With five regular-season losses in a row, the St. Albert midget AAA Cardinals are officially in a slump.
Back-to-back losses against the Okotoks Black and one to Westlock before trekking out to Moose Jaw, and another pair of losses to the Okotoks Red (5-0, 8-2) have the Red Birds reeling somewhat.
But between regular season games, the Cardinals rattled off six straight wins in Moose Jaw, although against admittedly easier clubs.
Things aren't about to get easier this weekend in Okotoks for a tournament against the likes of the Lloydminster Twins, Regina Athletics, a pair of Calgary clubs and the same Okotoks squads.
Keegan Hucul, who pitched a 5-0 loss, said team defence hasn't been strong enough lately during the season slide.
“My arm felt pretty good. Thing was, I was throwing strikes. But our defence wasn't strong enough the last five games. That's what we really need to work on in the future, and better hitting along with that to get more wins. Mainly it's execution. Positioning and everything is fine.”
Part of the problem, both Hucul and head coach Rob Boik say, is that leadership in the dugout hasn't stepped up to rebound the team, even mid-game.
“Overall it's a lack of desire right now on the part of our team as a whole,” said Boik. “Okotoks Black and Red, they both want to win more than we do right now. That's what it boils down to. I don't know, I can't get in [our players'] heads right now.
“Four of those runs were unearned,” he continued. “[It's] a lack of making those plays. We weren't playing catch properly. We had a couple balls thrown away and that was the deciding factor.”
“For the Moose Jaw tournament, that was good experience for us,” added Hucul. “But we came back and lost two. We have to refocus for the next tournament and hopefully we'll do much better.
“We need more chatting on the field while play is going on. We haven't really talked as a team yet and hopefully for the next game we'll get something going.”
Game two against the Red was close for a stretch with the Cardinals down 3-2 heading into the fifth inning. Then pitcher Scott Gerun walked two batters that led to two runs against.
“He was leaving balls up. “He wasn't getting out there with his front arm,” said Boik about his starter. “If you leave the balls up against good hitters, they're going to hit them.”
Taylor Wiebe replaced Gerun, but the defence didn't fare much better as another run scored on an errant throw to put St. Albert down 6-2.
In the seventh, Wiebe walked three straight to load the bases, prompting Boik to head out to the mound and advise Wiebe to bend his back more and extend his release point out a little bit more to keep the ball lower in the zone.
Under pressure, Wiebe walked in two runs before closing with a strikeout.
“There's nothing you can do about that except make better pitches, keep the ball down lower in the zone,” said Boik. “The outfield can't catch everything that's hit out there. It's tough to make mid-game adjustments with hitters. We've been working in the cage the past few days. [Wiebe] was disappointed to not see it carry over into the game.
Dan Wiun, a third-year, 18-year-old veteran with the Cardinals, was visibly disappointed in the defeats, but was confident the Red Birds will show up to play good baseball this weekend in Okotoks.
“We didn't play as well or hit as well as we should have. Hopefully we'll rebound soon and get back to how we were playing coming off the tournament win. When you don't start hitting the ball early in the game, it's hard to get it going later. In games it's a different intensity than practice. We'll break out of this slump.”