Braves 1 Dawgs Black 0
With only four returnees on their roster there was some question on how good the Red Deer Servus Credit Union Braves would be early in the season.
If Wednesday’s performance means anything they’re just fine.
The Braves turned in a solid performance in downing the Okotoks Foothills Dawgs Black 1-0 in Alberta Bantam AAA Baseball League play at Great Chief Park.
“They (Dawgs) are one of the best teams in the province with a lot of talent, experience and excellent coaching,” said Braves head coach Terry Letkeman. “We played hard against them. Got excellent pitching and solid defence. It was a game that could have went either way, but our guys showed a lot.”
While the Braves have only the four returnees from last years squad that competed in the Canadian championships, they do have three other players off last year’s peewee AAA squad that competed in the Western Canadians.
“Having that experience takes the edge off when it comes to being nervous,” said Letkeman. “A lot of the kids have played at a high level and they’re not intimidated.”
The fact is three of the second-year bantams — shortstop Reign Letkeman, second baseman-outfielder Jason Garrett and middle infielder Nathan Damiani — have won three provincial titles the last four years. As well Letkeman and first baseman Mac Guckert, who is the other second-year member of the Braves, also played with South Jasper Place in the peewee nationals two years ago. Letkeman and Damiani also played with the provincial champion zone 4 team last year.
“Those kids have been in a lot of championship games and I have yet to see them exhibit nerves,” said the elder Letkeman. “The thing is they know how to win and expect to win.”
Terry Letkeman, who is assisted by Cam Moon and Mike Vanson, has only 11 players on his roster, but they all pitch.
“That’s certainly fortunate,” Letkeman said. “Maybe by the end of the year that will filter out, but we don’t have to worry about running out of arms.”
Letkeman also liked the depth on his roster, despite the low numbers.
“There’s very little difference between the top end and bottom end,” he said. “They are all very close in talent.”
All three peewee AAA grads — Niklas Fischer, Joel Mazurkewich and Levi Moon — can catch while Moon and Mazurkewich also play the outfield.
Third baseman Ty Elliott, who played two games with the Braves last season, and outfielder Jayden Hutlet both played bantam AA while Tyler Galloway played peewee AA in Swift Current and Mitchell Vanson peewee AA in Lacombe.
Galloway is no stranger to the local program, having played mosquito in Red Deer before moving to Saskatchewan.
Guckert started on the mound Wednesday, allowing one hit in three innings and fanning four. Mazurkewich came on and had some control problems, walking five in two innings. He walked the first three batters in the fourth, but picked two of them off and eventually picked up the win when the Braves scored their lone run in the bottom of the fifth.
Reign Letkeman worked a hitless sixth and seventh for the save.
“Mac and Reign are two of our top pitchers and it just worked out they were going tonight,” said Terry Letkeman. “But all three kids threw well. Joel is just getting used to the bigger park and throwing the longer distance (54-feet) and had a little control problems. But he battled.”
Garrett opened the fifth for the Braves, reaching on an error and scored on Galloway’s double. The Braves finished with five hits, including a triple by Mazurkewich and a double by Elliott.
The win was big in terms of confidence for the Braves, but not all that important in terms of the standings.
“The first half of the year is used as development, so there’s no real pressure on anyone to win,” said Letkeman. “It’s more important just to learn to play the right way all the way through. It’s a great teaching time of the year.”
The Braves return to action Saturday when they host Edmonton at noon and Spruce Grove at 3 p.m. at Great Chief Park.