By Dustin Saracini
Canadian Baseball Network
Twenty-two athletes from the Okotoks Dawgs Academy grew all too familiar with the Rogers Centre this past weekend.
Eight teams from across Canada, represented by the highest calibre of talent north of the border, went toe-to-toe at the Tournament 12 showcase in Toronto.
Spread through the Alberta, British Columbia, Prairies and Atlantic squads, the Academy suited up more representatives than any other organization. Whatever colour they wore, the Dawgs were proud to be a part of the brotherhood that brought them there.
“Best program in Canada,” Academy infielder LaRon Smith said without hesitation.
“It’s incredible when you get 22 guys in the biggest tournament all across Canada,” pitcher Graham Brunner chimed in.
Prior to the first day of action, Smith committed to Indian Hills, a NJCAA division one school in Iowa, while 17-year-old Brunner is currently being scouted by Iowa Western, Central Arizona, Northern Kentucky and Oregon State University.
Learning under an all-pro coaching staff headlined by Roberto Alomar, Sandy Alomar Sr, Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Carlos Delgado, Lloyd Moseby, Paul Quantrill, Devon White and Duane Ward, the Academy took home an experience they won’t soon forget.
Situated behind home plate or in foul territory down the first baseline, these Toronto legends -- many of whom you can find on the Level of Excellence -- paid special attention, tweaked mechanics and made sure each and every player developed their game mentally and physically.
“Roberto is always positive with the guys,” Academy and team Alberta coach Allen Cox said.
“He always says, ‘I was there, it depends on what you want to get out of it, have some fun with the game, enjoy it and take it as far as you can.’ He’s here every game. [Lloyd] Moseby, these guys are here every game, it’s unbelieveable. Normally, you get some guys who parachute in and are in and out, these guys are here every single day and every game throughout the tournament.”
“I’ve been getting lots of tips and lots of help from all the pros,” Smith said in his second year at the T12.
“I’ve been soaking it all in and just love what they’re telling me, it’s working for me.”
Smith finished the tournament with a .462 batting average -- the highest on team Alberta -- three RBI and a pair of multi-hit games while getting looks at third base and shortstop.
The four-day event included a scout day and a weekend full of round robin action. A handful of matchups pitted Dawgs against Dawgs.
“They were talking [to each other] all the way, walking in through the dugout, they were talking some smack,” Cox smiled.
“It’s good and it’s all in fun. They love each other and they are buddies and they want to beat each other at the same time. It’s a good culture and good family.”
When the dust cleared, team Atlantic came away with their second T12 championship, and Academy player Micah McDowell was named tournament MVP. McDowell walked away from the weekend with a .308 batting average and an OPS of .708 while stealing four bases and driving in two runs.
For Alberta, the club who had 12 Dawgs on the roster, their tournament was cut short via a walkoff loss to Quebec in the semifinals. Team British Columbia finished with a 1-3 record while the Prairies capped off the showcase at 2-2.
The tournament was more than just wins and losses, though. It provided a platform for improvement and a unique opportunity to learn in a professional environment. For Cox, his players brought a different mentality.
“[They were doing] the little things, taking the extra base, getting down the line as hard as they could, they were beating out some ground balls,” he said.
“You can see the different hustle, the different type of kid, I’m really impressed with that … When guys get down the line on a routine ground ball, that’s the culture we are trying to create.”
From the eyes of Brunner, sharing the mound with professional pitchers was worth the price of admission.
“It was real,” he said.
“The first time I stepped on the mound it definitely woke me up, just to think of all the guys that had been there, who had been on the mound, been in the batter’s box, it was crazy … just to be in that atmosphere, it was pretty sweet.”
Brunner took a no-decision in his only start against Ontario, pitching five frames while striking out nine. Behind him, Noah Matsubara and Jack Marlin pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball in a 4-4 draw.
Following the final out, it was evident the T12 experience is one that cannot be duplicated. The star-studded coaching staff continued to provide a ladder up at the grassroots level, allowing young Canadian talent to gain exposure that was never possible prior to its inception in 2013.
In terms of the Academy, this year was another step in the right direction, sending four additional players to the tournament from 2016. Stepping back, the program ended an incredible 2017 where they saw 100 per cent of their graduated players commit to play at the collegiate level next fall.
Tristan Peters: 5-8, 3 RBI, 2 R, .625 AVG
Tyler McWillie: 4-8, R, RBI .500 AVG
Noah Geekie: 2 IP, H, 4 K
Ryan Olcholway: (1-0) 5 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 5 K
Micah McDowell: 4-13, 2 RBI, 4 R, .308 AVG (MVP)
Noah Matsubara: 3-8, 2 R, .375 AVG - 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 K
Galvin Logan: 3-11, RBI, 2 R, .273 AVG
LaRon Smith: 6-13, 3 RBI, 2 R, .462 AVG
Michael Johnson: 1-2, R, .500 AVG
Brendan Logan: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 K
Branden Woods: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 K
Graham Brunner: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 9 K
Jack Marlin: 0.2 IP, 0 H 0 ER, 2 K
Dryden Howse: 2 IP, 0 H 0 ER 0 K