There was a time when the Sudbury U14 Voyageurs would have been quite content to simply play competitive baseball within the Premier Baseball League of Ontario.
Times, they have changed.
Coming off a four game sweep of the London Badgers, on the road, no less, by scores of 17-12, 14-10, 17-4 and 12-7, the locals extended their current unbeaten streak to nine games, improving their season record to 15-3-2 and overtaking the Ottawa Nepean Canadians (12-5-1) for first place in the five team loop.
Preparing for his final season with the St Cloud State Huskies but home for the summer to tackle some coaching duties with the program for whom he once starred, Parker Savard acknowledged that there is plenty to like with this particular collection of northern Ontario talent.
“There’s a lot of potential,” said the infielder turned baseball mentor, who leveraged a pair of impressive seasons with Dakota County Technical College into a chance to compete in the NCAA. “From (player) one through seventeen, they can all pursue college baseball, if they want to.”
Racking up ten or more runs in seven of their outings to date, all while dropping two games by a pair of runs and another by a four-spot, the U14 Voyageurs are about as well-rounded as they come in these parts. “Our hitting and defense has come a long way,” said Savard. “Our pitching has always been there for us; we have a lot of depth with our pitching.”
Espanola native Braiden Paul can contribute in all of those areas, going 3-4 and driving in four runs in the series finale all while allowing just a single run in a 2 2/3 appearance in relief in the same game. “I envision myself as a two-way player, someone who can do both aspects of the game,” said the grade nine student at Ecole catholique La Renaissance.
Perhaps not at the level of Shohei Ohtani - but more than enough to find himself as yet another piece to the puzzle that will face the Canadians in the nation’s capital this weekend for a four game set. “Even when you pitch, you still get to hit, so I don’t find it that hard to balance the two.”
After struggling in the opening inning of a three-inning stint in game one – Paul settled down nicely, surrendering just a single run while recording the final six outs – the 14 year old who is back with the team after missing basically a full summer of baseball following a quad accident suggested that the key to finding his groove was all in his head – or rather, on top of his head.
“On Sunday morning, my stepmom braided my hair so that my hat wouldn’t fall off as much,” Paul said with a laugh. “My hat falling off all of the time really distracted me when I was pitching that first game.”
While Savard would love nothing more than to impart much of what he has learned in spending the past four years south of the border, hair maintenance is not likely at the top of his list. “The little nuances of the game are the next step for some of these players who are coming through the program,” he said.
“It’s learning to be smart on the base paths, what pitches to throw in what situations, what count to hit in. We had two out rallies almost every game. Even the small things: going first to third on a base hit or scoring from second on a hit is something they are learning.”
And it’s all happening in an environment that Savard and his fellow coaches truly appreciate.
“I was so happy to see the dugout chatter and the positivity around the team, whether we are winning or losing,” he said. “Guys were picking each other up. These are little things that will make a difference come the playoffs.”
In fact, the Voyageurs found themselves trailing 5-1 early in game one before the bats really got rolling, led by the likes of Ethan Oliver (2/4 – 4 RBI – 3 RS) and Gabriel Larocque (2/3 – 3 RBI – 2 RS). Chris St Germain was super tidy in pitching two scoreless innings while walking only one batter and giving up just one hit.
The balance of the Sudbury lineup was front and centre in game two as the likes of Owen Perron (2/2 – 3 RBI), Ryan Spencer (2/2 – 2 RBI – 3 RS) and Justin Dandeneau (2/2 – 4 RS) all rose to the occasion.
The game three mercy rule meant a little less time at the plate, though Dandeneau, Larocque, Spencer and Brody Mabbott all crossed the plate three times each while Hudson Fletcher registered a more-than-solid stat line as well (1/2 – 2 walks – 2 RBI – 2 RS).
More donuts from the pitching staff, this time courtesy of Mathieu Lacasse (2.2 IP – 0 runs – two hits), with Max Arnold getting the start in game four and keeping the Badgers at bay as the Voyageurs build up a 10-3 advantage before London came to bat for a second time.
Rounding out the Sudbury U14 Voyageurs roster are A.J. Dubeau, Ben Gervais, Cavan Clarke, Colton Nowoselsky, Ethan Thompson and Nicolas Dalcourt.