Rode

RODE: Red Deer U15AAA Braves on track for another shot at provincial title

They’re not there yet, but the Red Deer Archon Braves U15AAA baseball team coaching staff knows what it takes to win at the provincial level.

Randy Russell, who took over as head coach this season, was an assistant coach with last year’s championship squad.

“We’re so excited with this group … they’re a very tight-knit group and my goal is to be peaking come provincials,” he said. “Right now we still have a lot of stuff to work on but we’re getting there.”

The team does have a different look than last year’s squad.

“There are some similarities, but also these kids bring something different to the team which is good,” Russell said.

The Braves sport a 16-8 record and are tied for second in the U15AAA Tier I South Division with Lethbridge, behind the 23-1 Okotoks Dawgs Black.

“They’re a good team (the Dawgs), but there’s several good teams in the North as well,” said Russell. “So if we get to the provincials it will be tough, so we want to be at our best by then.”

Russell has put together a solid 12-man roster with all but one listed as a pitcher.

“A lot of depth,” he said. “Since tryouts we knew we’d be strong hitting and pitching. Without strong pitching you can’t go very far and I’m excited and thrilled with the amount of pitching we have. We have a number of different types of pitchers with different mechanics.”

Two of the 11 pitchers — Ethan Savage of Innisfail and Grady Rodzinyak — are left-handers.

Both also play first base and the outfield.

“We have a lot of diversity which makes for a strong lineup,” said Russell.

Pitcher-first baseman Seth Clark of Rocky Mountain House is the only non-pitcher, although they’re working on that aspect of his game as well.

Third baseman Evan Russell and outfielder Burke Schulte-Bates are the only two returnees from last year.

“They were both first-year last year but we’re looking for them to provide a lot of leadership this year and they’ve done a good job,” said Russell.

Seven others played U15AA last season and three moved up from the U13 ranks.

Second baseman-outfielder Isaac Nakonechny, catcher Owen Coumont and Clark played U13 last season.

Joining Clark and Savage on the import roster are catcher-centre-fielder Barrett Mix of Olds and second baseman Rylan Arnold of Leslieville.

The rest of the roster includes shortstop Ryder Petryshen, outfielder Declan Andersen and first baseman Kieran Peterson.

Russell believes Red Deer and Central Alberta will continue to be strong at all minor baseball levels.

“Our kids are lucky to have a lot of opportunities to develop and the interest in the game continues to grow,” he said. “You can see the numbers continue to grow at the U11 and U13 levels as well as our level … there’s a lot of interest.”

St. Joe’s Academy is providing a strong base for a number of players who are in high school and junior high-middle school.

“We have some kids who go to St. Thomas and when they graduate will go to high school at St. Joe’s where they will continue to get a lot of exposure.”

The fact a number of athletes graduating from the Academy are receiving scholarship offers in Canada and the States is only good for the game, says Russell.

“As coaches, we talk that when we were younger we didn’t have these opportunities,” he said. “It not only makes them better and stronger but gives them an opportunity to fulfill their future goals.

“That’s great for the younger kids as they see what the possibilities are and see the number of U18 players committing to colleges and it gives them someone to look up to.”

Russell has a solid coaching staff including Rob Coumont, Des Boutieller, Andrew Petryshen and Brendan Mix.

The Braves are on the road over the next couple of weeks, returning home July 9-10 for four games — July 9 against the Calgary Bucks and the 10th against the Calgary Cubs. Games go at 1 and 4 p.m. each day at Great Chief Park.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca