Losing never felt better for the midget AA St. Albert Cardinals.
The Baseball Alberta Tier I champions the last two years and 2016 U18 Western Canada gold medallists suffered consecutive setbacks last weekend and the only two losses in league play were greeted with renewed optimism for the upcoming provincial tournament.
“It was good to lose those two games. It just shows what teams can do against us so we have to go into provincials not thinking we can win it all. We need to battle,” said third baseman/shortstop Nick Arlia of the 16-2 Cardinals.
Scores were 8-7 against the Black Gold Giants and 9-3 against Camrose Cougars Royal in Leduc. Both teams finished second behind the Cardinals in the standings at 13-5.
Arlia, 19, summed up the losses.
“In the first game (against Black Gold) both teams played really good. Our bats just weren’t too good in the first three innings and we just started hitting around too late and couldn’t do the job when we needed to,” he said. “After the game we had a little talk. We told everybody not to keep their heads down because it was only one loss and just go into the next game with our heads held high and see what we can do.
“Unfortunately that loss to Camrose was not such a good game. They were hitting the ball around in the gaps and we couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
Head coach Jason Enright shrugged off the results.
“They were really good losses. We knew going into our crossover (featuring the top teams in the north and south Tier 1 divisions after round two) that they were the two best teams in the south. That was also the first time we had seen those teams in league play so our strategy going into the games was kind of to feel them out,” Enright said. ”They were by no means losses that we were devastated by. We weren’t like, ‘Oh boy, we’re in trouble here.’ We played them well. We had a couple of different players in different positions, especially on the mound during those games, so it set us up for a little bit of a better strategic plan moving into provincials.”
The Cardinals fly into the eight-team provincials next weekend in Spruce Gove with an overall mark of 25-8-2. In the round robin, the Cardinals play 9 a.m. Friday against the Whitecourt Angels (8-9) and Saturday at 9 a.m. against the host Parkland Twins (11-7) and 6 p.m. against the Leduc-based Black Gold squad.
“Everybody in provincials brings a new game so everybody can beat teams, like dominate, so we have to be prepared,” Arlia said. “We just have to work as a team and not get mad at each other and not bring each other down. We have to hit the ball like we’re used to and just pitch like we’re used to too.”
A third-consecutive championship would set a Baseball Alberta midget AA record and the pressure to pull off the feat is mounting for the team to beat.
“The last two years I’ve been playing we’ve won provincial championships and at westerns we’ve taken silver (in 2015) and gold so I would like to carry on the tradition but every year it’s a whole new league with new teams so you’re not really sure what to expect in the provincial round,” said Arlia, an overage player along with catcher Jake Enright and both would be ineligible for westerns next month in Kamloops if the Cardinals three-peat.
Arlia and Enright are joined by Logan Buchanan and Landon Christoffel as the only returnees from last year’s 50-6-1 juggernauts.
“This year has been awesome. It’s a brand new team but we’re doing way better than I thought we would do,” Arlia said. “The brand new guys have stepped up lately and they’ve just got used to the speed of the midget throwers and they’ve brought everything to the table for us to get to provincials.”
Arlia was a major contributor last year as a catcher, third baseman and power hitter and was recognized as the Baseball Alberta midget AA player of the year.
“My coach told me they had nominated me but last year there was a whole bunch of good guys in the league and I didn’t think I would get it but as soon as I found out I got it I was pretty happy,” said the O’Leary High School graduate. “It was a big accomplishment. I couldn’t have done it without the team and the coaches. My coaches taught me everything I know and everything I’ve done is for the team and the association.”
The reason for Arlia’s success is simple.
“My hitting and my fielding was pretty good last year and that’s because of the coaches at practice putting in the work so not only could I become a better player but so could everybody else on the team.”
Despite last weekend’s performance, Enright is encouraged how the Cardinals are playing on the eve of provincials.
“We’re really moving forward as one team with one goal in mind,” said the 2016 Baseball Alberta Ted Rudge Coach of the Year Award winner. “We still lead the league overall in the least amount of runs against (61 in 18 games) and my standards the last couple of years are maybe a little bit higher than I would honestly say than some AA coaches or programs. An error or two a game might be suffice for some teams but we expect a little bit better and we played that way with our runs being the lowest against in the league, so that bodes well for us going into provincials.”