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Darcy MacRae
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Mount Pearl teams face steep learning curve in St. John's senior baseball

Mount Pearl Knights baserunner Brent Power is out at first base on a throw to Guards first baseman David Oxford (21) during St. Johns Molson senior baseball play at the Smallwood Drive in Mount Pearl Tuesday night. Guards won the game 9-2. Photo by Joe

If you were only judging by win-loss records, it would appear the integration of two Mount Pearl teams into the St. Johns Molson Senior Baseball League wasnt going too well. But according to several members of the local baseball league, the numbers hardly tell the complete story.

The Knights and Storm left the Mount Pearl senior baseball circuit this summer to join the St. Johns loop, much to the delight of baseball followers in the metro region. However, the Mount Pearl clubs have combined for just five victories against 18 losses. The Knights are responsible for three of those wins, with the Storm winning twice so far this year.

I didnt expect miracles, but Im a little bit disappointed with our record. It could be a lot better, said Knights coach Joe Wadden.

Knowing what the St. Johns league is like, I expected a bit of a slow start.

Wadden played and coached for a number of years in the St. Johns senior league and knew before this season started what the biggest challenges would be for his club and the Storm.

Its the depth of the St. Johns teams, Wadden said.

We dont have that kind of depth ... Weve added a couple of guys from Grand Falls-Windsor (Jamie Jenkins and Mike Finn) and theyve really helped, but the St. Johns clubs are still a lot deeper right now.

Waddens club was on its home field Tuesday as the Knights hosted the Guards in Mount Pearl. Early on, the Knights looked like a confident and composed group, with several players standing at the edge of the dugout, cheering their teammates as they headed to batters box. Judging by their body language and banter, the Knights certainly didnt look the part of a struggling baseball team.

However, the enthusiasm soon disappeared after the Guards came to bat in the top of the second. The Knights banter came to a stop after Jason English ripped an Adam Lawlor pitch well past the left-field fence to give Guards a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, Lawlors shoulders slumped and his chest deflated like a popped balloon when David Oxford hammered a fastball off the fence in dead centre field, driving in a run to put the visitors up 2-0.

The Knights demeanor worsened in the fourth when a dropped fly ball with two outs and the bases loaded allowed two more Guards to cross the plate.

Are we where we should be in terms of the standings? Yeah, were where we should be at this point, said Knights DH Mike Hagerty, a veteran of 25 senior baseball seasons in both the St. Johns and Mount Pearl leagues. Its a tough learning curve for the young guys.

As far as Hagerty is concerned, the biggest difference between playing in the Mount Pearl and St. Johns leagues is obvious.

The pitching is a lot better (in St. Johns senior ball). Its a big adjustment for the guys, Hagerty said as he watched Guards starter Jon Rose throw to the Knights.

Jon has great location, hes working the outside corner and then hell come at them inside. Some of the guys are used to pitchers who are just concerned with getting the ball over the plate.

Another problem that plagued the Mount Pearl teams early in the season was a lack of intensity, according to Wadden.

Casual not an option anymore

Our guys are finally starting to realize what it takes to compete at a higher level of competition, Wadden said. We cant afford mistakes because they end up breaking games wide open. The Mount Pearl league was a pretty casual league, and if we made a mistake we could always get it back. Thats not the case now.

Despite the dropped fly ball that led to two Guards runs in the fourth, the Knights showed some improvement defensively Tuesday. Second baseman Jody Vey slid to his left to grab a sharply hit ground ball in the second inning before throwing out Guards catcher Mike Jones at first, robbing him of what looked like a sure base hit.

The play was another indication the Mount Pearl teams are improving, a trend many within the league insist will continue not only this year, but in seasons to come as well.

I think they will develop more players and become more competitive, said Sean Gulliver, coach of the Shamrocks, the defending St. Johns champions. The younger guys are, the more mistakes theyre prone to make. The best way to get better is to play against better competition.

Although there have been several bumps in the road so far for the Mount Pearl teams, its worth noting the Knights are still in contention for the fourth and final playoff spot, a fact not lost on Hagerty.

If one of the Mount Pearl teams could get into the playoffs ... that would be huge, Hagerty said. It would do a lot for the young guys development.

Organizations: Johns Molson Senior Baseball League

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, St. John's

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