The Slave Lake Junior Heat, fresh off their provincial ‘AAA’ championship, competed at the Western Junior ‘AAA’ Championships in Brandon Manitoba on the Aug. 12 weekend. The Innisfail Merchants, runners-up at provincials, also took part.
The Heat won two games in Brandon, and lost the other three. They were competitive in all of them, says coach Cody Stasow, and despite the losing record, ended up third overall.
“You couldn’t ask for a better weekend,” Stasow says. “Almost every game was decided by one or two runs. The level of baseball the boys played at was fantastic.”
The team actually looked quite different than the one that played all season and won at provincials. Last minute adjustments had to be made.
“I was forced to pick up players from outside of Slave Lake,” Stasow says, “since several of my original players couldn’t get the time off work to go to Brandon. Plus, my two over-ages (Randall Weber and Nick Mulich) couldn’t go, as they were determined too old to participate. “
Stasow picked up five players from St. Albert (Tanner McLean-Poll, Mitch King, Jake Enright, Nic Arlia, and Logan Buchanan) and one player from Edmonton (Halen Knoll).
The Heat started off against the Saskatoon Hoppers. After a back-and-forth seven innings left the teams tied at five, the Heat loaded the bases in the eighth with none out. Lee Worobec and Halen Knoll followed up with singles and then Brayden Stasow doubled. First game to the Heat, 10 – 5. King, Buchanan and Knoll did the pitching.
Game 2 was on the Friday night against the very familiar Innisfail Merchants, the team Slave Lake beat in the provincial final. Stasow was expecting a close one and he got it. The Merchants scored two quick runs and led all the way, eventually winning by a 3 – 2 score. Worobec took the loss on the mound. Brayden Stasow had three of his team’s six hits.
Against the Weyburn A’s on Saturday morning, the Heat were cruising for five innings behind the pitching of Tanner McLean-Poll, one of the St. Albert players. That’s when things got interesting, starting with three straight Slave Lake errors. Weyburn was up 5 – 3 with two innings left (after even more Heat errors) and things didn’t look good. They held it through six and two-thirds, but then something else happened.
“Anyone that knew us, knew that we weren’t going to go away without a fight,” Stasow says. “Nic Arlia and Tanner McLean-Poll got back to back singles, with Mitch King coming up to bat for the Heat. In the crack of the bat, King tripled into the right-centre gap to score both runners and attempted to score the winning run on an inside-the-park home run but was gunned out at home on a bang-bang play to keep the game tied at 5-5, forcing another extra inning game.”
In the bottom half of the eighth, Ian Pollard hit a deep fly ball, advancing two baserunners.
Daniel Masur, swinging at the first pitch he saw, drove it between third and short, driving in the winning run, “in walk-off fashion.”
Pollard, Daniel Masur and Brayden Stasow each had two hits in the win.
Next up was a city team from Winnipeg, the St. James A’s. They jumped all over the Heat, taking an early 7 – 1 lead. Pitching was a key difference, with the Heat chuckers giving up nine walks to St. James’ three. Hits were equal. Dalton Masur had a good game for Slave Lake, pitching a scoreless inning and getting multiple hits.
The fifth (and as it turned out final) game for the Heat was against host Brandon.
“It turned out to be an unexpected pitching duel,” Stasow says, between Knoll for the Heat and a fellow named Geekie for Brandon.
After giving up three in the first inning, Knoll settled in and shut Brandon down the rest of the way.
Both pitchers threw a three-hitter.
“But Brandon’s defense turned out to be just a tad better, as they defeated Slave Lake by a score of 3 – 0.”
Brayden Stasow led the way for Slave Lake collecting player of the game in three of the five games, batting .500 for the weekend. Tanner McLean-Poll and Halen Knoll picked up the other player of the game honours after strong pitching performances. Brandon ended up defeating St. James in the final by a score of 8-3.
Despite coming up a bit short, says coach Stasow, “the memories they made will last forever. But hey, third best in western Canada is nothing to be ashamed of. The boys will hold their heads up high knowing a small town of 7,500 people can compete with the best.”
The Slave Lake Heat at the western championships in Brandon Manitoba. Back row, left to right: Eugene Miluch (coach), Lee Worobec, Dalton Masur, Tanner McLean-Poll, Ian Pollard, Logan Buchanan, Cody Stasow (coach), Jason Enright (coach). Front row: Daniel Masur, Cole Stasow, Mitch King, Brayden Stasow, Jake Enright, Nic Arlia, Halen Knoll.