OLDS — The Olds AA 15U Spitfires baseball team is getting ready to host the Tier 1 AA Provincials Aug. 27-29.
Head coach Brendon Mix says win or lose, the provincials will cap a pretty eventful year for the team.
Not only did the Spitfires overcome the ups and downs of COVID-19 restrictions in the spring, but they found out just how good they are – that they can compete with teams from larger cities when they won a Tier 1 AA tournament in Sherwood Park earlier this season.
During an interview, Mix noted that normally, the season would run from March to the end of June, with major tournaments like provincials occurring during the August long weekend.
But this year was different.
Their season was interrupted with a three-week break in May, due to COVID restrictions.
“With COVID, it’s been an eventful season and one we initially weren’t expecting to still be a part of,” Mix said during an interview.
“And provincials is the AA Tier 1 as well, which for our AA level, that’s the highest tier we can still be competing in so it’s really exciting for our group of kids.”
Mix said winning the tournament in Sherwood Park was a real confidence booster for the team.
“(The fact) that we won that tournament kind of, you know, helped the kids realize where they sat in the province,” Mix said.
“Not every team that we’ll be playing against in provincials, but a lot of them were there.
“I think sometimes, you know, coming from a little bit smaller town, when you’re playing some of the St. Alberts and some of the bigger communities, you might typically think that they’re always better, just because they’re bigger.
“I think for our coaching staff and the parents, you could see the confidence from the kids grow that weekend and then throughout the rest of the season, realizing there's no reason they can't sort of beat anyone, type-of-thing.”
Mix said his team is well balanced offensively and defensively.
He said the offence, combined with strong pitching, gives the Spitfires a good chance to make it through the round robin and at least into the semi-finals.
“I think our depth is one of our strengths,” Mix said. “I would probably highlight our pitching depth and our hitting depth.
“Our group of hitters, if you get two or three kids out, we can have a different two or three kids beat you in a game, type-of-thing.
“So I feel like for the opposing pitchers, all the way through the lineup, they have to work (to get us out). Our offence will make you work every at-bat. There’s no at-bats off.”
Mix says another positive aspect of the team is that it’s close. He notes this year, it includes a couple of players from Carstairs and Sundre.
“I haven’t coached every year of these kids, and as I said, we’ve had a couple of kids who are new to the program, but I haven’t seen a group that’s really jelled together the way these kids have,” Mix said.
“It makes it easy for our coaching staff to come to the ballpark and put in all the preparation and the time and energy it takes to prepare for practices and games when the kids seem to enjoy being on the field as much as this group does.”
He's also grateful for the support the team has received from its parent group, several of whom have served as coaches and/or volunteered in other ways.
Mix says the provincials should create a real shot in the arm for the Olds economy, attracting close to 100 people as people come out to support the eight teams in action from across the province.
They’ll stay in local hotels and motels, eat in local restaurants and visit other businesses in the community.
He agrees it’s also a chance to promote the new Rotary Athletic Park where many – if not all – of the games will be played.