A pair of juggernauts collided in the final at the 13U AAA Baseball Alberta Provincials.
In a showdown Sunday at Great Chief Park, the host Red Deer Peewee AAA Braves and St. Albert Cardinals battled to the bitter end with a fine display of baseball.
Both teams were undefeated in their provincial journey, but in the end, it was the Cardinals who remained so, picking up a thrilling 5-4 win over the Braves to clinch the provincial title.
“It’s so much pressure on a 12-year-old kid. I mean wow, both teams just came out to battle. They both wanted it and we just got one up on them. That’s it,” said Cardinals head coach Travis Parker.
“We went 4-0 last weekend and we beat up on some teams. Then we beat Okotoks, which is a great team in the semis. We were set for (Sunday). Red Deer is a great team but we just got them. We’ve had their number the last couple of years.”
Silas Schalk gave the Cardinals a 3-1 advantage in the second inning with a two-RBI double and the Braves were unable to rally until late in the game.
In the sixth inning, down 4-2, Red Deer had the bases loaded with no outs, but were able to cash any runs. Fortunately, they escaped the same fate in the bottom half of the inning, catching two runners with force outs at home plate than a diving catch from Avery Coumont.
With two outs in the top of the seventh, Red Deer trailed 5-2 when the bats thumped to life. Brett Leslie launched his second home run of the game, a two-run laser to right field. That got the Braves within a run before a pair of singles put the winning run on first.
A pop out in foul territory was captured by the Cardinals first baseman to clinch the provincial title.
To start the game, it was a strong pitching performance from Connor Macleod that kept the usually productive Braves’ offence from stringing together many hits. He allowed six hits and two runs over five innings, striking out one.
“They had a pitcher who threw a good changeup and he kept us off balance and we just didn’t adjust well to that. Hopefully, the boys are gonna learn and we’re gonna go win at Westerns,” said Braves head coach Paul Claerhout.
Spencer Claerhout pitched for Red Deer and allowed five hits, fun runs to go along with seven strikeouts and one walk.
The victory for the Cardinals clinched a spot in the Baseball Canada National Championship, which will take place later this month in Quebec.
“There’s seven of the players that were on our team last year. We got silver at Westerns, lost in the final of provincials last year to Parkland. For that core group, you couldn’t ask for anything better to win this year,” said the Cardinals head coach.
For the Braves, the loss means another shot at a Western Canadian Championship in Surrey, B.C. They were the second-ranked Alberta entry last year and finished third. With five returning players from that group, Claerhout likes their chances, especially after the season they’ve had.
“Last year we were Alberta two, finished third. This year we’re Alberta one and we’ve got a good shot at winning,” Claerhout said.
“We’ve proven ourselves, we played in a Kamloops tournament and won that against some pretty good teams. We know we can win, we’re gonna go and do our best and hopefully, we can.”
Leslie was player of the game for the Braves, he had two home runs and a triple in the loss. MacLeod earned the honour for the Cardinals. Baseball Alberta also presented the player of the game and Cardinals catcher Eric Hartman picked up the award.
In the bronze medal game, the Edmonton Padres outlasted the Okotoks Dawgs in a three-hour, 15-minute marathon. The Padres eventually earned a 22-19 win and are Alberta’s second entry at Westerns.