The Little League Major Trail All Stars’ veteran presence will provide a strong foundation for a team looking for its first B.C. title since 1990.
As the All Stars prepare for the BC Little League Championships at Andy Bilesky Park next week, Trail’s four returning players from last year’s championship in Victoria – Cody Wert, Brady Augustin, Landan Uzeloc, and Calvin Morrison – have played a significant role in the All Stars early success, including a gold-medal win at the Kalispell Firecracker Baseball Tournament earlier this month.
Although, only 12 and 13 years old, the four young men are mature beyond their years and will lead a Trail All Stars team hungry to win a BC championship in front of their home crowd.
“I think the coaching staff, we’re all feeling pretty good,” said All Stars coach D. J. Ashman. “Everything is starting to come together, right.
“I think our team is really balanced and our pitching is deep. The biggest thing for us is we’re just going to have to hit. That’s going to be our big focus, and if we can hit, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Led by coaches Ashman, Mike Boisvert, Darrell Boisvert, and Brendan McKay, in past years, the All Stars worked out twice a day in the months leading up to the provincials, but the team is taking a different tack this time around.
“You know what I’m finding,” said Ashman. “Sometimes less is more. We’ve only been doing one morning practice a week, (in addition to afternoon workouts) and I mean the kids were exhausted at today’s practice … But we’re still getting lots of hacks, lots of reps. We’re getting five more games this weekend, we have a full week of practice next week, so we’re getting lots of work done.”
At the 2017 provincials, the All Stars lost a couple of heartbreakers by one run, ending up with a 1-5 record and out of the playoffs. But the experience has given the veteran returnees a fresh outlook and renewed confidence for 2018.
“I feel like I know a lot more about the game now, and I’m more confident,” said Trail’s Cody Wert. “I think we’ll do a lot better than we did last year. Our team’s looking a lot stronger, and we’re mentally stronger this year.”
After playing against teams like always-tough White Rock, the 2017 Canadian champion, the learning curve was a short one for All Stars ace Brady Augustin, who thinks home-field advantage may prove the difference.
“I find our team has more confidence, better hitting, better contact and I think our team has a good chance of going far in provincials,” said the Nelson native. “We just have to go in there with a lot of confidence and a good attitude, and I feel like we’ll get a lot of support from our sponsors and fans.”
Ashman agrees, and also believes playing in the cozy confines of Andy Bilesky Park, under a hot sun, in front of the home crowd will be a motivating factor for his team.
“I think it’s going to be good,” said Ashman. “The heat is going to be a big factor here for these Vancouver teams because they’re not use to it. So the heat and sleeping in their own beds are going to be good things.”
The 2016 Trail All Stars came within a run of a provincial championship, winning a silver medal after a 3-2 loss to Whalley in the final. This year’s team has the potential to go one step further, and All Stars shortstop Brandon Uzeloc’s takeaway from the 2017 provincials may prove key for the team’s success.
“We have to show up early in the games and not let them pump up the score and then start playing, we have to pump up the score on them.”
Uzeloc also says that the summer’s tournament games against Alberta and U.S. teams will prove beneficial for the upcoming provincials.
“I think they’ll help us prepare because the Lethbridge and Medicine Hat pitchers, they’re what we’re going to see in provincials, most certainly, so it’s just getting use to their pitching and making plays on the infield.”
And while defence and pitching may be the All Stars biggest strengths on the field, as for intangibles, Wert says the team’s biggest asset is it’s natural ability to communicate.
“We’re really good at talking,” said Cody. “We’re really good at boosting each others energy, like the pitchers. We’re always talking in the field, we’re always keeping everybody energetic and happy.”
As for confidence, catcher/outfielder Calvin Morrison, who clubbed a three-run homer in Trail’s 8-1 drubbing of Medicine Hat in the Kalispell final, has high expectations given the team chemistry and success throughout the summer.
“I think we definitely have a chance to win it this year, but we’ll see how it goes,” and no matter what, “We’ll be ready to go.”
Six teams will compete in the week-long tournament with the Welcome Banquet going on Friday at the Riverbelle, with a very special guest speaker.
The Trail All Stars are set to play their first game at 2 p.m. Saturday, immediately following the opening ceremonies at 12:30 p.m.
While the teams from the participating five Districts have yet to be determined, the competition will be fierce, and Ashman recognizes the need to keep the nerves in check and the butterflies from carrying the players’ focus away.
“The biggest thing we stress is just to have fun,” said Ashman. “When you get to play a game a lot of kids don’t get to play, only 13 kids get to play on this team, so you just got to have fun and take it all in, but most of all enjoy the experience.”
As final preparation for the BC championships, the All Stars travel to Chewelah, Wash. this weekend to play in the Chataqua Days Tournament.