The St. Albert Cardinals were poised to succeed in Tuesday’s playoffs at the Baseball Alberta midget AAA Tier I championship.
Monday’s 12-3 clobbering of the Prairie Lights of Grande Prairie secured a semifinal spot for the No. 1 team in the Norwest league with 30 wins and three losses.
The Cardinals played the Parkland Twins for the right to face the semifinal winner between the Sherwood Park Athletics and Fort McMurray Oil Giants in Tuesday’s final.
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The winner advances to the U18 Baseball Canada championship, Aug. 17 to 29 at London, Ont., and the second-place finisher goes to westerns starting Thursday in Winnipeg.
“We’re just trying to put ourselves in position to win this thing,” said Tom Leathem, the winning pitcher against Grande Prairie. “We want to win this thing real bad so having a win like this obviously is a booster.”
The last game for the Cardinals before the playoffs was the 7-6 loss to Sherwood Park late Monday night as both teams finished 2-1 in pool A.
The Cardinals wasted no time in their tournament opener Sunday to mercy the Red Deer Braves 10-0 in five innings.
Liam Froment of the Team Alberta bronze medallists at the Canada Summer Games faced 17 batters while tossing a three-hitter with five strikeouts and no walks.
Mike Brisson, a rookie midget AAA Cardinal at second base, cranked a two-run homer in the third while going 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
Anthony Owen drove in two runs with a triple in the fifth and Connor Bronson also had two RBIs.
Tylor Jans, who played for Alberta at the Canada Games, batted 2-for-2 with one RBI.
Jans, the clean-up hitter for the Cardinals, led-off the second against Grande Prairie by slugging a pitch over the fence in the rain.
After a two-hour and 30-minute rain delay, the game resumed with the Cardinals up to bat with none out in the top of the second and a runner at first as Grande Prairie switched pitchers after the lengthy break.
Ross Supruniuk remained on the mound for the Cardinals and Grande Prairie tagged the lefty for three runs on two hits.
“It’s always tough just to come back after stopping for however long. We had a slow start but then came back right after that and just battled out there,” Leathem said.
In the third, Supruniuk was replaced by Leathem with two runners on base and one out.
Leathem loaded the bases with a walk then struck-out the next batter before ending the inning with a deep fly ball to Owen in centrefield.
“I just wanted to come in and throw strikes,” Leathem said. “These guys can hit and I just had to hit my spots. After that first guy everything work out. (On the third out) I missed a spot a little but luckily we have a good centrefielder to catch it.”
The next inning the floodgates opened as the Cardinals racked up six runs on four hits, including back-to-back two-run doubles with two outs by Danny Tkachyk and Zach Froment at the bottom of the order against a new pitcher to make it 5-3.
The rally started with Jans nailed with a pitch in the back with one out.
Brisson also cracked a two-run single in the inning.
“We came out of the jam (in the third) and everything just started clicking,” Leathem said. “We were struggling in the first couple of innings but then the bats came alive.”
The Cardinals collected 11 hits in total, compared to four by Grande Prairie.
Tkachyk led the way with two hits in three at-bats while driving in four runs.
Froment went 2-for-3 and Jans was 2-for 4 with a team-high three runs.
The Cardinals also swiped six bases.
Leathem, 17, held Grande Prairie in check the rest of the way after the Cardinals busted loose offensively.
“Pitching with a lead you feel way more comfortable up there. Pitching from behind is obviously tougher so I just did my job and the offence did their job and it all worked out,” said Leathem, who fanned three, walked one and allowed only one hit in 4.2 innings.
“I was pretty happy with how I pitched. There were a couple of innings where I threw too many balls and I wasn’t too pleased with myself but I had a good defence behind me and everything worked out,” said the Grade 12 Bellerose Composite High School student.
The Cardinals were 41-13 overall after the loss to Sherwood Park. A five spot in three left the Red Birds trailing 7-1 and the home team replied with five runs in the bottom of five.
The Cardinals were out-hit 11-5 and left six men on base.
The pitchers were Brady Kobitowich, Logan Blumhagen and Ryan Marples.