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Slowing down the Cardinal express no easy task

In the world of local high-school baseball, a top of the rotation pitcher or two can go a long way towards levelling the playing field.

This fall, however, one senses that even this won’t be enough to derail the express that is the St Charles College Cardinals.

The two-time defending SDSSAA champions have played three games to date, facing the Confederation Chargers (15-0), the Bishop Carter Gators (14-0) and the Horizon Aigles (13-0).

Are you seeing a pattern here?

With a good number of starters from within the Sudbury Voyageurs’ rep summer program calling SCC home, the Cards have little to no apparent weaknesses.

“It’s a good team; on paper, it looks really good,” said St Charles coach Jean-Gilles Larocque. “But it’s not always the best team that wins – it’s the team that plays the best.”

Still, it would be tough to dispute that being able to field a starting lineup that pretty much all have provincial caliber summer ball experience is a great starting point for any championship squad.

“There is simply more depth than we’ve ever had before,” said Larocque. “We’re almost two deep at every position. And we have plenty of arms; we almost would not have to use the same guy twice in the same season, we have that many quality arms.”

The proof is in the pudding, a desert flavoured with three straight shutouts.

“The guys that we are asking to come in and pitch, I have seen pitch in the past,” stated Larocque. “They’re flooding the (strike) zone, which is good. Some of the players in the league who haven’t played ball at that level are a little blown away by the fastballs and stuff like that.”

If anything, the challenge for Larocque and co-coach Darren Michelutti is finding a way to ensure their talented roster maintains focus in games that are clearly not coming down to the final out.

“Yes, we’ve scored a lot of runs, but it has taken some of our hitters making adjustments because of different types of pitching that guys have had to face,” suggested Larocque. “The guys are staying with their approach, which for me, is huge. It’s helping to keep the guys engaged.”

And while coaching competitive baseball in Sudbury rarely carries with it the need to think of creative ways of maintaining player interest on a team that is winning by large margins, Larocque has identified some options that appear to be working.

“That’s when you start playing games within the game, in my opinion,” he said. “Maybe that’s using a scoring system with that context and not just the scoring system that is on the board.”

Said scoring system might involve points accumulated for playing the game the right way, displaying the positive habits that will be the foundation for future success in the sport. “If you’re going to take bases, take them smart and aggressively,” offered Larocque, addressing specific tasks to be rewarded.

“Hitting behind runners in certain positions, working on leads, just ways to keep them engaged.”

Thankfully, when he looks to the leader of this crew, Larocque has absolutely no worries. Shortstop Gavin Roy just gets it.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it doesn’t matter the score, this guy is just looking to compete all the time. He just seems to find a way to stay engaged in the game, to keep the other middle infielders engaged in the game. And now it seems like a lot of the guys have jumped in and are helping out, buying in.”

All of which can leave the opposition somewhat resigned to facing the facts.

“If we can finish second in the league, that’s our goal,” said College Notre-Dame Alouettes’ head coach Joey DiMaio, having led his team to three straight victories but staring a showdown with St Charles on Wednesday directly in the face.

“If we can make the final and give St Charles a competitive game, that’s the goal.”

Make no mistake, there is a pretty darned good core of talent at CND, built around siblings Ryan and Mathieu Lacasse, as well as cousins Max and Noah Portelance. All four are fresh off a summer of PBLO (Premier Baseball League of Ontario) competition.

“This will be a great test,” said DiMaio, looking to the battle of the unbeaten sides. “I think we’ll be competitive; I think my kids will put up a good fight. I will be shocked if we lose 15-0, to be honest.”

Much like Larocque, though maybe not quite to the same degree, DiMaio knows his way around a baseball diamond. His competitive days were under the guidance of coach Gerry Clyke, playing alongside George and Cummy Burton, Steve Forcier and so many others.

When his teaching career took him to Notre-Dame four years ago, his love of baseball followed in lockstep. “We had a bunch of bunch of rep ball players here that wanted to get into the league,” said DiMaio. “That first year, I had a very talented team. Last year, I would have had a good team as well.”

“This year, we have a lot of kids that have graduated or moved on,” DiMaio continued. “So now I have a good mix of younger and older kids. Out of my starters, I think five are in grade nine or ten.”

Leading the way, much in the same manner as Cardinals’ sparkplug Gavin Roy, is veteran pitcher Ryan Lacasse at CND. “He’s like an assistant coach out there, such a great kid,” said DiMaio. “And he’s an excellent pitcher.”

While St Charles and Notre-Dame are going head to head today, the chase pack will be looking to make up ground, with Lockerby (2-2), Horizon (2-3) and Confederation (1-3) all hoping to hit their stride just as the playoffs arrive.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League