The Yorkton Bantam ‘AAA’ Cardinals have struggled so far this season and while their regular season struggles carried over to tournament play, they went 0-4 during the 22nd annual Melville Baseball Tournament this past weekend, positives were spotted.
One of the positives for the Bantam Cardinals came in the form of their bats. For much of the season the Cardinals have struggled offensively, however in Melville they showed flashes of brilliance, something head coach Kevin Shirtliffe also noticed as the weekend progressed. “We were scoring some runs, getting a little bit of run support for our pitching which is something that had been lacking as of late so that was positive,” offered Shirtliffe, before touching on the fact that the defence played strongly 90% of the time as well. “In most games we played six innings of really good ball, some of the better ball we have played this season actually. We just need to work on that one bad inning before playoffs.”
Shirtliffe also noticed one player in particular that stood out throughout the tournament. “I was impressed with Matkowski (Brayden Matkowski) working in relief on the weekend,” offered the coach. “He had consistent control and gave up a very high percentage of ground balls.”
On Saturday the Cardinals faced the Regina Pacers; a team that they had struggled against all season long.
Coach Shirtliffe opted to go with a pitching by committee strategy in order to save arms for the rest of the tournament, meaning that while Grady Hawkins got the start on the mound, he only threw 35 pitches before being replaced by Kaito Farquharson.
Farquharson tossed 35 pitches before giving way to Montana Johnson who, after 35 pitches, turned the ball over to Zach Goulden-Maddin for the remainder of the game. The 35 pitch strategy allowed Shirtliffe to not only get four different pitchers valuable in-game experience, it also ensured that all four pitchers would be available to pitch on Saturday due to having a low pitch count.
The strategy also nearly paid off for Shirtliffe and company in Game One. The two teams traded runs in the first inning and the 1-1 score lasted until the top of the sixth inning when Regina plated three to take a 4-1 lead.
Bailey Bourget scored for the Cardinals in the bottom half of the sixth inning to make it 4-2, however a five run explosion in the top of the seventh gave the Pacers an insurmountable lead and while Yorkton managed to score one more run it simply wasn’t enough as the Cardinals fell 9-3 in the tournament opener to the Regina Pacers.
But with defeat comes small victories, such as a 3-for-3 performance at the plate by Kaito Farquharson. Bourget also broke out of his offensive shackles, smacking a hard line drive into right-centre that went all the way to the fence for a stand-up double in the sixth inning.
Saturday saw the Cardinals play two games, the first against Swan River Royals and the second against the Swift Current Indians.
Swan River scored two in the first, two in the third, one in the fourth and two in the fifth while Yorkton scored four runs in a late seventh inning rally but fell short in the 7-4 ball game.
Grady Hawkins once again got the nod for the first game of the day, picking up the loss while striking out six and walking seven over five innings of work.
Both Ashton Shewchuk and Montana Johnson continued to resurrect the Cardinals offensive game. Shewchuk went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in the loss while Johnson went 2-for-2 with a triple, a walk and a run.
The late inning offence from the morning game carried over to the second game of the day against Swift Current as Yorkton scored in the first four innings to take an 8-2 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.
Then the wheels fell off. Swift Current scored two in the fourth, three in the fifth and seven in the sixth to take a commanding 14-8 lead into the seventh and final inning; an inning in which the Cardinals could muster just one run, resulting in a forgettable 14-9 loss to send the Cardinals into the final day of the tournament with no hope of playoffs.
Zach Goulden-Maddin got his first start of the season and went deep into the game, going 5.2 innings before turning the ball over to reliever Dylan Novak and, eventually, Brayden Matkowski.
The Yorkton Bantam ‘AAA’ Cardinals took a 0-3 record into the final day of the tournament. With the playoffs but a distant dream, the only thing they had on their minds was beating the Biggar D-Backs and leaving Melville on a positive note.
But Biggar had different ideas as the D-Backs scored a run in each of the first two innings off of starter Kaito Farquharson before beating up the relief pitcher Matkowski for three runs in the sixth inning.
The five Biggar runs, combined with strong D-Back pitching resulted in Yorkton’s fourth loss of the tournament in the form of a 5-0 setback.
Farquharson shouldered the loss for Yorkton in Game Four despite striking out 11 Biggar batters over five innings of work.
Following the final game of the tournament, Bantam Cardinals head coach Kevin Shirtliffe mentioned that, while it’s never good to go winless in a tournament, he used it as a chance to prepare his team for league playoffs and Provincials. “We wanted to give everybody some work this weekend,” offered the head coach, continuing, “We’ve got playoffs and Provincials and that sort of thing coming up so this weekend we really tried to put some guys in who hadn’t seen some work in a while up on the mound.
“We wanted to get them some work and some experience on the mound for the two tournaments we have coming up here.”
The Yorkton Bantam ‘AAA’ Cardinals will wrap up their regular season this weekend when they play a pair of make-up games. On Saturday the Cardinals will host the Regina Buffalos before travelling to the Queen City on Sunday for a date with the Pacers.
The following weekend will be league playoffs in Regina with the weekend after that being Provincials in Saskatoon.