The Caps are using the exact same 21-man roster that made it all the way to the bronze-medal game in 2009.
St. John’s lost that game 1-0 to the Windsor, Ont., Stars and finished fourth, but the Caps did gain confidence and a hunger to improve.
“Most of the guys’ focus this year has been on getting back (to nationals) and proving last year was no fluke,” said player-coach Mark Healey, who has been part of St. John’s 11-year run as provincial senior A champs.
Last year in Dartmouth, the Caps’ success was based on strong outings by starting pitchers Bobby Kent, Matthew Bannister, and Justin Crawley and solid defence. There was also some timely hitting ... for the most part.
“We got there because the pitching was above and beyond,” said Healey. “The reason we didn’t put a medal around our neck was because we came up short in a couple of hitting areas.”
“We need to be consistent throughout the tournament, plus get the same pitching, if not more, as we got out of the guys last year.”
With that in mind, rather than add another bat, the Caps had looked at bringing in an extra pitcher for this year’s nationals. Some of the considered options included former Caps Mario Tee and Matthew Smith as well as the Mount Pearl Blazers’ Peter Fifield. But with Tee and Smith both still trying to find their form after sitting out the past two seasons and Fifield unable to attend due to work commitments, the only non-Cap on the St. John’s roster remains Jason Kearley.
Kearley is one of eight on a Capitals pitching staff headlined by Kent, named the top right-handed pitcher in the 2009 tournament after tossing a five-hit, 1-0 win over British Columbia in the preliminary round before dueling with the Windsor’s Steve Teno in the bronze-medal contest.
“Most of the guys’ focus this year has been on getting back (to nationals) and proving last year was no fluke,” - Player-Coach Mark Healey
Healey says it’s a safe bet Kent will get the nod today in the Caps’ opener against the Brandon, Man., Cloverleafs today, making Bannister, a big righty, the choice for Friday’s Game 2 rematch against Windsor.
Karl DeHart and Kearley are tentatively scheduled as the starters for Games 3 and 4 of the round robin.
“In a tournament situation, in the first two games, we need to have guys on the hill who can come back on the weekend,” said Healey. “Bobby and Matthew are those guys. They can recover quicker and hopefully, when we make the playoff round, we’ll get something more out of them.”
Healey says the Caps’ pool — which includes 2009 national champion Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.. — is a little tougher than the one St. John’s found itself in last year, when it finished with a 2-2 record.
It underscores the importance of today’s game against the Manitobans.
“We’ve got to get a win on the board in the first game and take it from there,’ said Healey, who is confident the Caps, some of whom are nearing the end of their competitive playing days, are ready to celebrate the province’s first medal since the Corner Brook Barons won a bronze at the 1992 Canadian championships.
“Guys like myself, Andrew Symonds, Mike O’Neil, and Gerald Butt have been going for the last eight to 10 years now, and we’re getting down to the last few times we’re going to have a chance at it,” he said.
“We’ve got a good mix of older guys and young guys, and everyone is committed to winning.”