By Cole Parkinson
For Taber Times
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It may seem like the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets never lose, but the coaching staff is hopeful the team continues to push the foot to the gas over the last two and a half weeks of play. The team has been dominant over the past few weeks, going undefeated in the Lethbridge tournament before heading to B.C. where they went 5-0 and took the Best of the West tournament.
And the win in B.C. was a big one for the program. With tons of top talent at the tournament, the Jets were able to not only win lots of games, but they were able to show their program is one of the best in Canada.
“Between all the age categories, there are 40 teams, so it’s certainly a big tournament. There’s the best teams in the country or the majority of the best teams in the country, but certainly the best teams in Western Canada,” stated Les McTavish, head coach of VAB. “And then the kids that aren’t part of teams, they’re part of all-star teams. So, we ended up going 5-0 and we started off with an 8-0 victory over the BT Selects and then we had a really good game against North Shore Twins — beat them 8-5, then we beat the BLE Selects 2-0, and then the Langley Blaze, we beat them 11-2. And then the Okotoks Dawgs, we beat them 5-3. So that was good, we ended up facing out of the last three and a half games, and we ended up facing 14 Canada pitchers. We had our work cut out for us and performed really well.”
After returning home, the team saw a pair of doubleheaders at home during their annual graduation weekend. On Saturday, the Jets took on the Great Falls Chargers and came away with 8-6 and 12-3 wins. Keegan McNeil, Brett Getz, Rory MacDonald, Jimmy Boulanger, and Jacob Burgess all found their way to the mound on the day and contributed to the two wins. Offensively, the Jets saw Stevyn Andrachick go 5-6 with a double, triple, and a home run, Colin Fisher and Kyle Yip each went 2-5 with a home run and three RBI, Brennan McTavish was 4-6 with a home run and five RBI, and Seth Christie was 2-7 with a home run. Rounding out the offence, Ty Clemett went 2-2, Alex Laurence went 2-3, Carson Boyko was 1-6, and Karsen Haney was 2-6 with an RBI.
The Jets completed the perfect weekend with a 12-5 win over the Chargers and a 6-2 win over Badlands Academy. Pitching was once again great over the two games as Hudson Kozicki, Drew Lenehan, and Patrick MacInnis racked up the strikeouts as they combined for 20 total. The bats stayed hot as Andrachick had a double and an RBI, Yip went 3-5 with a pair of home runs, McTavish went 3-5 with a double, a homer, and four RBI, Christie was 2-6 with a bomb and three RBI, Boyko was 4-6 with a triple, Luke Wheatley was 2-5 with a HR and two RBI, Eric Reiling had a double and a pair of RBI, Haney had a double, and Laurence was a perfect 2-2.
In regard to the team’s winning streak, McTavish pointed to the pitching staff. Limiting walks and being consistently in the zone has been a huge development over the last few weeks for VAB.
“I think we’re pitching a lot better. Our offence has been our offence all year, and we’ve had some pretty timely hitting — our best guys have been our best guys — but we’ve pitched a lot better. We’re not walking as many guys, knock on wood. We’re not giving as many free passes, so at least over the last two to three weeks, you’re going to have to beat us — we haven’t been beating ourselves, which is a big part of baseball. I think, whether you’re a professional or high school athlete, if you don’t beat yourself, you got a puncher’s chance,” stated McTavish. “Our offence is balanced enough. We do have three, four, five guys older and experienced players at the top of our lineup that perform pretty well.”
He also liked that the pitchers have really turned it on when it comes to battling when things may not be going their way. While reps are important, the transition from winter to spring can be tough for pitchers, but the staff has found their groove as of late.
“The reps are important, but I think we have plenty enough reps — I think it was more about competing and mindset. Be able to handle adversity, be able to handle the traffic on the bases, be able to handle bad umpire calls or maybe an error behind you or whatever. We’ve changed our mindset as a pitching staff, and I think that’s really helped us,” continued McTavish. “At the end of the day, in baseball, where you fail more than you succeed, it’s about compete more than anything. So we’ve challenged the guys, we’ve had a lot of meetings on it, and hopefully, it continues. We’ve got two and a half weeks left and a pretty fun two and a half weeks with the home tournament and Missoula, and the game against the Bulls. It’s been a heck of a run here — we have a 14-game winning streak between the Lethbridge tournament, Best of the West and then the grad weekend.”
While the winning streak has reached double digits, the coaches are preaching about taking things one game at a time. With only a few games left on the spring calendar, the entire team is excited to see how things shake out.
“We challenge the guys to kind of take it one day at a time and not worry about winning tournaments or anything else. We open up with Lethbridge Elks on Thursday night who I think have a decent club and they’re throwing a former Vauxhall Jet at us. So, Garrett Smith is going to pitch against us and he’s a college guy, so when you’re facing a college pitcher, you’re certainly going to have your work cut out for you. And he was one of our best guys a year ago, so yeah, hopefully, the guys rise to the occasion and the challenge,” continued McTavish.
Players have also started to commit to post-secondary teams for the fall. The team is always super happy when players find new homes and the fact the team continues to win means the Jets have been on cloud nine.
“Yeah, we’ve had a really good run. It’s a good group —our senior group is as good as it’s been in a long time as far as just leadership and trying to do the little things, really caring about one another, believing in the program and believing in everything else. So, it’s been certainly refreshing and winning solves a lot of things, I think we all know that,” said McTavish. “When you’re playing well, it doesn’t matter sometimes if you get hits or how many strikeouts you have, it’s about team success and team wins and this group has really rallied behind it. We’re encouraged but at the same time not to put a damper on it, but you’re just worried about one game at a time and take care of the next one. And at some point, you’re going to dump a game or two and you just hope it’s not in the wrong town.”
This weekend sees VAB come home for the annual Haven Agencies Invitational Tournament at Jets Stadium. The Jets kick off the tournament on Friday night at 7 p.m. against Lethbridge.
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