The Stettler Sliders didn’t leave anything to chance in winning the provincial mosquito A Tier 3 baseball championship at Red Deer’s sprawling Great Chief Park.
The Sliders crushed their competition in both the preliminary and playoff rounds. All of their victories ended prematurely, because of the mercy rule, including a 10-1 win over Coronation in the five-inning final.
From their opening 13-1 victory over Red Deer Red, the Sliders — ages eight to 11 — looked and played like the class of the six-team tournament.
“They came out flying,” said Stettler head coach Brent Kranzler, whose assistants were Troy Anderson, Glen Morbeck and Jamie Muhlbach.
“It’s the same core group for hockey and for baseball — they’re all used to each other, they’re comfortable with each other, and that meshes a team together. Not only are they athletic, they’re friends as well.
“They love baseball. It’s unbelievable, just the things they talk about, the things they do, the little things in practices and games. It’s quite neat to watch how, at this age already, how much they’ve matured. I’m just very excited about the future of these kids, because they’re going to be something else.”
The Sliders opted not to add any of the allowable over-agers, which in their case would have been two 12-year-old peewees.
Stettler’s mosquito travel team was made up of 11 players selected from tryouts involving kids from the town’s three mosquito teams, Kranzler said. “We had to make a few cuts.
“In June, we try to pick the team and get a bunch of practices in, because our first provincial playdowns were the third week of June, so we had to have the team picked by the start of June.”
The Sliders’ best competition actually came before the provincials in playdowns featuring east-central Alberta teams. Those worthy opponents locally included Wainwright, which won the Tier 1 provincials, and Provost, which took home provincial gold at the Tier 2 level.
“In my mind, I think the (regional) playdowns were as good as the Tier 1 provincial round-robin,” Kranzler said. “I mean, all the teams were so close. We tied the Tier 1 champion, we tied the Tier 2 champion, and we ended up winning Tier 3 quite handily.
“But Coronation did give us a run in the playdowns, so we expected a little bit better competition (in the provincial final), but we threw our best pitcher, our bats came alive, and the better team obviously won in the end.”
Facing a pair of Red Deer teams, Barrhead, Sherwood Park and Coronation at the provincials, Stettler was seemingly in a league of its own.
“I was kind of surprised that (our scores) were lopsided,” Kranzler said. “But for the most part, I knew that the round-robin games weren’t going to be hard. Getting into semis, depending on your pitch count, you could run into problems. But I knew going in that us and Coronation were definitely going to make the final. I thought the final was going to be a lot closer.
“But we rested all our good pitchers and our kids’ bats came alive. They came out in a timely fashion. We were getting amazing defence and exceptional offence.”
Stettler was 4-0 overall, including a 16-5 preliminary victory over Barrhead and a 14-7 win over Red Deer Blue in semifinal play. Coronation, which beat Red Deer Red 14-11 in the other semifinal, was unbeaten before falling to Stettler in the gold-medal game.