Two weekends, two tournaments and two titles for the St. Albert senior Tigers who defeated the Red Deer Stags in a memorable final Sunday at Legion Memorial Park.
Last weekend the Tigers took the bus down to Red Deer and defeated the Fort Saskatchewan Athletics 6-5 in extra innings to win the Stags tournament.
Then later as hosts, the Tigers were forced to defend against a Stags squad looking for retribution. After a grand slam put the Stags up 4-1 after one inning, it appeared they might succeed at revenge.
In the top of the seventh playing as visitors, the Tigers had other ideas and put together a five-run rally to come from behind and win 10-7.
The Tigers have now made the finals in three of their last tournaments, dating back to last year.
St Albert had 12 hits, six strikeouts, five walks given and two errors, while the Stags hit four, struck-out three, walked six and committed three errors.
“We knew we needed two runs,” said shortstop John McHugh. “We put two guys in to pinch hit and scratched out two runs. Fortunately we got more than that and got a lead, then we scrambled to figure out who to play positions after. Pretty happy about that.”
“It didn’t look good there for awhile. But we’ve been sticking together all year. Everybody’s got everybody’s back. We knew we’d give ourselves a shot.”
“It feels good to start winning finally again,” added second baseman Craig Tomas. “We’ve had to battle lots for these wins we’ve been getting. There’s been a lot of good comeback in a lot of games; down a few runs in the middle of the game and step up to play the game the way we have to play. Things are starting to roll for us now.”
Dan Curtis got things rolling for the Tigers in the top of the first with an RBI single up the middle.
The Tigers responded to the Stags grand slam off the stick of Shaun Connor with a two-run second inning off a Dan Mikitka double.
“We walked a guy and the grand slam hit didn’t take us out,” said Tomas. “We know what we’re capable of. All our pitchers were amazing. They always throw good and it’s good to have the staff we do.”
Red Deer replied with two runs of their own in the bottom half, midget AAA St. Albert Cardinal assistant coach and Stags pick-up Justin Dickson spotting a right-field sacrifice RBI as the DH, while Nate Benke scored on an error.
Another pair of runs in the top of the fourth for the Tigers drew St. Albert within one at 6-5. Mikitka drove a single up the middle for another two RBIs. Stags shortstop Dan Zinger got one back in the bottom of the inning.
Leading off the top of the seventh, Luke Riopel reached second base on an error, Joe Carr pinch-hit to drive a left-field single and an RBI single by Craig Tomas saw Carr earn second base as the umpire ruled Duncan stepped off the bag.
“I knew I had the runner on first and was just trying to get the ball in play and get him over to second,” said Tomas. “Chopped it at the pitcher and luckily he pulled the guy off the base.”
“Little things like that ... a ball takes a bad bounce, a guy forgets to keep his foot on the bag,” said manager and DH Kurtus Millar. “All of a sudden they go to nerves and we get jacked up. It’s like waking up a sleeping dog and all of a sudden we’re going again.”
A crack to the right-field wall by McHugh drove in Carr, then Tomas sliding in under the tag at home. Millar snuck an RBI single past a diving Duncan and another crack to the wall, this time by Dan Mikitka to centre field, brought in the 10th and final Tigers run.
“Just like last weekend, we refused to lose,” said Millar. “We haven’t had this much fun in a long time. The atmosphere in the dugout is phenomenal. I take Brandon Barr out of the game for Carr to hit and Brandon doesn’t blink. He’s up there cheering with us.”
“I don’t think anybody had any fresh arms at the end, it was pretty tough,” added the 28-year-old McHugh. “I’m pretty sure a lot of their guys already threw in the weekend. We knew when we got down early we should have a shot.”
“It’s a lot different when you score and the butterflies start when you have to get three outs,” said Millar. “It’s the longest three outs you can think of. We’re having fun, feeding off each other and picking each other up. Biggest thing is we’re just having a good time.”
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, Dickson wasn’t surprised that the Tigers were able to battle back and go ahead.
“We know they’re a good swinging team,” said Dickson. “It’s men’s baseball, runs are going to be scored. They ended up staying a bit longer than we did today. We ran out of pitching a little bit. [Relieving pitcher Davin Gulbransen] already started two games for us. Arms are going to be tired playing five games with maybe three pitchers on the team.”
“Momentum’s big in baseball. They swung together some hits and hit some balls hard and that was the end of the game. These guys have been playing ball forever. Nerves aren’t a really big thing. They executed better than we did at the end.”
The rivalry between the Stags and Tigers could thicken as the season progresses, particularly if the squads see each other in post-season action.
“Zinger made a comment saying “Thanks for taking our money” when we won the Stags tournament,” said Millar. “They definitely wanted to come out. They played a good game.”
“Every team that we faced this weekend, we had to play well to beat them. We didn’t sneak by anyone. The boys flat-out earned it this weekend.”