The Brandon Cloverleafs will count on a deep pitching staff — including Anthony Friesen, who led the team with four wins and a 1.62 earned-run average — as they represent Manitoba at the Canadian senior baseball championship next week in Windsor, Ont.
It has been over two weeks since the Brandon Cloverleafs last played a competitive baseball game, and they hope there won’t be a lot of rust showing when they take the field at the national senior men’s national baseball championship next week.
The Cloverleafs, who earned the right to represent the province by winning the Manitoba Senior Baseball League title last year, haven’t played since they were eliminated from the MSBL semifinals on July 30. However, the team and some of the players they’ve picked up have been busy practising three times a week to prepare for the five-day tournament, which starts Thursday in Windsor, Ont.
"We’ve been getting in a lot of ground ball and a lot of (batting practice) and a little bit of live hitting as well," said Cloverleafs head coach Ryan Potter. "We’ve had a couple pitchers throwing some live batting practice for the guys just to keep them sharp.
"We didn’t finish in the playoffs where we would have liked. We weren’t hitting very well at that time. We’re hoping those bats will come around again and we can hit considerably better than we did in the playoffs."
In addition to the majority of their lineup from the season, the Cloverleafs have added some key pieces. Mitch Olson, who shared the league lead with four home runs, and Cole Stober, a right-handed pitcher with a 2.17 earned-run average, are coming from the Reston Rockets to help the Cloverleafs as well as Ryan Boguski from the Brandon Marlins, who sported a .318 batting average.
While adding Olson and Boguski will help the batting lineup, Potter believes the strength of the Manitoba representatives will be the pitching staff, which consists of Ryan Johnson, Matt Mutcheson, Cole Stober, Sean Dryden, Kyle Nixon, Ryan Shaw and Anthony Friesen.
"We certainly have lots of pitching," Potter said. "That’s one thing that you go down there every year and you wonder if you have enough pitching. This year we have lots of arms and I’m excited about that opportunity. I think (the team’s strengths) will be pitching and defence still, but I think our offence will be fairly strong with an even mix of right-handed and left-handed hitters."
Although Potter likes his team, he knows nationals will be very tough. Manitoba has been placed in a pool with a New Brunswick team that features former Toronto Blue Jay Matt Stairs, the host Windsor team that won the event two years ago and finished second last year, as well as teams from British Columbia and Alberta.
The Cloverleafs, however, are a very experienced group.
This will be their fifth appearance at nationals in the last seven years. Brandon’s best finish was winning a silver medal in 2007.
That experience should pay off as the players are no long nervous when they play their first game, which comes against New Brunswick on Thursday.
That experience, along with knowing the level they have to play at, has Potter hoping his team can contend for a playoff spot and eventually a medal next week.
"Obviously you want to go out there and win, and if everybody plays well, you can win," he said. "The best team on paper doesn’t always win as you know. Certainly you want to out there and just have guys perform at a peak level and when that happens you give yourself a chance to win and I think if we have that happen this time out we’ll have a chance."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 17, 2013