Manager Derek Shamray’s Midwest baseball team has plenty of big-game experience, with the core having been to a number of national and western Canadian championships.
This week they’ll face their biggest test yet as Midwest represents Manitoba in the Baseball Canada 18-and-under national championship in Magog, Que.
Midwest has eight players — Brody Smith, Riley Shamray, Dayton Heino, Adam Robidoux, Noah Lemoine, Keenan Lewis, Chad Kilimnik and Branden Hatley — who competed in the Canadian Bantam AAA championship last year when the team finished in ninth place with a 3-3 overall record. But that will make them one of the younger entries in the 18U championship with more than half the roster ages 16 and under.
"It’ll be a big step up all right," Derek Shamray said. "We’ll be playing against some 17-, 18-year-olds that are maybe going off to their first year of college and it will be a lot different.
"That’s the only way you get better in my mind is you play the best competition and hopefully they learn some things and get better."
Shamray said his team’s youth doesn’t change the goals for the championship.
"I think we have a good core group that can compete and hopefully come away with some wins," said Shamray, whose team will open the tournament Thursday morning against Prince Edward Island before facing Nova Scotia later in the day.
The team added some age and experience by picking up Marshal Burgess and Mitch Lyall, a pair of 17-year-olds whose Brandon Knights lost to Midwest in the provincial Midget AAA final. Those players and Hatley, a 16-year-old pickup from Morden, all go into the championship fresh off playing for Manitoba in the Baseball Canada Cup in Saskatoon.
"That’s all good experience and absolutely we were looking to get a little bit older," Shamray said.
While the Manitobans may not boast the firepower of some of their rivals, Shamray is looking for some good fundamental baseball to keep Midwest in contention.
"We sort of live and die with our pitching and defence and timely hitting," Shamray said. "So, hopefully, we can go out there and do the same, get some good defence and pitching and back-to-back timely hits."
The preliminary round runs until Saturday, with the top two teams from Manitoba’s pool of six provinces advancing to the medal round, while the rest of the squads will compete for the seventh through 11th placings.