PEI came to Canada Cup to medal
* LHP JP Stevenson (Bedeque), headed to Les McTavish‘s Vauxhall Academy this fall, helped Prince Edward Island start the 24th annual Canada Cup with a two-hit, shutout win over Newfoundland ….
By Todd Devlin
LONDON, Ont. — Jason Monaghan believes if you’re going to set goals, you might as well aim high. So when the head coach of Prince Edward Island’s Youth Selects team met with his staff early in the year to discuss their outlook on the season-ending Canada Cup tournament, the focus was clear.
“We set a goal to walk away with a medal,” Monaghan said quite matter-of-factly following his team’s tournament-opening win on Wednesday afternoon — a 3-0 defeat of Newfoundland & Labrador. “A lot of guys [in the past] have come out here and settled … anywhere from fifth to ninth place type of thing. I didn’t want to come here with that assumption that everyone is better than us.”
And so his team put in the work. Monaghan stepped up the program in his second year at the helm and spent countless hours on the field with his province’s top high school-aged ballplayers this summer.
“I think we’re seeing the results of it,” he said. “The last couple of weeks of our season have been really good, so we seem to be peaking at the right time. Hopefully that will carry on through and the boys will come to play this week.”
That was certainly the case in their first game at the 2012 Canada Cup, as they walked away with a shutout victory in the tournament opener. PEI ace JP Stevenson (Bedeque) earned the win, tossing seven scoreless innings and allowing two hits and a walk while striking out six.
The left-handed Stevenson, who is 15 years old, says he’s fully on board with Monaghan’s Canada Cup goals.
“We’ve have a good team this year,” he said. “We’re really aggressive on the base paths, and we play a lot of small ball to move guys around.”
To be frank, that’s something the PEI team will have to do with great success in order to come away with a medal. Based on population alone, Canada’s smallest province always comes into national tournaments as an underdog against the likes of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, the notorious baseball powerhouses in the country. Alberta and BC also house elite baseball schools, while Ontario has a number of elite travelling summer teams that make a real difference in the talent level of high school-aged players.
But Monaghan is a believer. He sees plenty of positives within the community in PEI which is why he founded the Eastern Baseball Academy three years ago when he returned from his own collegiate career south of the border. And from what he’s seen, he believes the sport is growing in the province.
“I think it is, especially for this age group,” he said. “I find a lot more kids are interested in seeing what opportunities are out there, which is good to see. And this team [Youth Selects] is something that 12 and 13-year-olds can look forward to when they get a bit older.”
The PEI talent has been on display in London this week. Besides Stevenson’s gem, the team got a nice performance from another 15-year-old — Spencer Horne (Cornwall) — who limited Manitoba to one run in an 8-1 victory on Thursday. The right-hander issued seven walks, but he held the Manitobans to three hits while striking out seven.
In between those contests, right-hander Taylor Larkin (St. Peters) also delivered a strong outing — two runs on four hits with six strikeouts over six innings — despite coming away with a loss in a 4-0 game against New Brunswick. This fall, Larkin will head to Niagara Community College.
And the offense has picked things up. Despite hitting just .212 on the tournament thus far, the team scored 12 runs in their last two contests. Dylan McKenna (Cornwall) and Willem Slauenwhite (Cornwall) have led the way, each going 5-for 12 (.417).
Still, getting to the playoff round won’t be an easy task for the PEI squad. With an 8-4 loss to Saskatchewan on Friday night, Canada’s smallest province now holds a record of 2-2 and sits in a tie with Saskatchewan and trails both Manitoba and Nova Scotia by a half-game in Pool B.
But the important thing is, they’re still in the mix. And whether they have to play an extra game to advance to the winner’s crossover, Monaghan says he’s confident in his team and he believes they’re hungry to do whatever it takes.
“We have a lot of guys that are well-developed … a lot of second-year guys,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “and a lot of guys, frankly, that are sick and tired of losing and want to win.”