Sultans preparing for opening pitch of MJBL season

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The Carillon Sultans junior team is ready to let the baseballs fly.

The Sultans are set to play a doubleheader against the St James A’s May 14 at A.D. Penner Park to open their season in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League (MJBL).

Rick Penner is helping coach the team alongside Joe Hartung, after Bryan Gerbrandt left the program at the end of last year.

Cedric Lagasse was brilliant for the Sultans 18U AAA team, and is looking to bring that success to the MJBL team. Lagasse nearly single-handedly secured the 18U team's spot in the provincial championship last season, pitching a complete game alongside hitting a walk off single to win the game in extra innings. (Cassidy Dankochik The Carillon)

“There’s not a lot for us to do at the junior level,” Penner said.

“These guys know what they’re doing, we’re not doing a ton of coaching. We’re having a few chats, we’re putting a lineup together trying to find balance.”

Penner said junior baseball doesn’t allow for the same season preparation as younger levels. With work commitments and players returning from college, he expects every team to be a little rusty to start the season.

The Sultans had only managed one practice as of May 8, with plans to squeeze in a couple more before the season-opener Sunday.

“Everybody’s rusty,” Penner said, noting he’s hoping to pitch by committee for the home opener to give every pitcher a chance to see some early season action.

While a strong group of players aged out of the program last year, it’s an impressive incoming class for the team in 2023. New players include the four players from the 18U AAA ranks who earned college scholarships last season.

Cedric Lagasse, Cody Gunderson, Brady Papineau and Ryan Powers will all be suiting up for the MJBL Sultans this season. Those four players were key to Carillon’s second-ever 18U AAA provincial championship last summer.

“They’ve been around the program a long time and obviously playing college ball this year will give a lot of reps,” Penner said.

“We had a strong group that left our program last year, but every team goes through a little bit of that, and we definitely like who’s coming up this year. I think we’ll be a competitive team.”

For the first time in a long time, the MJBL Sultans are facing down the potential of needing to hold tryouts for players. Penner said he doesn’t expect to need to make any cuts this year, but in the future he could be making some tough decisions.

Even this year, balancing playing time could prove to be a challenge.

“There are a lot of people there who want to play,” Penner said.

“You keep your eye to the future a little bit, but you also have to recognize the veterans who have been around for a long time… and on top of that you want to be competitive.”

The Sultans were as competitive as any team in the MJBL last season, winning twice against juggernaut Elmwood, handing the league champion their only loss of the post-season.

The full schedule of games and standings are posted on the league’s new website, manitobajuniorbaseballleague.ca.

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