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Tuesday August 14, 2012
By: Remy Greer
They were the perennial favourites, the defending champion, the first seed, the home team and they delivered.
The Okotoks Dawgs Midget Black team repeated as provincial champions and for the second year in a row did so at the expense of the Sherwood Park Dukes Gold team, edging their northern rivals 5-2 in the gold medal game in front of a packed house at Tourmaline Field in Okotoks on Aug. 6.
“It’s good every time you win a provincial championship,” said Dawgs designated hitter Ramon Valdez. “But this one is great, with this team we gelled really well with the guys and I mean there’s nothing better than winning a championship with your best friends.”
Valdez said the team camaraderie and boisterous enthusiasm was what gave them the edge in the round-robin tournament.
“Take all the glamour away, the nice field and everything,” Valdez said. “The energy on the bench is the number one thing that gets us going every time.”
Dawgs catcher and Milwaukee Brewers draft pick Chris Shaw got the Dawgs going and opened the scoring in the final with a sharp hit to deep left field in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI single from Layne Currie and an RBI slap double from leadoff hitter Eduardo Sanchez to give Okotoks a 3-0 lead.
Dawgs starting pitcher Wyle Cunningham avoided hazard through the first four innings before the Dukes loaded the bases in the fifth inning and scored two to make it interesting at 3-2.
The Dawgs responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Shortstop Alejo Lopez drove in Currie with a single to right, followed by a RBI on a fielder’s choice for designated hitter Ramon Valdez.
“Offensively these guys buy in,” said Dawgs head coach Brett Thomas. “We talk about looking for certain pitches, executing good swings on it, doing all the little stuff, putting bunts down.”
Valdez, the Dawgs’ most consistent hitter all season, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Expecting (it)? I wouldn’t say that,” Valdez said of the MVP honours. “But I worked really hard with the team to put in a good atmosphere out there and it was a really good thing to roll with it and try to help the team out and if you get MVP it’s just a bonus.”
On the bump, Okotoks was able to rest its big Dawgs for the final day of the tournament.
Thomas said the Dawgs’ depth in pitching allowed them to save their three go-to pitchers for the semifinal, pitched in dominant fashion by Shawn Andersen, and in the final, which was split by hurlers Cunningham and Jake Shaw.
“We were fortunate to have guys like Cole Slamko and Josh Hillis and Kurtis Taylor and Erik Kahl, guys that got us to this point that we were able to save those (other three) guys and pitch them on this big day,” Thomas said.
The Midget Black team advanced to the tournament final instead of their Dawgs academy counterparts, getting past the Midget Red Team 6-0 in the tournament semifinal. The Dawgs Midget White team also advanced to the final-four, but were eliminated in the other semifinal by the Dukes.
Thomas couldn’t say enough about the strength of his team and the academy as a whole following the gold medal performance.
“It’s obviously a proud feeling,” Thomas said. “These guys have worked so hard all year long and it’s a complete credit to them.”
The coaching from top-to-bottom in the organization no doubt contributed significantly to the back-to-back provincial titles, said Thomas.
“We’re fortunate in this program, I’m technically the head coach of this team, but there’s so many coaches that really take part in this,” Thomas said. “Tanner (Osberg) number one with the pitching staff is phenomenal, Allen Cox with our hitters,
Brandon Newell who helps a ton, Dave Robb, Scott Smith, Jeff Duda, Jim Henderson, Emerson Frostad in the off season, Frank Ingram, Tim Wimsatt, all those guys.
“It’s a complete organization win.”
Thomas accepted a coaching position with the College of San Mateo in his native California, making the provincial gold medal game his last in Alberta.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we won or lost, I told the guys before the game, ‘I’m so proud of you no matter what happens,’” Thomas said. “I feel blessed to have coached these kids and I feel blessed to have been a part of this program and I thank everybody.”
Thomas’ work with the Dawgs isn’t done quite yet. Okotoks, who finished 71-10 in Alberta this season, heads to the Midget AAA national tournament in Quebec City, Aug. 15-20.
“It’s the best kids in the province and they can pick up anybody… It’s a tough, tough fight,” Thomas said. “We were one game short last year so we’re hoping to win that one more game this year.”