The St. Albert Cardinals spread their wings this weekend as the host team for the bantam AAA Tier I provincials.
“It’s pretty important for us to be playing at home,” said catcher Danny Tkachyk. “It’s nice to know most of the fans will be cheering for us and a lot of our friends and families will be coming out to watch us. Hopefully we’ll do well.”
The five-team tournament at Legion Memorial Park starts today at 9 a.m. with the Cardinals up to bat against the Spruce Grove White Sox.
After the 6 p.m. opening ceremonies the Cardinals are back on the diamond against the Red Deer Braves at 7 p.m.
Sunday the Cardinals play the No. 1-ranked Okotoks Dawgs Black at 3 p.m. and Monday they close out the round-round draw against the defending champion Sherwood Park Athletics at noon.
If there are no tiebreakers the top two finishers meet in Monday’s 3 p.m. final.
Visit www.stalbertbaseball.com or www.baseballalberta.com for schedules and results.
“Home field advantage is huge for us. Any time you can play on a facility like this, which is one of the best ball diamonds in Alberta, it’s fantastic,” said head coach Dave Maguire. “We also know the ins and outs kind of things. We know how the ball rolls and the bounces in the outfield and that’s huge. The boys also get to sleep in their own beds and they don’t have the distractions of being on the road and that’s really big too.”
The winner advances to nationals, Aug. 22 to 26 at Vaughan, Ont.
The White Sox are hosting westerns Aug. 15 to 18 and will be joined by another team from provincials.
The last time the Cardinals won provincials was 2007.
“I don’t believe there is pressure on us. We just need to play the way we’ve been playing,” Tkachyk said. “If we’re down we pick each other up very well like a good team should.”
Last year the Cardinals finished third at provincials with one win after going 17-15 in league play.
This year the Cardinals placed second in the provincial seeding round at 19-6 and are 25-20-1 overall in league, exhibitions and tournaments.
“The difference this year is we have more returning players. We had only one last year (southpaw Dylan Gates, the 2013 Baseball Alberta bantam AAA player of the year) and we’ve got six this year and a lot of very, very good first years,” Tkachyk said.
The Cardinals gradually grew stronger as the season progressed on the strength of a 10-game winning streak in the provincial seeding round.
“We started off with a little bit of adversity because we had kids that were hurt and kids that were sick but I think it was a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to get lots of innings for other folks and it’s really paid dividends down the road,” Maguire said. “I’ve got 13 guys that in my mind are pretty interchangeable.”
Okotoks, a team the Cardinals haven’t beat this year, placed first in the provincial seeding round at 22-3.
“They’re not as good as they were last year but they’re still a very good team as are we. They can hit very well and they have good pitching but no way do I believe that we can not beat them,” said Tkachyk, 15, who is entering Grade 10 at Paul Kane High School.
Okotoks, last year’s provincial finalist, is not the only team to fear at provincials.
“Okotoks is a perennial force in bantam baseball, there is no doubt about it. They are the team that everybody wants to beat. We’ve had some good games against them this year and we haven’t beat them yet but that doesn’t matter. If we beat them on the weekend that’s the important thing,” said Maguire, the 2012 Baseball Alberta Ted Rudd Coach of the Year Award winner.
“All the teams here are strong. Don’t discount Spruce Grove (No. 3 at 17-6). I had seven of those boys on the Zone 5 team (gold medalists at the Alberta Summer Games) and they’re terrific individuals and very good baseball players,” he added. “Sherwood Park (No. 4 at 16-10) is always strong and Red Deer (No. 5 at 12-14) is another team to watch out for. At the beginning of the year they were having their struggles but they put a pretty good streak together in the last little while and they’re not to be taken lightly.”
Last weekend in Airdrie, Zone 5 (Black Gold/Yellowhead) went undefeated in five games with Tkachyk, Peter Corrigan, Colton Girard, Tylor Jans, Cole Seitz and Ross Supruniuk of the Cardinals in the lineup and coaching staff of Maguire, Fred Mills, Kurtus Millar and John Tkachyk running the show.
Two of the victories were against Zone 3, featuring 10 Okotoks players, including the 12-2 final.
The U15 tournament is basically the provincial bantam zone championship held every August when it’s not an Alberta Summer Games year.
“It’s not like any of the other tournaments that we’ve competed in. The other tournaments you’re trying different things and you’re trying to enhance some of your team play. (At the Alberta Summer Games) when every game was finished you would notch it up another level for the next game and so I think for our boys that participated in that they’ve now had that pressure situation and have hopefully learned to deal with it a little bit and so now this weekend when the pressure situation comes about we’ve got a little more experience to know how to deal with it,” said Maguire, who has coached in the Alberta Summer Games and provincial zone tournaments five times during his lengthy tenure as the Cardinals’ dugout boss.