Western baseball looks to threepeat

Mustangs play season opener against rival Brock Badgers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Sliding into base

Jon Purdy

THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD BUY "TIDE WITH BLEACH". Western's Bruce Craine shines in middle infield again this season in hopes of a third straight OUA championship.

Last year, the Western baseball team made Ontario University Athletics history by clinching a second consecutive championship. This year, they hope to make it three.

The Mustangs currently reign as the only team in OUA men’s baseball history to win back-to-back championships since the league’s official start in 2001. This season, the Purple and Silver take on another challenge as they make a run for a third straight title.

“[We play] sound baseball,” Mustangs catcher Ben Rich said of his team’s recent success in the OUA. “Our pitchers throw strikes, our defence makes plays and our hitters cash in when we have the chance to score a run.”

It seems this group was made for October baseball. While finishing second in the regular season the past two years, the ’Stangs dominated the postseason. While the focus for October remains the same, the Mustangs’ challenge will be climbing the standings in the regular season.

“We want to start off by playing hard right from the get-go,” Rich said.

“It’s a short season and there’s no room for errors, so we have to play consistent baseball from the first pitch of the season to the last hit of the finals.”

Some say it’s as simple as throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball. Western head coach Mike Lumley emphasized the need for that triple threat.

“The focus this year will be similar to other [years],” Lumley said. “To lead through dominant pitching, stellar defence and pressure offence.”

The Mustangs start the 2007 season with a lineup of knowledgeable veterans. The starting nine remain the core of the team, alongside an eager pitching staff slightly shuffled with the loss of ace Ryan Butkowsky.

“Some of our guys are going to have to step up and log a few more innings,” Rich said of the current pitching situation. “But we have very capable arms that are willing to face that challenge.”

One capable arm ready to expand his role is C.J. Cabrero. Cabrero was designated to a practice roster last season and is now prepared to strengthen the pitching rotation.

Infielder Alex Carducci and outfielder Andrew Salmon will be available this season to fill the holes left by graduates Mike Winter and Kris Klassen.

Both had notable performances for Western at the OUA All-Star game in May.

“We have the depth to fill any holes,” Cabrero said. “If people are slumping, we have players to pick ’em up. We’re a team where you can’t find holes because there’s always that guy to back [his teammate] up.”

A huge boost to the 2007 ’Stangs is veteran Matt Bekar.

While eligible for just one more year, it seemed Bekar’s tenure was up after the second championship. However, the diligent centre fielder decided to return for a run at the three-peat.

Also returning this season is vocal team leader Rich. His enthusiasm and character bolster team chemistry.

In hopes of maintaining tight defence, Bruce Craine and Mark DiGiulio will pair up again this season to patrol the middle infield. This tandem is experienced at turning the double play. The infield is reinforced by a group of efficient outfielders led by savvy vet Bekar.

Essentially, the Mustangs have a wealth of talent at their disposal this season.

“[Our success] starts at the top with our manager Mike Lumley,” Bekar said. “We feed off of his leadership and he expects a lot of us. In turn, we expect a lot from ourselves.”

Western poses a threat on all corners of the diamond for the opposition.

“Coming off two championships, you don’t really set any other goal but to win,” Craine said. “That’s all we’ve done for the last two years so hopefully we’ll continue that trend.”

The Mustangs begin their quest for another OUA championship this Saturday, Sept. 8 at Labatt Park. They play a doubleheader versus the 2006 regular season champions, the Brock Badgers. First pitch is at 1 p.m.

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