Braves drop opener

When Pat Penner took over as head coach of the Red Deer Carstar Braves it proved to be a smooth transition. Penner was an assistant coach with the Braves last season under Rick Czainski and prior to that coached with the bantam AAA Braves.

Red Deer midget AAA Braves pitcher Drew Hamilton throws from the mound against the Okotoks Dawgs at Great Chief Park on Wednesday. Okotoks won 7-5.

Red Deer midget AAA Braves pitcher Drew Hamilton throws from the mound against the Okotoks Dawgs at Great Chief Park on Wednesday. Okotoks won 7-5.

Dawgs Red 7 Braves 5

When Pat Penner took over as head coach of the Red Deer Carstar Braves it proved to be a smooth transition.

Penner was an assistant coach with the Braves last season under Rick Czainski and prior to that coached with the bantam AAA Braves.

“I coached a lot of the younger kids in their first year bantam, so I know just about all of them,” explained Penner, who is in his first year ever as head coach.

But he has a good staff with Terry Letkeman and Brad Hamilton as assistant coaches.

“I’ve coached with Terry before, so we know each other,” he said.

The Braves opened their NorWest Midget Baseball League regular season Wednesday at Great Chief Park, dropping a 7-5 decision to the Okotoks Dawgs Red.

But there were a lot of good signs.

“I was happy with what I saw,” said Penner. “We struggled a bit with the bats, but we’ll work on that and it’s only the first game of the season. We started slowly last year as well and finished second in the province.”

Penner has nine returnees on his 15-player roster and is extremely deep on the mound with 12 players able to take to the hill. He also has four solid starting pitchers led by second-year left-hander Wyle Cunningham.

“He’s our ace, with him on the mound we feel we matchup with anyone,” added Penner, who will also use Drew Hamilton, Jonah Penner and Corbyn Shields as starters.

Shields will also work at shortstop with Cunningham in the outfield, Hamilton as a middle infielder and Penner at third base.

Catcher Dom Tait, second baseman Brady Porter, first baseman Taze Steeves and outfielder Stephon Fontaine are all veterans and all can pitch while Reid Stoyberg is listed as a first baseman-DH. First baseman-pitcher Taze Steeves is also returning, but won’t be on hand until June when he returns from Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., where he played football and baseball. As well Fontaine is still out with an injury.

Of the six new faces, four — infielder Reign Letkeman, outfielder Jason Garrett, first baseman Mac Guckert and catcher-outfielder Nathan Damiani — played with the bantam AAA Braves last season and outfielder Brandon Bodemer and centre fielder Chad Walchuk were with the midget AA Braves. All but Walchuk and Damiani also pitch.

“You certainly like to have the pitching depth,” said Penner, who is satisfied with his roster.

“It would be nice to have a power hitting clear up batter, but that’s tough to get in midget baseball,” he said with a smile.

The Braves used there pitchers Wednesday with Hamilton starting and was strong until tiring in the fifth. He gave up a run in the first and three of the four in the fifth, when the Dawgs grabbed a 5-1 lead.

Garrett came on in the fifth with the bases loaded and was tagged for one run in the fifth and worked a scoreless sixth.

“It was a tough spot to put Jason in,” said Penner. “It was his first time on the mound at this level and he comes in with the bases loaded.”

The Braves scored twice in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run triple by Tait. The Dawgs added two runs in the seventh off Letkeman on four walks and two wild pitches but the Braves tallied twice in the bottom of the seventh and left the bases loaded.

“The message we gave to the kids was to battle hard and they didn’t give up, which is a good sign,” said Penner. “We want them to work hard and hustle.”

Penner would have liked to see a notch in the win column, but said it wasn’t the end of the world.

“Right now wins and losses don’t matter, it’s a matter of continuing to improve and be playing at the top of our game in mid-June and early July before the provincials.”

Tait finished with a single and a triple while Penner had a pair of walks and a single, Shields a walk and a single and Stoyberg a walk, double and run-scoring ground out.

The Braves will be busy this weekend as they host Sherwood Park Gold Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and visit St. Albert for a twin bill Sunday.

drode@bprda.wpengine.com