reps.
The Cardinals finished on top of the Norwest standings at 26-5, ahead of the Dinos (24-5), Sherwood Park (21-7), SEEBA 1 (22-9), Spruce Grove (19-12) and Okotoks (14-19).
Fort McMurray (12-21) and the Rockies (10-22) won the right to compete at provincials.
“We’re pretty excited going in as the first place team. We’re in pretty a good spot but everybody is going to be coming at us pretty good with their best stuff,” said Karpinski, who is leery of Sherwood Park if the teams cross paths in the playoffs. “They’ve got a couple of good pitchers and they’ve been pretty good against us all year long.”
As the host team the Cardinals will feel the heat to live up to the hype as provincial contenders.
“There is lots of pressure. When you’re hosting, all your friends are out here watching you and when you’re first in the league you have a target on your back so everyone is going after you,” said Fischer, a Lacombe product who played for the Prospects Baseball Academy travel team.
“Having home advantage means you want to win more,” added Karpinski, another Prospects’ player who hit .362 for the Cardinals in the NorWest circuit.
It’s been a stellar season for the Cardinals with 39 wins in 52 games.
“Everybody on this team has the same mentality as last year. You expect to win when you get to the yard,” Karpinski said. “The big thing is the chemistry between all the guys in the lineup. Not just one guy gets a hit but everybody gets a hit. They all want to pitch in.”
More than half of the 18 Cardinals are returnees from last year’s sixth-place 18-10 NorWest team.
“Last year we had a lot more power guys and this year we have a lot more speed. We’re good at playing small ball,” said Fischer, 18, the team leader in hits (29), RBIs (22) home runs (two) and tied for second in doubles (10) and triples (two) while batting .363 in league play.
Karpinski, 18, is a fourth-year Cardinal who experienced the lowest of lows in his first season when the Red Birds were a dismal 7-25 for ninth place in the Norwest standings and at provincials were shut out twice in four losses.
“Everyone that first year thought we weren’t very good and didn’t think highly of us but we kept developing and getting better players and now we’re at the top of the totem pole. It feels pretty good to be better than everyone else that made fun of us,” said the Edmonton righty who frustrated batters with a tricky changeup to post a 5-1 record and 3.50 ERA while striking out 21 and walking 12 in 28 innings in NorWest action.