Athletics have Giants in their sights

St. James looks to end Elmwood’s MJBL dynasty

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The Elmwood Giants rule the Manitoba Junior Baseball League.

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The Elmwood Giants rule the Manitoba Junior Baseball League.

Considering how they’ve won the last four championships, the only thing the seven other teams in the MJBL can do is nod their heads in agreement.

“They’re our target and everybody’s trying to get past those guys. There’s not a lot of liking towards them, that’s for sure,” said Bill Dauphinais, head coach of the St. James Athletics.

Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press The St. James A’s trail only the Elmwood Giants in the MJBL standings and are the only team to defeat the four-time defending league champs this season.

If there’s one club that can knock the Giants off the top of the mountain, it’s the A’s.

Elmwood (11-2) and St. James (11-3) sit in first and second place in the standings with less than half a season remaining.

Both of Elmwood’s losses came against St. James in a double-header on June 5.

The Giants hadn’t lost back-to-back games in the last five years.

“They threw Tyler Smith at us (in Game 1) and he’s a two-time MVP in this league and he just dominates. He came off a no-hitter in the game before that… And you know what? We played stellar defence, our bats came alive and we were able to hit Tyler at keys times and we won that game 3-1,” Dauphinais said.

“Our emotions were really, really high. And in a double-header, when you win one, you want the other one. So, in the second game there, we were down 5-0 and the guys scratched and clawed to come back and managed to win that one 7-6. Our confidence is sky high.”

Elmwood would answer back less than two weeks later with a 9-4 victory over the A’s. The two sides will close out the regular season against one another on July 15.

Outfielder Collin Yakiwchuk is in his final year of junior baseball for St. James. Yakiwchuk, a 23-year-old former U Sports ballplayer for the University of Calgary Dinos, said this year’s group doesn’t approach the game any differently when they see the Giants on the field.

“In Calgary, we had guys where we’d play a team and they’d be like ‘Oh this guy is being drafted and throws in the high 90s!’ That just gets in your own head and kind of takes the confidence away from you. So, when you go into that bat, you’re not as confident,” Yakiwchuk said.

“So what I tell the guys before every game we play is it doesn’t matter who’s pitching, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it doesn’t who’s hitting. We’re the best team in the league and we’re the best players. Baseball is 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent physical. If you think someone’s gonna beat you, they’re going to beat you.”

St. James and Elmwood aren’t the only two teams in the mix. The Altona Bisons are in third place with a 10-6 mark and stomped the A’s 10-0 last week. The Athletics managed to quickly put that one behind them and cruise past Winnipeg South in a pair of games on the weekend, winning 12-8 and 15-2.

Last year’s runner-up, the Pembina Valley Orioles, are 7-10 and one of five teams playing under .500. The Orioles have given up a league-high 117 runs.

“Our heads weren’t in the game that well. I just remember one inning especially where one error led to two errors, two errors led to three errors and it kind of just kept on going. We couldn’t get out of the inning and we just didn’t bounce back,” Yakiwchuk said.

“But I think it fired us up after… It was a reality check and I think we needed that as a team saying ‘Hey, we’re unstoppable, but we have to be 100 per cent for each game and we have to continue to strive for greatness.’”

The A’s already have more wins than they did all of last year as 2021 saw them go 8-10 and get bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. A big reason for their jump this year is several of their young players, such as infielder/pitcher Ryan Botterill, have taken big steps in 2022. Botterill, who also plays hockey for the Portage Terriers and is a cousin of former hockey stars Jennifer and Jason Botterill, pitched a complete game in the first meeting with the Giants and struck out 10 batters. The 18-year-old from Portage la Prairie will be one of the many players eligible to return in 2023, but their focus is currently on the present.

The A’s last won the MJBL’s crown in 2017, one year before the Giants started their run.

“We’re all older and more confident we can win games… Everyone’s coming together as a team and that’s the biggest thing right now,” said Botterill.

“… (Most of us) will be back next year so we’ll be wanting to win a few in a row here.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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