By Greg Nikkel
Weyburn played host to the best in Junior AAA baseball in Western Canada over the weekend, with the result the Brandon Marlins from Manitoba will represent the West in the national championships coming up this weekend, Aug. 18-22, in Regina.
The Western Canadian Junior AAA Baseball Championships were hosted by the Weyburn PAR Contracting Athletics, with Alberta represented by the South Jasper Place Jays; Saskatchewan by the Moose Jaw Regals; and Manitoba by the Brandon Marlins and the Pembina Valley Orioles.
“It was an outstanding tournament,” said tournament organizer Bert Kauf. “The fans were great, the umpiring was great, the players were great, and the volunteers and the weather was great.”
He added the support of the community was “phenomenal”, pointing out the fan support for the host team was incredible, with at least 300 fans filling all of the stands for the Saturday night game versus the Pembina Valley Orioles, a game that went into overtime before the Manitoba team won it 9-8.
“It was sad that we didn’t fare as well as we had hoped, but that’s baseball. It could’ve gone either way,” said Kauf, adding he felt the umpiring was top-notch throughout the tournament.
The parents of the Athletics players came through as volunteers in a big way, noted Kauf. “They were all over the place.”
The organizing work began last September as they put the bid in for the Westerns, and once they won the bid the work to put everything began right away, culminating in what Kauf termed a “successful tournament”.
One of the factors at the outset was not knowing what the Weyburn Senior Beavers schedule was going to be at Tom Laing Park, as the Athletics were awarded the Westerns before the Beavers schedule was finalized. In the end, there was no conflict, and Kauf was happy that the pristine ball park was all theirs for the weekend.
For the host Athletics, the success didn’t extend to the play on the field, as they suffered four losses, beginning with losing to Moose Jaw 6-5 on Friday afternoon, and then to the eventual champion Marlins on Friday evening by the score of 12-3. Of Weyburn’s runs, two came in a home run by Drew Fellner over the right field fence.
On Saturday afternoon, the Jays dominated the Athletics 10-0, and then in the evening the Athletics came close to winning their first game, but lost it in overtime.
Sunday’s action pitted the two Manitoba teams against each other, with Brandon winning 5-1 over the Orioles. This forced a tie-breaker game at 3, when the gold medal game was supposed to run, and the Jays won 7-5 over the Orioles. In the championship game on Sunday evening, Brandon won 4-0 in seven innings.
Marlins coach Brad Schoonbaert noted they lost their first game of the tournament 5-0 to the Alberta team, and he realized they needed to pick up their game if they were going to go any further.
“There was only one way to win it,” said the coach, and that was to tighten up the defence. Their pitching was excellent, he noted, but “we won because we have the best defence. All year long we’ve had a lot of success, and it was due to our defence.”
Schoonbaert pointed out that he hears Buck Martinez saying this when he’s covering the Blue Jays on TV, that the defence is key to winning.
The Brandon team had some worries when a key player, Marshall Burgess, had to leave during the Weyburn game due to injury, but the other players stepped up and played well.
He notes that Brandon has been asked to consider hosting this same tournament next year. Asked if he was worried about the Weyburn Beavers looking to sign up any of his players, Schoonbaert said most of the guys want to be able to play close to home and family with the Marlins, so he isn’t worried that he’ll lose many players.
The team will only lose two players who will graduate due to their age, the winning pitcher in the championship game, Daylan Creasy, and Shane MacGranahan. The two players accepted the championship plaque on behalf of the team.
By Greg Nikkel