Wally Footz Field – The St. Albert Cardinals are going to westerns for the second year in a row as the provincial runners-up instead of the junior AAA champions.
As the top-ranked team both years, the Cardinals fell short to the Innisfail Merchants in the Baseball Alberta 21U finals. Monday’s score was 5-3 in an extra inning in Edmonton and in 2018 they lost 13-7 in Innisfail.
“We’re proud of what we did this year and where we got to and like last year we’ll have a rematch with them at westerns and hopefully get some redemption in Saskatoon,” said head coach Jason Enright.
Westerns starts Friday with the Cardinals and Innisfail competing against the Elm Wood Giants of Winnipeg, Interlake Blue Jays based in Stonewall, Man., and host Saskatoon Hoppers.
“We’re going to approach it the same as we approached this last game and that’s go out there and play hard,” said third baseman Nic Arlia.
Last year’s westerns at Legion Memorial Park was cut short by rain before the round robin could be completed as the Cardinals wound up 1-2 and the lone win was 9-8 against Innisfail.
This year both teams were guaranteed berths at westerns by finishing 2-1 in the four-team round robin at provincials after the 6-5 come-from-behind victory by the Cardinals on Sunday night.
It was 5-1 Innisfail before the Cardinals started pounding the ball in the sixth.
“The boys had to get their heads out of their asses,” Arlia said of the five-run rally.
“We knew we had to battle back to get into the final without having to go through a semifinal game so we did that and it was nice just to get here today and play one game,” Enright added. “All the guys battled hard to get on base and push runs across. That was a good inning and then we held on in the seventh to hold them.
“We were hoping kind of for a repeat here today and it just came up a bit short on that end.”
There was no holding back in the rematch even though both teams were planning travel arrangements to Saskatoon.
“We wanted to win provincials and be in first place and go represent Alberta,” Arlia said. “They came out to play, we came out to play and the pitchers had a pitching duel.
“We played a great seven innings and then when we needed the hits we just popped it up or hit line drives and that’s what cost us the game.”
Jarret Wilson of the Cardinals and southpaw Jack Henley of Innisfail were outstanding in allowing one run apiece through seven innings. Wilson finished with 115 pitches thrown, one more than Henley.
The teams exchanged runs early in the contest as the pitchers, backed by solid defences – the Cardinals turned a key double play in the fifth – took turns stranding runners.
With two out in the sixth, the Cardinals loaded the bases on Jake Enright’s single, Marcus Hunter beat out a low throw to first and Brennan Flett drew a full-count walk, but the inning ended with a strike out.
In the seventh, an overthrow to first base put Anthony Owen at third with two out, but the Cardinals were unable to drive the winning run home.
In the eighth, each team started their half of the inning with runners at first and second, and Innisfail was able to score four times while the Cardinals managed a pair of runs.
With two out and Innisfail up 2-1, a single to right field brought home the third run and with the bases loaded a poke into centre field left the Cardinals trailing 5-1.
The Cardinals replied with RBIs by Wilson on a sac fly and Jake Enright’s two-out single before the final ended on a fly ball out with a runner at first.
“That was a great pitching match by both pitchers. There was a guy on our bump that was getting better as the season went along, had confidence with him going into this last game and he pitched phenomenal and got through the full eight innings,” Enright said. “Obviously the international overtime tiebreaker (with two runners on base) gave them a couple of runs that he didn’t put on but that’s the way it goes. We both had the same opportunities.
“We battled hard, that’s just the way baseball goes sometimes.”
The Cardinals started off provincials with the 11-6 win against the Community Park Reds and then stumbled in the 5-2 decision to the Edmonton Padres before facing off against Innisfail.
In league play, the Cardinals (11-7) and Innisfail (11-8) tied for first, the Padres (10-8) placed third and Community Park (9-10) was fourth while the Fort Saskatchewan Red Sox (4-12) threw in the towel last month.
Last year the Cardinals (16-6) and Innisfail (10-6) were first and third, respectively.
Arlia, 21, described Innisfail as a “Good pitching team, good hitting team, good defensive team, just a good team all-around,” while Enright went into greater detail on what makes Innisfail such a tough foe.
“They’re probably one of the original teams in this league when it started and they are a well-run program. I have nothing but respect for the coaches they have. All three of those guys work hard and they do a phenomenal job. They do a lot of recruiting in the area that they can get players from and they get a lot of players that want to play for them. I know when they started the year they had a heck of a lot of players come out to try and make their squad so they had a good opportunity to pick some good players from within their region,” said Enright of the team the Cardinals defeated three times in five league games and all five results were one-run affairs.
Overall, the Cardinals showed marked improvement as the season progressed.
“It was kind of hard at the beginning because we didn’t have a lot of kids because of work and other stuff, but then we started coming around playing good baseball and getting the wins that we needed,” said Arlia, the 2016 Baseball Alberta midget AA player of the year with the Tier I provincial champion and 18U west gold-medal winning Cardinals coached by Enright.
Arlia is also among some of the Cardinals playing for Enright’s St. Albert senior AA team in the North Centeal Alberta Baseball League.