If the team that beats you in the semis goes on to win the championship, you’ve got a solid case for saying you finished in third place. However, Alberta Baseball does not officially distinguish between the two semi-final losers in provincial championship tournaments, so the Slave Lake Midget Heat won’t go in the books as a bronze medalist.
Making the semis was the goal, however, and the team has plenty to be happy about.
“To make the semis was icing on the cake,” says head coach Dave LaFrance. “I’m super happy for these guys.”
Playing a Fort McMurray team rich in older, more experienced players, the Heat more than met their match. The score was 11 – 1. The Slave Lake boys had their chances, stranding a dozen runners on base. A couple of errors, a lack of timely hits and facing a strong opponent – so it went.
The Heat got to Sunday’s semi-final stage with a strong showing in the three-game round robin portion of the tournament. They started out by beating second-seeded Bonnyville 3 – 2. Matt LaFrance started on the mound. Coach LaFrance’s strategy was to use no pitcher beyond 40 throws, so as to keep them available for later duty. So he relieve Matt with Parker Hay, then Uneeb Khan and finally Will Chemago. The Heat played error-free ball and lead-off man Aiden Blocka went three-for-three and scored twice.
Off to Grassland for Game 2, the Heat faced Innisfail and lost 3 – 0. They managed only three hits against a tough pitcher who threw the entire game. Uneeb Khan also pitched the full game for Slave Lake.
The third game for the Heat was against Team Alberta Women, whom they’d nipped by one run a couple of weeks earlier. This time it was 10 – 7 for Slave Lake. Chemago hit a two-run home run in the game. Matt LaFrance started on the mound and went three-for-three at the plate, scoring four times. Chase Nehring and Chemago also pitched.
Thanks to the win over Bonnyville, Slave Lake topped their pool, which earned them the semi-final match against Fort McMurray. That team was second in their pool to host Lac La Biche, despite their overall top seeding in the tournament.
“We should tip our hats to Fort McMurray,” says LaFrance. “They’re a big, strong, fast squad.”
Fort Mac beat Bonnyville 9 – 7 in extra innings to win the tournament.
Summing up, coach LaFrance says the team – with its large complement of first-year players – well exceeded his expectations.
“They always proved me wrong. I guess I should quit saying I’m surprised. It’s starting to sound fake. They put in the work. I’m proud of these guys.”
The Slave Lake Midget Heat at the provincials in Lac La Biche on the August long weekend. Back row, left to right: Matt LaFrance, Chase Nehring, Carson Masur, Aiden Blocka, Will Chemago, Kyle Campbell, Harley Andrews, Parker Hay, coach Jeff Blocka. Front row: coach Dave LaFrance, Aaron Kuhn, Uneeb Khan, coach Kevin Campbell.
Photo courtesy Richard Chemago