The Red Deer Mr. Suds Braves go into the provincial 13U AAA Tier 1 baseball championships this weekend with all the ingredients needed to win gold.
They possess solid defence and pitching depth to go with an elite offence.
“We’re lucky we have a lot of depth on the mound … we feel comfortable running 10 guys out there in any order,” said Braves head coach Davin Gulbransen. “But our offence is something I’ve never seen before, it’s a real strength.”
The Braves not only have unmatched power, but speed and aggression on the bases.
“There’s not a lot of offence like ours at the 13-year-old level,” added Gulbransen. “We hit 45 home runs this season.”
Centre fielder Wyatt Schmitt has 21 of those.
“He gets a lot of glory and accolades for his home runs, but he has the perfect mindset, he doesn’t look for home runs, just goes up looking to hit the ball hard,” Davin said. “His approach doesn’t change no matter what.”
As well shortstop Brooks Froese leads the team with an impressive .645 batting average.
“We have a lot of guys who get on base and we have the team speed to turn a single into a double or triple,” added Gulbransen. “I don’t think I’d want to face us in the provincials.
“We’re fortunate to be able to score a lot of runs, but it’s the old saying you might win with offence, but you win championships with pitching and defence and we have both which backs up our offence. They feed off each other.”
The Braves have eight of 12 players in their second year with Luke Gulbransen, Jack Schafer, Roman Greenberg and Ty Young in their first year.
Schmitt, Froese, Easton Kelahear, Kaleb Walker, Rainn Graves, Jace Setters, Mason Hunter and Kane Portsmouth are second-year players.
Davin has been involved with most of the players for several seasons.
“I coached the top 11U team last year but even back in the Covid outbreak I was with the majority of these kids in the Dome League,” he said. “So I’ve known the majority of them three or four years.”
Davin also feels he has put together a strong coaching staff with former teammates Jared Greenberg and Aaron Graves joining him along with Casey Setters and Wade Schafer.
“Having Aaron and Jared around we tell a lot of old stories,” laughed Gulbransen. “It’s nice to have them provide a lot of experience and Wade was involved in football and Casey in hockey and they provide different voices. Having guys out of other sports lends to the strength of our staff.”
The Braves go into the provincials ranked third with a 12-4-1 record. The Calgary Cardinals finished at 14-3-0 and the Black Gold 47s at 13-5-0.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start,” said Davin. “The early challenges for the kids was not knowing how to handle a little bit of adversity. It’s a hard game to play, let alone be good at it and it was tough emotionally for the kids early on.
“But we have the players who learned as we went along and the talent to deal with a bit of adversity in games or even innings for that matter.
“We’ve hit our stride and peaking at the right time.”
Davin indicated the team has learned a lot of the basics of the game, a lot quicker than even he did.
“We’re lucky we have the coaches who played at a high level and we’re able to teach the boys at age 12 and 13 things we didn’t learn until we were 17, 18 or 19.
“We had to also learn that the kids didn’t have the experience or maturity to do things we expedited of them without working at it. But they’ve come a long way in that they prevent runners from taking an extra base and hitting the cutoff man. It’s been fun to watch.”
The Braves open the provincials in Spruce Grove Friday at noon against St. Albert before clashing with Sherwood Park at 9 a.m. and Black Gold 47s at 6 p.m. Saturday. Top two teams in each division advance to Sunday’s playoffs.
The gold medal winner advances to the Canadian finals in Woodstock, Ont., while the runner-up goes to the Western Canadians in Fort McMurray.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com