The junior Tabbies and senior Tigers showed their stripes last weekend on the baseball diamond.
After getting shutout 9-0 by the first-place Fort Saskatchewan Athletics earlier in the week at Legion Memorial Park, the Tabbies rebounded Saturday with a home-field 14-4 win over the winless Edmonton Rockies in the Sunburst league.
“They played a pretty good game,” Tabbies dugout boss Buddy Beley said of the Fort (8-1). “They threw their ace against us [Karnie Vertz] and our guys were just having a tough time catching up to him. Defensively we were okay but offensively we didn't hit the ball at all.”
The junior squad showed marked improvement against the Rockies (0-9).
“It was nice to get some pitchers some innings and we played well defensively. We hit the ball good as well. And we needed to find a way to be more ready for the game against the Fort. They're going to be the team to beat this year and I think our guys have to find a better way to get prepped for them. We have the talent, but we need to put it on the field on game day.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers roared to victory at the Red Deer Stags’ tournament after opening the six-team draw with a 10-5 loss to the Calgary Longhorns. Dan Mikitka registered the only successful earned hits for the Tigers.
“We simply, flat-out played the worst game we've probably played in the last few years,” said Tigers manager Kurtis Millar. “We came out and we were dead from go. We didn't hit the ball. Mikitka is the only guy that really showed up for that game. The rest of us didn't do anything. We struggled at the plate, on defence, our pitching was struggling, everything.”
With only two round-robin games available, the Tigers had to come back and beat the Stags by a minimum seven runs. Mission accomplished in an 11-1 mercy finish in a similar Jekyll and Hyde performance as the Tabbies.
It was emotionally significant for the Tigers as well, as they defeated Aaron Tweet, a pitcher who shut the Tigers down last year in provincial play.
“I think every guy in the line-up had a hit. [Derek] Dallarto threw a gem for us and completely shut them down. We pounded the ball against [Tweet]. He threw well but we just saw the ball well. It was good to finally get confidence going to hit a good pitcher like that. We also played great defence to put us into the final,” Millar said.
The victory propelled the Tigers into what may be a potential rematch of last year's provincial final against the Fort.
The Tigers went up 1-0 in the bottom of the second, a single by Millar to score Brad Wolansky. In the third the Fort earned three runs to take the lead. The Tigers battled back with three one-run innings to go ahead 4-3 entering the top of the seventh. After the Fort tied it to force extra innings in came Vertz, fresh after a few days rest from defeating the Tabbies. The Fort then scored two in the top of eight to force the Tigers hand. The Tigers loaded the bases and capitalized, scoring three to earn an emotional comeback win.
“Our fans know our past with them. We were jacked to play them. Craig Tomas threw one of the best games I've ever seen him throw, then our bats came alive again down 3-1. Mikitka again saw the ball great. We got timely hitting and scored some key runs. It was good to hit Vertz finally. It was a great game, and one of the best we've played in two years,” Millar said.
It was a much needed confidence booster for the Tigers (3-3), ranked third in the Sunburst north division behind the Fort and Tabbies.
“We were in a slump and after the loss to the Longhorns we had a long chat. After we beat the Stags we showed up and played every aspect well. You could see the confidence build and the boys refused to lose against the Fort. They have an outstanding line-up and Tomas did unreal against a good crew.”
Preparations are now being made for the Tigers' annual tournament this weekend. For the Tabbies, it's about continuing to make mental preparations and come ready to play. For the Tigers, it's about continuing momentum.
“We need to focus on having a good approach on our at-bats,” said Beley. “I think we're sound enough on the back side of the ball, but we can't afford to make an error. We have to get our pitchers ready for sure and to get our batting practice in, the little things in order to get game-ready.”
“The biggest thing is confidence,” remarked Millar. “We've loosened up and we're having fun again. We're just going to go out there and build off it, stay loose and swing hard and make our plays. It was exactly what we needed to play our game again.”
The Tigers have also extended an invite to St. Albert's midget AAA Cardinals in an effort to build within St. Albert's baseball organization as much as it's also to give the younger players valuable experience to learn from veterans of the game.
“We thought it'd be a great idea,” said Millar. “Nothing wrong with having those boys out there and hopefully they do well. As long as they hit the ball they should do fine. Everyone knows they're a good ball team and they have nothing to lose in a senior tournament, it can do nothing but good for them.”
“They're going to come out blazing after us I imagine,” added Beley, whose Tabbies will play the Cardinals in Saturday feature game at 8 p.m. “Rob [Boik] is a good coach over there and I'm sure he'll have those guys ready to play against us. They're not a big club physically but they're playing clean baseball and a couple left-arms we might see one of. Our guys have to realize that even if they're playing a younger group, we can't have it get in our head and refuse to show up.”