The St. Albert Cardinals are up to bat for a sweet repeat as the provincial hosts for the midget AAA Tier I tournament.
“We’re hoping to do what we did last year having it at home this weekend,” said Cam Houston, head coach of the 2014 Baseball Alberta champions and U18 national silver medallists.
To celebrate another championship at Legion Memorial Park would be a dream come true for the Cardinals.
“We’re all excited to be able to come out here and do everything we can in front of our home fans and hopefully we’re able to put something together like we did last year here,” said infielder/pitcher Mat Brisson, while surveying St. Albert’s field of dreams prior to Thursday’s practice.
The Cardinals, seeded third in the eight-team draw, have lost only one game this year at home while going 17-9 in the NorWest league.
“We’ve done really well at home this year and hopefully we can keep on rolling into the weekend,” Houston said. “When you get a chance to play at home, it’s your yard and you’re comfortable with it and it makes things a little better for you.”
The first pool B game for the Cardinals was Friday against SEEBA but the score was unavailable at press time.
The Cardinals play the Calgary Dinos today at 10 a.m. and Okotoks Dawgs Black at 7 p.m.
“Okotoks Black is going to be one of the tougher games but right now we’re just focusing on game one right off the bat against SEEBA. I think we’ve split the series throughout the year and hopefully we can take the season series right here (Friday),” Houston said.
Pool A features Okotoks Dawgs Red, the top seed, Spruce Grove White Sox, Calgary Rockies and Sherwood Park A’s.
If there are no tiebreakers in the pool play, Sunday’s semifinals are 9 a.m. and noon and the final is 3 p.m.
Visit www.baseballalberta.com or www.stalbertbaseball.com for the schedule and results.
“Of all the teams here, anybody can get hot on a weekend like this,” Houston said. “We’ve beaten them all at some point this year so we know we can beat them on any given day.
“When it comes to big games, everybody steps up and even though this is a different group from last year we’ve got a lot of heart on this team and they’re willing to get out there and battle for seven innings every game.”
The last league game for the Cardinals, 5-2 over the A’s in St. Albert on July 22, nailed down a provincial berth and the next day they were awarded provincials.
A loss would have sent the Cardinals to the nine-team qualification tournament in Fort McMurray last weekend to determine the last two teams in the provincial draw. SEEBA and the A’s emerged victorious.
“It was a very huge win. It was kind of the start to the playoffs for us. We had to get in and securing that game was big for us. We got a feel for playoff baseball before it starts, which is good,” Houston said.
The provincial champion advances to nationals, Aug. 13 to 17 in Magog, Que., and the runner-up goes to westerns, Aug. 21 to 23 in Yorkton, Sask.
Brisson is confident the Cardinals can live up to the hype as provincial hosts.
“We’ve lost only one game here all year so we’re really comfortable playing here,” said Brisson, a fourth-year Cardinal and one of 11 returning players on the 19-man roster. “(In 2013) we came second and went to westerns and won that and last year we won provincials and went to nationals and came second there so there is a little more confidence I would say in a lot of the older guys. It’s just winning ways here and anything else is not acceptable.”
Last year’s Cardinals, one of the most skilled and successful St. Albert midget AAA teams to grace the diamond, finished 47-16 overall. The Red Birds were also the first U18 medallists from St. Albert since the 2004 nationals as the host team.
“Last year we played really well and our goal was to make it to nationals and we achieved that and from day one this year that was our goal as well so there’s been pressure every step of the way,” Brisson said. “From the first weekend Cam has been saying if you want to play for a national championship this is what we have to do and this is what we have to get better at.”
The Cardinals are literally peaking at the right time for provincials.
“We started off a little rough at the start of the year but I think recently we’ve got better every day and the kids have been playing their best ball as of late so that’s good going into the provincial weekend,” Houston said. “Defence has been our biggest consistency. We have a pretty good offence as well so if we put those two together we’ve got a chance and if our guys throw strikes and get them to put balls in play we’ve got a good chance at making most of those plays.”
Brisson, 18, is impressed how the newcomers on the team, including a handful of bantam AAA graduates from last year, have rounded into form alongside a strong core of veterans.
“We played pretty well throughout the entire season. We had a fair amount of learning experiences in tournaments where we had a lot of good games and some games that we probably could’ve won but overall we’ve played really good,” Brisson said. “We’ve really gelled as a group as well and this is probably one of the closest groups of guys that I’ve been with.”
Provincials will also mark the last hurrah at home for several graduating Cardinals, including Brisson and infielder Jake Fischer as the team’s over-age players. Baseball Alberta rules prevent them from playing at nationals or westerns this year but they can travel with the team to those tournaments.
“It’s our last shot at winning something so I know both of us and everyone else is going to leave everything we have on the field. It should be exciting,” said Brisson, a St. Albert Catholic High School graduate who will play college ball at Vancouver Island University.