The depth and strength of the Red Deer Riggers this season has made it easy to look at them and predict they’re the team to beat in the Sunburst Baseball League and provincial senior AAA championships.
But just in case anyone forgot the Fort Saskatchewan Athletics are still the defending league and provincial champions, which they showed with a 7-0 win over the Riggers in the Riggers annual baseball tournament at Great Chief Park Sunday afternoon.
“They’re a good team, that doesn’t do a lot to hurt themselves and they put together solid at bats,” said Riggers manager Curtis Bailey. “I know every time we play them we learn something.”
The Riggers need to learn to handle the bunt play more efficiently. In fact it was a pair of bunts in the third inning that gave the A’s a 3-0 lead.
Former Red Deer Stag Dan Zinger led off the inning against Riggers starter Matt Davis with an opposite field single. Matt Debeurs bunted and catcher Curtis Mazurkewich rushed his throw and pulled first baseman Matt Fay off the base. Andy Herman bunted to third and Jaret Chatwood’s throw went off second baseman Kevin Curran’s glove into right field, allowing both Zinger and Debeurs to score. A passed ball, a walk and a ground out and it was 3-0.
“One of our weaknesses has been the bunt play,” said Bailey shaking his head. “We talked last week with Davis on the mound and he indicated that’s not a strength of his, coming off the mound. They exposed that weakness today and it’s something we need to work on and communicate better. We’ll figure it out and we need to.”
As it was Davis allowed just two hits through five innings while the Riggers managed five off Fort Saskatchewan starter Kiel Vertz. However, the Riggers simply did a poor job of hitting with runs in scoring position.
That was never more evident than in the sixth inning when they trailed 6-0, but loaded the bases with none away, against reliever James Fischer. However, Bailey was called out on what appeared to be a ball outside, Jordan Weinkauf watched the third strike and Mazurkewich grounded out.
“We had our chances, but didn’t come through, it’s one of those things that have hurt us at times this season,” said Bailey. “We need to do a better job of putting the ball in play with runners on and forcing the defence into making the plays.”
Davis gave up three earned runs in the sixth on four hits, including a two-run double by Zinger. Josh Edwards allowed a run in the seventh on an off-field bloop single.
“Overall I thought our pitching was fine,” said Bailey. “We didn’t gave them any runs to work with and our defence could have been better.”
But everything wasn’t all negative for the Riggers as Jaret Chatwood made the play of the game with a brilliant diving stop behind third base, got up and threw a bullet to first base to nail Herman.
Jason Chatwood had two hits and a walk and Jaret Chatwood a pair of hits. Bailey had a double and was hit by a pitch.
Riggers reached the final with a 10-2 win over the St. Albert Tigers Saturday evening in their final pool game as Brant Stickel tossed a four-hitter while striking out 11.
The A’s defeated the Edmonton Confederation Cubs 10-5 and the Calgary Cardinals 13-2 in their pool. The Cubs also downed the Cardinals 3-1 and beat St. Albert 14-11 in the third-place game.
St. Albert stopped the Innisfail Merchants 13-1 in their other pool game.
The Cards downed the Merchants in the fifth-place game.
The Riggers host St. Albert Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in league action and finish their regular season on the road with two makeup games. They open league playoff action, Aug. 5 at home.