Thanks to a three-game sweep of the Edmonton Cardinals, the Red Deer Bantam AAA Servus Credit Union Braves are back over .500 for the first time since winning their first game of the season.
The Braves rallied to beat the Cardinals 8-7 in eight innings in their first game on Saturday at Great Chief Park, then crushed them 12-2 in the second game of the double-header. In Sunday’s lone contest, first year Braves pitcher Branden Woods pitched a five-inning, three-hitter to shut out the Cards 10-0.
It was the type of weekend head coach Cam Junck has been waiting for.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, every team we have seen so far, we know we can play with them,” he said. “It’s nice to finish the weekend on a high note like that.”
The Braves had played well the first couple of weeks of the season, sitting at .500 following a split in Fort McMurray against the Giants. But the last two weeks they ran into trouble against both Okotoks teams in Red Deer, losing to the Dawgs Red 9-8 on May 13 and the Dawgs Black 12-6 on May 20.
But they seemingly found themselves on Saturday morning, rebounding from a 6-1 deficit to win in extra innings and then demolishing the Cardinals in the final two games of the weekend.
“The comeback win is great not only for the boys’ confidence but for team building as well,” said Junck. “You can gel as a team in those moments of adversity and we did a great job.”
The Braves are a veteran squad this year with five returning players from last year’s provincial team and seven members off of last year’s bantam AA team, which was coached by Junck.
This means there is plenty of leadership on the roster, including Ty Moline, Cooper Jones, Ben LeBlanc, Hunter Leslie and Hayley Lalor.
“(Lalor’s) had a great teacher, Dwayne knows the game inside and out and you can tell she’s learned from him,” said Junck. “She knows the game, she thinks the game and she does the little things really well.”
Woods is the lone first year bantam on the team, but he may have as high a ceiling as any player on the team. The big southpaw was dominant on Sunday, finishing with a complete game, allowing just three hits and one walk with three strikeouts, including a five-pitch top of the fifth inning, giving the Cards nothing to really hit.
“He’s come in in a couple of real crucial situations for us, where it wouldn’t be ideal to bring him in as a first year player, but he’s done a job for us all year,” said Junck. “It’s not that much of a surprise for him to come in and do what he did. He’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a great work ethic and he has a lot of potential.”
Their biggest strength, however, is in the compete level they exhibited in their comeback win over Edmonton on Saturday.
“We don’t have a lot of pitchers that are going to come out and just throw the ball by guys, our pitchers will develop and get better for sure, but it’s going to be our battle and it’s going to be our compete and it’s going to be our defensive play,” said Junck.
They do have some work to do to get to where they want to be at year’s end, mostly revolving around their on-field chemistry.
“When you’re bringing a group of players together … who haven’t played together, it’s the communication, you can’t over-communicate,” said Junck.
“We’ve got a few players that are a little on the shy side, a little on the soft-spoken side, so it’s really just making sure everyone is communicating out there.”
While there are only five players back from last year, the goal is to get back to where they were last season.
“Last year they went to tier I provincials, and that’s certainly the expectation I have, is to get to tier I provincials, once you get there then anything can happen,” said Junck.
“We’re going to get better every game as the year goes on and we’ll definitely be able to compete.”
The Braves are in Okotoks on Wednesday for a rematch with the Dawgs Red and then head to Sherwood Park for a three-game set with the Athletics on the weekend.