Opening day jitters and a tough schedule proved to be the undoing of the Cowichan Valley Mustangs at the bantam AA baseball provincial championships in Burnaby last weekend.
The Mustangs lost their first two games on a busy Thursday, but got themselves back into contention with wins on Friday and Saturday before bowing out.
"We had one flat day; we felt a little bit of nerves and pressure on our first day," head coach Mario Iannidinardo said. "Every team plays one doubleheader day, and our doubleheader day happened to be the first day. We ended up losing to teams we had beat previously in other tournaments." An uns toppable juggernaut throughout the summer leading up to provincials, the Mustangs fell behind 4-0 in the first two innings of their opening game against the Vancouver Yankees, although they took the lead with a huge seven-run output in the bottom of the third. Unfor tunately, Vancouver surged back ahead with seven runs over the next three innings.
Cole Ander son f ini shed the game with a home run and a single, while Zach Waddington had a double, a single and two stolen bases. Cam LeSergent and Jake Winter also had doubles, Brandon
Langer had two singles, Kale Eddy had one, Brady Radcliffe had two walks and a steal, and Andrew Strobl finished with one steal. Pitching duties were shared between Langer, Anderson and Matt Miller.
Later that day, the Mustangs were edged 4-3 by the Cloverdale Spurs, despite out-hitting the Spurs 10-4 and holding a 3-1 lead in the top of the second. Waddington finished with two hits, while Langer, LeSergent, Ander son, Winter, Eddy, Miller and Tanner Cummings had one each. LeSergent and Eddy handled the pitching.
"In the first game the pressure got to us," Iannidinardo said. "We made lots of errors, and our bats weren’t on. In the second game, our bats were just flat. Our pitching was decent in both games." On Friday, the Mustangs doubled up on Rutledge 12-6, led at the plate by Eddy, who nearly hit for the cycle with a single, a double and a home run, and Miller, who finished with a double and a homer.
LeSergent also had two doubles, Strobl had two singles and a twobagger, Winter had two singles, and Anderson, Yu and Waddington each had one single. Langer and Yu did the pitching.
Finally, the Mustangs edged the Burnaby Braves 8-7 on Saturday. The contest went into extra innings, and Tanner Cummings won it by dodging the tag on a suicide squeeze play.
Yu and Eddy blasted back-toback homers, with Yu adding a double, while Anderson also had a home run and two singles. LeSergent finished with two singles and a double, and Cummings and Waddington had two singles apiece. The pitching was split between Langer, LeSergent, Ander son, Winter, James McMahon and Miller.
"We came out like ourselves and took over," Iannidinardo said. "Against Rutland, our pitching was on, and our hitting was on. The fourth game was probably our most exciting game."
With three teams tied at two wins apiece, head-to-head records determined who advanced in the tournament, and the loss to Vancouver eliminated the Mustangs from the playoffs.
"The frustrating thing is that we were just warming up to go on a rampage and blow teams out of the water," Iannidinardo said. "The kids had a good last two games for sure. We lost out on a good note."
Throughout the season, the Mustangs relied on their three aces, Anderson, Yu and Eddy, as well as their top hitter and star shortstop, Waddington.
"He’s just an athletic phenom," Iannidinardo said. "He may not have the best baseball technique, but he compensates for it with his athletic ability. He made highlight reel plays look ordinary. And he was our three-hole hitter. He outperformed my imagination." First-year bantam LeSergent was also a big part of the team’s success.
"He’s probably one of the best first-years I’ve ever seen, technically," the coach assessed. "He has the best hands on the team."
That’s not to ignore the contributions of the rest of the lineup. "Overall, the way the whole team came together was amazing," he said. "Everyone played a crucial role."
In addition to Iannidinardo, the Mustangs had top-notch coaching from Tod LeSergent, Micah Anderson and Wade Radcliffe.
"We had a great coaching staff," Iannidinardo said. "All four of us were totally committed to going all the way, to provincials and Westerns if we made it."