By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Phil Craig-St. Louis was a part of a package deal for the University of Oregon.
Losing several recruits to the draft last year, the Ducks had to find a way to bolster their roster in a hurry, and after scouting the junior college circuit they were pretty sure they had found what they were looking for. From San Jacinto Junior College, they wanted left-handed hitting infielder Matt Eureste, and from Seminole State College, they were looking at lefties Brandon Cuddy and Craig-St. Louis.
“We needed some experienced left-handed corner bats,” Oregon head coach George Horton said. “So coach [Mark] Wasikowski went out and talked to [Seminole State head coach Lloyd] Simmons. [First baseman Brandon] Cuddy and St. Louis were kind of a package deal and boy, it’s a good thing we got them.
“We got Matt Eureste late too and Phil has stayed in there all year, Cuddy has had some major contributions, and Eureste was our leadoff hitter for a large part of our year, so all three of those guys were big additions to our program.”
The outfielder from Gatineau, Que., had just wrapped up an incredibly successful junior college career with the Trojans, hitting .352 over 57 games in his final season with 10 home runs, 64 runs scored and 49 runs driven in, and was named Canadian Baseball Network’s college player of the year, but before Wasikowski contacted him he didn’t know what his immediate future might hold.
“I left Seminole after my two years of [junior college] so I had to find another way to continue playing,” Craig-St. Louis said. “It kind of just happened, to be honest. Our coaches at Seminole were trying to help us go somewhere and I got a call in late June or at the start of July or something like that, and they were interested …
“It was really exciting. Before that I was talking to Hawaii a lot and it was about to become a closed deal with them, and then the coach from Oregon called and it kind of changed the ending … [The university] is awesome. Their facilities and everything are great. Everybody likes student-athletes there and we get a lot of love from everybody, so that’s awesome.”
After a 10-1 start to the year in February, the Ducks cooled off mid-season before regaining form in a 12-4 May en route to the Springfield Regional as the No. 3 seed in Missouri for the squad’s seventh post-season appearance in program history.
Entering the team’s second regional matchup on Saturday against Canisius College – after losing their Friday afternoon game to Iowa – Craig-St. Louis had posted a .300/.389/.386 slash line with two home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 32 runs and 37 RBIs over 60 games for Oregon as one of the team’s few mainstays in the lineup over the course of the year.
“We started out really good [this season] and then kind of just hit a hole,” he said. “We were playing out of character and everybody was just looking for something to happen. Then at one point we turned it around and we knew we had a bunch of fighters who were playing. We had a lot of injuries and players were playing who weren’t necessarily in the starting lineup from the beginning, and then everybody got comfortable and confidence started building up.”
That confidence is what Craig-St. Louis believes will help push his team forward as they look to continue on the road to Omaha, facing elimination on Sunday with another matchup against the Hawkeyes at Hammons Field in Missouri.
“We know that we can compete with anyone,” the 6-foot, 200-pound junior said. “The win against Oregon State and then taking two out of three against [the nation’s top-ranked team] UCLA [earlier in the season] showed us that basically we can beat everyone, and that we can compete against anyone.”
The Ducks knocked the Golden Griffins out of their NCAA Division-I championship round with a 12-6 victory over Canisius on Saturday. Though Craig-St. Louis and his team were happy to see them go, he was also grateful to get to catch up with another player from Quebec at the regional, playing against Griffs reliever and Valleyfield native Iannick Remillard for the first time in a couple of years.
“It was definitely fun to play against Rem,” he said. “I talked to him a little bit when I was in the outfield [and Remillard was in the adjacent bullpen], and it was fun to see him out there. He pitched really well too. Last time I saw him was a couple years ago in summer ball or something like that.”
Being one of just a few Canucks in the Pac-12 conference, Craig-St. Louis enjoyed seeing the most Canadian Division-I team in Canisius at the Springfield Regional. He always embraces his home country while he is away from La Belle Province and makes sure that everyone around him knows exactly where he is from.
“I try to represent Canada when I’m out there,” Craig-St. Louis said. “We’ve played against a couple [in our conference] but it’s fun to be different … and I’m very Canadian. I’m not the typical Canadian because I’m French, so I don’t have the [stereotypical] Canadian accent, but I do have a French accent, which they like because everybody wants to speak a little French.”
When Ottawa native and Oregon commit Demi Orimoloye came to visit the Ducks on campus earlier this year, Craig-St. Louis made sure to be one of the players to give the potential first-rounder a tour and show him the ropes.
“I did talk to Demi when he came to visit,” he said. “We showed him around a little bit, so that was fun. Hopefully he comes here. I mean, I hope for him that he gets drafted and goes to play pro ball, but we still kind of really want him here.”
Hitting out of the cleanup spot for the Ducks in the regional round of competition, Craig-St. Louis has been enjoying his own opportunity with the Ducks, and has been trying to take advantage of each chance along the way.
“I’m here to hit, so I’ve been just trying to stay in the lineup and they’ve been moving me around a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been hitting behind Mitchell Tolman, who is having a great year, so when [opposing pitchers] don’t want to face him, I just go up there and try to swing at good pitches and hit the ball hard … I’m enjoying every day.”
The Ducks are more than happy with what they’ve gotten out of their corner outfielder, Horton noting that his contributions have come in more ways than one.
“It’s not just the numbers and what he’s done on the field,” Oregon’s head coach said. “His maturity, his toughness, he takes what we call professional at-bats, he’s a great teammate, he has a good balance and he plays really hard, but he has fun playing really hard, and that’s contagious. He’s been a great addition to our program, he’s a great young man, on or off the field, is very well-received and has fit into our culture very well.”