The Red Deer Carstar ‘AAA’ Braves had an action-packed weekend on their home field at Great Chief Park. The last of their four games against the Fort McMurray Oil Giants saw a good battle between the two teams.
The Braves were off to a good start taking the first win of the three game series on Saturday afternoon in the first of the day’s double header held at 3 p.m. but fell short later in the day.
The third game on Sunday saw the Braves down by one in the bottom of the seventh with a score of 4-3 and the bases loaded. Unfortunately the Braves were unable to push a run across the plate to take the win.
New to the team this year – head coach Todd Labranche said Sunday’s game could have went better but considering a minor roster depletion due to injuries and other commitments he says the team is coming together nicely.
“We made some mental mistakes that allowed them to score a few runs and we weren’t able to come back,” said Labranche, who added starting pitcher Mike Ozga played well. “He threw an incredible game and kept us in it.”
He added one of the team’s core players – Kelsey Lalor was among those missing from the roster on Sunday’s game as she was away trying out for a national team in hopes of heading to the PanAm games in Toronto this summer.
“She’s a great ball player and fundamentally sound,” said Labranche of the team’s only female player who has started a number of games for the team as shortstop. “She wasn’t just an add-on or a later addition – she was one of the core players for our team coming out of try outs.
“She hits high in the batting order which says a lot of her ability.”
With only three senior players on the team, and no utilization of the allowance to roster three over-age players – the Braves certainly have a road of building ahead of them according to the coach.
“A main focus for us as a coaching staff is getting our players up from that Bantam level of hitting to midget level hitting because the pitching is quite a bit faster,” said Labranche on his young team. “We need to go up there with a plan and ensure we can hit with runners in scoring position and that’s something we’ve been preaching all season.”
He added the coaching staff, which consists of himself, his son Greg Labranche, Braves graduate from the 2014 season, Ty Elliot, as well as former Brave Willie Mulligan, have been drilling the players extensively to prepare for the season and practicing as much as possible in hopes of making it further than the team did last year.
“We work hard in practice, our philosophy as a coaching staff is to ensure that practices are difficult so that games seem easy in comparison and become second nature to them,” he explained of the out-of-game preparation. “Players on this team need to come prepared with not only the skill but the mindset also.
“We are really focusing on the thinking aspect to help take them to the next level, which includes a lot of situational hitting and situational defense so they know exactly what they need to be doing.”
He added a strong coaching staff will be fundamental if the team hopes to make it to Tier provincials at the end of the season – which he says is the goal for the team thus far.
“The players all respect their coaches’ individual abilities and each one of them brings something very different to the coaching staff,” he explained of his assistant coaches. “It allows the players to really learn a lot from people who played at those higher levels of baseball,” he said.
“Every single time we are stepping on that field whether it’s for a game or a practice – we are learning something new as a team and as individual athletes.”
The Braves’ next home game will take place on May 20th against the Okotoks Dawgs with the first pitch taking place at 6:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park.