Most of the players on the Brandon Knights have played baseball with each other for years, and the chemistry they have developed will be even more important this week at the western Canadian Midget AAA championship in Chilliwack, B.C.
Since the provincial championship tournament ended in Morden on July 27 — with Brandon falling 10-4 to Midwest in the final — the Knights haven’t been able to practise as a team or play exhibition games.
The players all had different commitments — ranging from playing in the Baseball Canada Cup to being picked up for other national or western tournaments to suiting up on senior teams in their league finals — which hasn’t allowed Knights head coach Brad Schoonbaert to get everyone together to prepare for westerns, which runs from Thursday through Sunday.
While the team hasn’t been together in nearly a month, Schoonbaert doesn’t believe it will be an issue since his players have all been playing high-quality ball.
"Everybody is playing, so that’s the key. I do want to get the boys together once or twice before we go for a spruce up," he said. "It’s been darn close to a month. I don’t think (lack of chemistry) will be an issue."
Brandon has picked up Reagan Johnson and Brad McLeod from Pembina Hills to solidify the roster that will rely on the arms of Marshal Burgess, Mitch Lyall, Clark Whelpton, Jordan Robertson as well as Johnson and McLeod to shut down opponents. Solid defence and good fundamentals are also keys Schoonbaert pointed to for the Knights to be competitive in the six-team event.
However, Schoonbaert admits it’s hard to prepare for this tournament. The Knights have only four graduating players, which means they’ll be facing teams with older players and squads they aren’t used to seeing. He also feels the teams from Alberta and British Columbia — with two representatives from each province — will be very strong.
"We’re a little bit unfamiliar, but we also know the competition will be top level," Schoonbaert said. "You have to go in even-keel and realize that when you get there that it’s just another ball team you’re playing and all you can control is how you play.
"If you’re overmatched, you’re overmatched, but go and play good fundamental baseball and if you consistently do that then most days you’re going to compete."
The Knights open the tournament on Thursday when they take on the Saskatoon Diamondbacks. The round robin continues through Sunday, which is also when the top two teams will meet in the final.
This will be the final time Dylan Haney, Mason Hodgson, Clark Whelpton and Kyle Johnston will play for the Knights, and while westerns may have special meaning for them, Schoonbaert hopes the other players enjoy the tournament as well.
"Any time you qualify to go to these big events, you can’t take it for granted," he said. "You obviously had a good run and you may never go again, so you definitely have to cherish it."