Wednesday, 24 August 2011 15:47

Midget Indians lead Team Sask. to silver medal

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By Brad Brown — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Personally and collectively, it was a shaky start for Justin Kehler and Team Saskatchewan in their first game of the Baseball Canada Cup, but Kehler never lost faith in his team and, four long days later, his coaches returned the favour.

After giving up eight walks and five earned runs in three innings of work during Saskatchewan’s 9-6 tournament opening win over Prince Edward Island, Kehler was named Saskatchewan’s starting pitcher for the semifinal against B.C. He gave up three earned runs on four hits over three-and-one-third innings as Saskatchewan advanced to the national final with a 7-6 win.

“The first outing I had ... was less than stellar,” said Kehler. “I really wanted a second chance, waited most of the tournament for it really, and then got one to start semifinal against B.C. and I think I proved myself a lot better there. It was great to see that the coaches still believed in me. It was just phenomenal being in that game and playing in an environment with that much pressure.”

Kehler and Swift Current Indians midget AAA teammate Hayden Johnston, along with Indians head coach Neil Hogg, were part of the Saskatchewan entry that lost 3-2 to Ontario in the championship game, but brought home an unexpected silver medal in the process.

Johnston went 1-for-3 at the plate and scored a run as Saskatchewan beat a heavily-favoured Quebec team 4-3 to end the round-robin, and were also considered underdogs in the semifinal with B.C.

The 2011 Baseball Canada Cup ran Aug. 10-14 in Moncton, N.B.

“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” said Kehler. “I’ve never played in a tournament of that calibre, with that many fans, or with that kind of team chemistry … I couldn’t imagine anything better. Nobody expected us to even be in the playoff rounds, then to upset two powerhouses to get to the final, we turned some heads there for sure.”

In other round-robin results Saskatchewan beat Newfoundland 11-1, lost 6-5 to Nova Scotia, beat New Brunswick 8-1, and fell 12-5 to Manitoba.

Johnston finished with a .308 on-base percentage and two runs scored while splitting time between second base and designated hitter. The big righty was also on tap to come out of the bullpen if the gold medal game had gone to extra innings.

“It’s been a long time since Saskatchewan has won anything like that, and being that close to winning nationals was awesome,” he said. “We showed some big teams up and it was a really good feeling. Hard to describe.”

The national silver medal capped off a memorable year for Hogg, Johnston, and Kehler, who also won the provincial AA championship with the midget Indians.

Hogg says both players will be leaned on heavily for their talents and leadership with next year’s Indians.

“Both guys played well and helped Saskatchewan get to the gold medal game, and they will both be key players on our midget team next year,” he said.

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