This season is all about baby steps for the Red Deer Carstar Midget AAA Braves.
Nothing went right for the club early in the NorWest League, slumping out to a 0-11 start, but have now won four of their last seven and have gone deep into their last two tournaments, including splitting a double-header with the Okotoks Dawgs White at Great Chief Park in Red Deer on Wednesday night — dropping the opener 7-6 and mercying Okotoks in the second 13-2.
Jordan Muirhead picked up the win in the second game for Red Deer, going 5 2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five. Jesse Kowalchuk had a big game going 3-for-4 with four runs and two runs batted in from the leadoff spot and a huge diving catch in the top of the sixth with the Braves leading 3-2 and two runners on.
Red Deer came out in the bottom half of the inning and scored 10 runs, capped by a walkoff grand slam first shortstop Dylan Boreman to end the game.
The slow turnaround has been huge for the development and confidence of the team.
“It’s nice to see them get that reward,” said head coach Cam Moon. “It makes them work a little bit harder and that’s good because we’re continuing to improve, and to play with the top teams in our league … we’ll need to continue to improve.”
Ty Wagar was 2-for-4 with two RBI for the Braves and Jesse Muirhead was 2-for-2 with three runs and one RBI.
Nathan Tovell took the loss for Okotoks giving up three earned runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts in four innings, while Garrett Smiley surrendered 10 earned runs on six hits and four walks with two strike outs in 1 2/3 innings.
Playing a role in the turnaround has been reinforcements in the form of Niklas Fisher, Levi Moon and Tristan Hill who arrived a few weeks ago after playing ball for the Badlands Baseball Academy in Oyen.
Fischer and Hill in particular have been huge since coming back to the Braves with Fischer hitting .333 and Hill .400. Both Moon and Hill have accepted scholarships to the U.S. in the fall with Hill going to Genesee Community College in Batavia, N.Y., and Moon going to Niagara County Community College in Sanborn, N.Y.
“All three of us have been playing together … really we haven’t had any breaks for the last three years,” said Hill, who plays both third base and second.
Hill is from High Level but has spent the last two summers playing in Red Deer.
“Baseball down here is way better, there’s not really much baseball up there, I have to travel three hours anyway just for a AA team,” said Hill.
The improvements they’ve made at this point of the season may be too late for a strong playoff push, but with a young core due back for the next few years, it has become about building and instilling a competitive but fun culture.
This has shown in strong performance in tournament the last couple of weeks, going on a long run at a tournament in Edmonton two weeks ago and getting to the semifinal this past weekend in Kamloops.
At the centre of that will be players like Muirhead, who at 15, is showing top of the rotation potential for the club.
“He just pounds the strike zone,” said Moon. “He gives us a chance by throwing strikes … he forces the opposition to swing the bat, he has a really good head on his shoulders and he just rolls with it.”
This weekend they were supposed to have their own tournament, but due to cancellations will host the Saskatoon Cubs in four exhibition games at Great Chief — noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday.