The Red Deer Servus Credit Union Braves left this morning for the Canadian bantam AAA boys’ baseball championships in Vaughan, Ont., in the perfect frame of mind.
Anything the Braves can bring home from the nationals will be icing on the cake to a bit of a surprise season.
The Braves, who were one of the younger teams in the province, weren’t expected to capture the provincial championship, but everything fell into place.
“Going into the provincials there were any one of five teams that could have won and everything turned out just right for us,” said Braves head coach Terry Letkeman.
“The big win for us was against St. Albert, who we lost the previous seven times this season. Even the game we lost (to Okotoks) turned out to be right as it eliminated St. Albert from the final.”
The Braves then beat Okotoks 11-6 in the final.
While the Braves are relatively young with seven first-year players, they do have experience at the national level.
The majority of the team competed at the peewee nationals two years ago and last season Mac Guckert and Reign Letkeman were picked up by South Jasper Place to attend the peewee nationals in Vaughan.
Terry Letkeman went as the Chef de Mission with South Jasper Place, so knows the city and the layout.
“I think that makes a big difference,” he said. “We’ll know what to expect before we go and where everything is, which makes it more comfortable for everyone.”
Letkeman feels that the experience the players had two years ago will eliminate a lot of the nerves.
“The kids won’t be as nervous,” he said. “There will be nerves, of course, but more so because everyone is excited and wanting to get started.”
The Braves have added four players for the Canadians, including outstanding pitcher Logan Siefrit of Spruce Grove.
The six-foot, 180-pound Siefrit is the “most dominant” pitcher in the province, according to Letkeman, who also added left-hander Kurtis Taylor of Okotoks to the pitching staff.
As well, the Braves added a pair of catchers — Braeden Burns of Sherwood Park, who played with the Braves at the provincials, and Logan Wedgewood of Edmonton.
The four additions gives Letkeman a 15-man roster.
The Braves are loaded with pitchers with Guckert, Taylor Mulder, Wyle Cunningham, Mike Pinkney, Tyson Ethier, Reign Letkeman and Jonah Penner joining Siefrit and Taylor on the mound.
The rest of the roster includes Zak Hicks, Jason Garrett, Brandon Ballantyne and Nathan Damiani.
Cunningham, Ethier and Penner are the three veterans on the team.
“They’re our team leaders,” added Terry Letkeman, who feels the team won’t be out of place at the nationals.
“We have pitching depth and outstanding team defence,” he said. “We’re in a tough pool, but the important thing is to win the games we should win.”
The Braves open Thursday against Quebec and B.C., two all-star teams.
“I don’t mind taking on two of the tough teams right off the bat,” said Letkeman. “No matter what happens in those games we should be ready for the rest of the teams in our pool. The main thing is to finish no lower than third, so we get into the quarter-finals.”
The Braves will meet Manitoba and the host Vaughan team Friday and take on Prince Edward Island Saturday.
The top team in each pool receives a bye into the semifinals while the second and third place teams meet in a cross-over in the quarter-finals.
The semifinals and final goes Sunday.