Midgets ‘punching above their weight’ at Tier II provincials

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

This coming weekend the Slave Lake Midget Heat head to Lac La Biche for a provincial championship tournament. One of the odd things about it is they haven’t played most of the teams that they’ll see there.

“You’ve heard the boxing expression ‘punching above our weight?’ says coach Dave LaFrance. “That’s us.”

The reason the team ended up in Tier II provincials is because they just kept winning. They finished the season 13 – 5, scoring 164 runs and allowing 103. Then the big news: ‘never mind Tier III. We’re putting you in the Tier II provincials.’ Or words to that effect, from Baseball Alberta, which decides these things.

So in Lac La Biche they’ll be up against teams such as Fort McMurray, Foothills, Innisfail, the host and – interestingly – the Team Alberta Women. This group of competitive and highly skilled ladies have been prepping for a national tournament by playing ‘AA’ Midget ball and is one of the teams at the tournament the Heat had faced before.

“We beat them 6 – 5,” says LaFrance. “It was fun to play. They’re technically top-notch.”

The Heat are a bit of a Cinderella story, as noted. With just 10 players on the squad, they don’t have a lot of room for error. Most of their opponents are dressing 14 or 15, LaFrance says. But the commitment needed to pull it off with those 10 is definitely there.

“It’s a good bunch,” he says.

Starting out the season with six first-year players (and one underage), LaFrance says he expected Tier 4 or 5 was where they’d settle. But the wins kept coming and the boys kept improving.

“We’ve surpassed our goal and we keep going,” he says. “The goal now is to get to a playoff game (at provincials).”

The last two weekends of play for the Heat went unreported in this paper, so here’s the summary. They won four and lost two. The team had been slotted in Tier III after the first few weeks of play (moving up from the bottom tier), but those two final weekends of winning ball was what induced the upgrade to Tier II.

On the July 14 weekend they played in South Jasper Place, beating Marwayne and the host team and losing to Sylvan Lake. On the July 21 weekend in Sylvan Lake, the Heat beat the Team Alberta Women and Fort Saskatchewan and lost to Blackfalds.

Meet the Heat
Here’s a bit of information on each of the 10 members of the Slave Lake Midget Heat, starting behind the plate and working out:

William Chemago – he’s usually the catcher. Second youngest on the team, he’s the chief slugger, capable of putting it over the fence. He also leads the team in batting average. Defensively, “he gets extra outs on the basepaths.”

Aiden Blocka – ‘Mr. Utility,’ as LaFrance calls him, plays any position, including spelling Chemago behind the plate. He’s the lead-off hitter for the team and “a good bunter.”

Aaron Kuhn – at third base, Kuhn is “our comeback player of the year,” LaFrance says, having taken last year off. His defense has improved well over the season and offensively, he has a high on-base percentage, is a good opposite-field hitter and is quick on the basepaths.

Matt LaFrance – last year’s Bantam ‘AA’ Player of the Year (mainly for his pitching), LaFrance plays shortstop for the Heat. He’s been working on his hitting this year “and it shows.” Pitching comes easier to him than hitting, says the coach, who predicts the LaFrance breaking ball will be very important at the provincial tournament.

Kyle Campbell – this is your Bantam-age player, who has done very well among the Midgets this year. “Solid defensively,” says LaFrance. “He’s hitting better than I thought he would at the Midget level.” Campbell is a “contact hitter,” and “a smart base-runner. I don’t think he’s been caught on base this year.”

Parker Hay – moving over to first base we find Mr. Hay, whose good glove earned him the position. He’s also often found on the mound for the Heat.

“The biggest surprise is his pitching,” says the coach. “He hadn’t pitched a lot last year, but we can put him in in any situation. Very cool under pressure.” Hay bats in the clean-up spot for the Heat.

Chase Nehring – out in left field we have Nehring, known in winter as a goalie – now chasing down fly balls. He also takes a turn pitching for the Heat. “He tracks the ball really well,” LaFrance says. “Good glove, strong arm.” He doesn’t take unnecessary risks out there, and the ball rarely gets by him.

Harley Andrews – the centre-fielder from Faust is the oldest member of the team. “He’s very fast,” says the coach. “That’s why he’s in centre field. He got to some balls this year I didn’t think he could get to.” At the plate, Andrews has improved his hitting this year and when he gets hold of one, it goes a long way.

Carson Masur – right-fielder Masur is “Mr. Reliable,” says the coach. “He’ll fill in where we need him. He really wants to put the ball in play.” LaFrance figures playing in the men’s league this year has been a good motivator for Masur, because he gets to compete against his two older brothers.

Uneeb Khan – pitcher and outfielder, Khan doesn’t cause too much worry in opposing batters who haven’t seen him – until he starts throwing. “He’s got a lovely fastball,” says LaFrance. “It moves. Very accurate, very efficient pitcher.”

Offensively, Khan’s batting has come along well this year, says the coach.

Heading in

The Slave Lake Midget Heat, 10 days shy of the provincial championship tournament. Pictured are Kneeling (L/R): Harley Andrews, Kyle Campbell, Will Chemago, Aaron Kuhn, Uneeb Khan, Carson Masur. Standing (L/R): Dave LaFrance, Matt LaFrance, Parker Hay, Chase Nehring, Kevin Campbell. Missing: Aiden Blocka

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