“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra.
On July 22, the Sylvan Lake Bantam “A” Mariners brought home provincial gold once again. Three hundred and sixty-six days, prior 14 young athletes from Sylvan Lake, Spruceview and Bentley brought back to Sylvan Lake a Tier 2 Championship, but this year’s squad wanted more.
With five returning players from the 2017 team, the tone was set early in the season winning another title was goal No. 1.
This year’s journey began on June 26, 2018 as 14 athletes from Sylvan Lake, Spruceview/Markerville, and Ponoka were asked the question, “What do you want out of this experience?”
The answers were short and simple: “To improve as a baseball player”, “To have fun”, and “To collect W’s”.
With those those answers the coaching plan was set and the journey began. Two practices per week for two weeks and “homework” given in the form of daily’s, the team needed to gel together and coaches needed to get a feel for what theye really had.
“I noticed right away we had athletes, we had characters, we had swagger and ego, and we had the unknown,” said Ryan Lucas.
After four practices with the team it was off to round one in Beaumont, Alta. for three games. The team came back with a 2-0-1 record.The tie taught the team so much; it made the players have to believe in themselves.
“We got down early in this ball game, the faces and spirit were down, but a few words from the coaches, a couple less errors and the bats coming alive we came back to end it in a tie,” said Lucas.
Two more practices the following week in preparation for a weekend of play in Sylvan Lake (July 14-15) brought more learnings about the team as players. They needed to work on some of the basics, breaking down individual skills to refine to the foundation that already existed. That week of practice helped produce a three-game weekend sweep.
With a record of 5-0-1 Sylvan Lake ended in a record tie with Beaumont, but due to runs for and against, Sylvan Lake obtained the No. 1 seeding entering the Provincial Championship weekend.
One practice needed prior to weekend and the athletes received a light practice as reward for their individual hard work to date.
“At this stage of the season practice can’t be about teaching new things, it is more about positive reinforcement. If I need to teach new skills at this point I have not done my job,” Lucas said.
Schedule had been set and Day 1 is a true test of this team. Two games versus Beaumont, ranked second, and the hosts Marwayne Huskies, ranked third.
The goal of a repeat would be decided Fri., July 20. To start the tournament 2-0 would put us in the driver seat, but as we found out last year to come out of Friday 1-1 the dream is not over.
Game One vs. Beaumont
Sylvan Lake received a strong pitching performance from the starter. It was decided he was only going to get 50 pitches maximum (Baseball Alberta mandated pitch count for one day rest) and he did not waste them.
He left with a lead and the bull pen shut Beaumont down the rest of the way and Sylvan Lake came out with a game one victory.
Game Two vs. Marwayne
Sylvan Lake sent to the mound one of the team’s pitchers from Ponoka and he didn’t flinch. Pitch for pitch with the Marwayne starter and then Mother Nature decided to delay the game by almost 45 minutes.
The rain and lightning went away and then the got into their bullpen.
Ninety-two pitches later Mariners starter left in the fifth inning and again our relievers threw strikes. Our bats and followed our pitchers leadership. Marwayne was just as game as their pitching and defense kept the game close.
A 2 – 1 run victory and a 2-0 tournament start made Friday night an enjoyable one.
Saturday July 21
The team showed up mentally about an hour late and spotted Edmonton a 10-2 lead after two innings. Errors, errors, errors caused pitch count to rise, and the team swagger was gone.
There were still five innings of baseball left no need to panic, coaches continued to motivate, but never pushed the panic button.
Top of the third inning, bats came alive and we narrowed the score to within two runs and again into their bullpen. Our second pitcher from Ponoka with a rising pitch count provided the gutsiest performance anyone player can provide. He didn’t get down he just got better and his pitch count came down as well.
He sparked our team with his performance and his teammates repaid him with more runs, a couple of defensive glove gems in centerfield and second base and a laser beam throw from right field that threw out a would be baserunner trying to stretch a single into a double. He left the game with the lead and our bullpen was lights out again.
Over the next five innings the Mariners outscored the Padres 19-2 and a tournament best 3-0 record.
Sunday July 22
Mother Nature returned and delayed the start of the championship game, Sunday. The last game from Saturday night was postponed due to more rain and Sunday meant a later start.
We returned to play our last round robin game about 3.5 hours later than planned and unfortunately it showed as we kicked and threw away another good start from our pitcher. Unfortunately it was not our day.
Our bats went cold and mental mistakes on the base paths stopped rallies. So after a tough fight Sylvan Lake finished 3-1 and top seed going into the championship game.
After a tough Game Four loss, a team meeting with parents was held and the athletes had about three hours to shake it one off and come back ready to play with a smile on their faces.
Sylvan Lake Mariners vs. Marwayne Huskies
Another great game as Marwayne’s only loss in the round robin came from Sylvan. The biggest difference on this day was we had three fresh arms.
By the third inning our starting pitcher was throwing hard and our bats followed with a bases clearing homerun, followed by some great “small ball” the Mariners were feeling pretty good about themselves.
After almost five innings the Mariners starting pitcher maxed out at 95 pitches, time for the bull pen call.
Two pitches later we were out of the fifth inning. The sixth inning had a couple of walks to start the inning and then a picked off runner at third and we were on our way again. Middle reliever ended up getting a strike out and an inning ending ground ball to shortstop to stop the rally.
The seventh inning and we decided to go with our closer to finish it off and boy did he do just that.
The Sylvan Lake Bantam “A” Mariners were named the Baseball Alberta Bantam “A” Tier 1 Champions for 2018.
The coaching staff wants to start off by saying thanking the 14 athletes. “You guys, and gals, will not replace how I felt in 2017, but I have made a special place for you.:
Lucas says he will never forget the team and the memory of the win “is just as great.”
Lucas said the the members of the coaching staff played a big part in the team’s win at provincials. He also called the team manager “the string that tied the team together.”
At the time of this writing there are still have four “AA” Mariners teams in contention for Provincial Gold in 2018.
The Sylvan Lake “AA” Mosquito Mariners and “AA” Bantam Mariners play for the gold July 27-29.
The “AA” Pee Wee Mariners and “AA” Midget Mariners will be hosting the Tier 2 and Tier 3 Championships games at Four Season Park over the August-long weekend.
The Bantam “A” Mariners were not the only champions over the July 20-22 weekend. Sylvan Lake Pee Wee “A” Mariners captured the Tier 4 Baseball Alberta Championships.
“You don’t need a ticket to see some of the best baseball in the world. You just need to drive one of the players to the game”
Submitted by Ryan Lucas, Sylvan Lake Bantam “A” Mariners Head Coach