These are big games from here on in for the Nanaimo Buccaneers.
The city’s U18 prep-league baseball team begins play on Thursday (Aug. 18) at Baseball Canada’s U18 championships in Sherbrooke, Que.
“We’ve been preparing for this all year long and I’d say we’re well-prepared,” said Cam MacNeil, Bucs third baseman. “It’ll be some of the best ball we’ve seen. There’s lots of talent out east and it will be fun to see.”
The Nanaimo players actually won’t be competing under the Buccaneers moniker. After winning provincial championships last month, they become Team B.C. for nationals, and will be wearing navy blue and red instead of black and yellow.
“We’ll be representing B.C. out there, but we’ll also be representing Nanaimo just the same,” said Jayden Marsh, Bucs pitcher.
Team B.C.’s first game Thursday is against Ontario, a tough opponent, and every game will be challenging as the tournament is made up of provincial champions.
“I think it will be some great baseball over there,” Marsh said. “To get some wins over there, I feel we’ll have to work our best, everyone doing the best they can and everyone will have to be doing their thing out there.”
Teams are allowed to bring in some additional players before nationals and the Bucs have added five players from the mainland to bolster their roster. Jordan Blundell, Buccaneers manager, said with all the teams strengthening their lineups, the level of baseball goes up between provincials and nationals.
“If you don’t play your game, you’re probably not going to be successful. So we’re concerned with our game,” Blundell said. “We’re obviously aware that there’s talent everywhere and … you never take anybody lightly.”
The Bucs are strong in all facets of the game, but Blundell said when they’re at their best, it starts with pitching.
“When we throw the ball over the plate, get ahead in the count, that’s half of the formula and the other half for us is playing defence and we’ve been a pretty good defensive team for most of the year,” he said.
And when pitching and defence is working, that’s when the bats seem to come alive, MacNeil said. Hitting can be more difficult against unfamiliar pitchers, Blundell acknowledged, but there are ways to be successful at the plate in those situations.
“I think we have a pretty good offensive approach as a group and we’re going to take that approach into the tournament,” he said.
In their final week of practice before nationals, the Bucs were fine-tuning their game, going over the fundamentals of late-game, close-game defence and taking at-bats against harder-throwing college pitchers. Some things can’t be replicated at practice, like the big-game atmosphere nationals will bring. Blundell tells his guys that these aren’t pressure situations, they’re butterfly situations.
“You should be nervous, you should be excited. You’ve got to learn to channel that and control that,” he said. “At the end of the day, the mental toughness will probably show through and hopefully we’ve got that.”
The Buccaneers have achieved a goal to qualify for nationals, but they haven’t yet achieved all their goals.
“Our season’s not done yet,” said Gus Wilson, Bucs infielder. “We want to go there to win this. It’s a big thing for us. We’ve been working so hard.”
It’s special to be able to play for B.C. and get this kind of baseball experience, players said, and they want to make the most of it.
“We’ve done almost everything we could want this year and now the last goal is to win it all,” Marsh said.
GAME ON … B.C. is in a pool with Ontario, Quebec U18, Quebec U17 and Alberta. The qualifying round starts Saturday night and the national championship game will be Sunday night.