BY ZACHARY CORMIER
They may still be young, but the Lacombe Dodgers’ PeeWee AA team showed that they have nerves of steel at the Baseball Alberta Tier II Provincials in Olds earlier this month.
In a Cinderella story reminiscent of one of those inspirational sports movies, the Dodgers, who went into the final tournament of the year as the eighth seed in the province, put on the performance of a lifetime to surge to provincial gold with a stunning 10-9 victory over the Strathmore Reds in Sunday’s championship game on Aug. 7th.
“I was shell shocked. I’m not going to lie about that. It was unbelievable,” said Dodgers’ PeeWee AA Head Coach Leanne Chatwood of her team’s performance in the tournament, which ran from Aug. 5th- 7th in Olds.
According to Chatwood, it has been a season of ups and downs for the young baseball team.
“We are a very inexperienced team. We had 13 players that we took on our roster and only four of those players were second years with AA experience,” she said, adding the remainder of the team’s roster was made up of four second year players with community baseball experience and five first year ball players.
“Skill-wise we were definitely Tier II. Right from the get go all of the coaches said definitely a Tier II, Tier III. But where we struggled was the experience. The baseball knowledge was very low, so we had to build quite a bit.”
Still, the team was eager to learn and worked hard throughout the season to improve their skills. That hard work showed on the field as the team did very well in the opening two rounds of the season.
“We had a record that placed us in the top of Tier II going into the third round,” Chatwood remembered.
But then life threw the Dodgers their first curveball, as the team lost five of their 13 players at the end of the second round for a variety of reasons, meaning they would have to play the third round, which Baseball Alberta uses to determine seedings for provincials, with the bare minimum number of players that a baseball team can field.
The team finished the round with a 2-5 record, putting them in eighth place in their tier, so they weren’t exactly riding high as they prepared for the all important provincial tournament.
“Our confidence was fairly low. Defensively the kids could definitely compete, but our bats just couldn’t seem to come alive. We could hit the ball at practice and before a game but as soon as they put a pitcher on the mound and us in the batter’s box we just couldn’t connect,” Chatwood said.
Luckily, reinforcements were on hand for the struggling group of ball players. The team picked up a trio of players from out of town to bolster their small roster. Two of those players were Evan and Adam Golby, who joined the team out of Coronation.
“They came in with a ton of skill. Two left handed pitchers, quite a bit of experience as well. Not only did they bring baseball skill, but they brought new fire and life to our kids,” Chatwood said of the Golby brothers, who were lights out on the mound for the Lacombe team throughout the tournament.
She added the new life became apparent in the first game of the tournament against the Edmonton Padres, which the Dodgers won 15-8.
“We came out on fire. Very consistent bats and probably scored maybe one or two runs an inning.”
The second game didn’t go quite as planned for the Dodgers, though, as they ran up against the first seed Calgary Cubs and suffered a setback to the tune of a 5-2 loss.
“They just hit the ball more than us,” Chatwood said.
Things weren’t looking much better in game three against the St. Albert Cardinals.
“We were down 9-5 going into the fifth and probably the biggest thing that really brought us forward was the bats took off after the fifth inning, scored a ton of runs then and really picked away at them,” said Chatwood of the game, which the Dodgers went on to win 18-12 thanks, in part, to the bat of young Lacombian Ryan McGarva, who went 4/4 and notched a staggering three triples to push his team to victory.
“Ryan has really struggled with his bat all season and for him to make it happen at provincials was unbelievable. He’s a very quiet and very shy kid, it seems, around adults and he was running around the bases with a smile on his face, so it was kind of cool for him,” Chatwood said.
After putting up another huge comeback in a semi-final match against the Innisfail Indians, which saw the Dodgers put up eight runs in the fifth inning — followed by a lead-off home run by Adam in the sixth — that set the stage for the Dodgers to continue their unlikely push for gold.
But there was just one more obstacle standing in their way.
“Strathmore actually had been brought down from Tier I. In round three they had moved up but because of their record they got dropped down to play Tier II. So we hadn’t seen them, we’d only seen them once and I think we were mercied by them once,” Chatwood said.
But the Dodgers would not be denied and despite trailing the Reds 8-5 in the fourth, the never say die team found a way.
Zach Scholing was money on the mound as the starter for the underdogs to keep the game close, and Evan continued that trend when he came in as relief for Scholing late in the game.
In fact, the lefty was able to pick off a runner before he even threw a strike. It was a play that Chatwood said may have been the turning point in the game.
“We saw these kids actually get excited and go, ‘Holy crap we can do this.’”
It came down to the top of the seventh inning with the go ahead run on third with first year Griffon Frook up to bat.
According to Chatwood, Frook is usually pretty anxious in the batters’ box. But this time the rookie stepped up and made contact with the ball to drive in the game-winning and eventually championship-winning run.
“Our winning run stepped on the plate and we went wild. It was definitely a surreal moment,” Chatwood said, adding she’s extremely pleased with how her team played over the course of the season.
“They never gave up and that’s something that no one can ever take away from them. They never quit, they never gave up and despite all of the feelings they rose to the top.”