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Expectations high for young Dawgs in WCBL

“If there’s any high school kids that are prepared for it mentally, I would put our guys up against anybody. They get put into a lot of pressure situations, they’ve always had to deal with big expectations so this is just another day in the park for them.”
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Okotoks Dawg Noah Geekie, seen here coming out of the dugout for player introductions during the 2019 season, is back as a member of Dawgs Red for the 2021 campaign. (Brent Calver/Western Wheel File Photo)

In a different kind of summer season the song remains the same.

Be it Okotoks Dawgs Black or Dawgs Red the expectations to contend for another Western Canadian Baseball League championship remain in place as the 2021 schedule kicks off this weekend in the five-team league with all-Canadian rosters.

“Expectations, they are what they always are,” said Dawgs Black head coach Jeff Duda. “We’re out there to try and get a ring, the tradition of excellence within the Dawgs organization, it’s big to us to continue to put a great product on the field and give ourselves a chance to win a championship.

“Our goals and expectations never change and, if anything, they increase.”

Okotoks is fielding two teams in the WCBL, based largely of academy-aged players.

Dawgs Black, which tends to be its most senior academy squad, will be less supplemented by returning college players than its Red counterparts, but will have plenty of talented graduates helping the team.

On the mound, the Northwestern State duo of Ethan Francis and Ryan Olthaway, along with Pratt Community College pitcher Quinn Tocheniuk are back as academy graduates as well as outfielder Clayton Keyes and UBC’s Vicarte Domingo and Aidan Rose.

Dawgs Black is primarily made up of 2021 and 2022 graduates along with a trio of youngsters with NCAA Div. I commitments in University of Tennessee duo Jack Lines at shortstop and pitcher Carson Hindmarsh as well as Oregon State bound
Ty Doucette.

“I’m a huge believer in team chemistry,” Duda said. “I think that goes a long ways in a team’s success. A lot of these guys have been around each other for three-plus years coming up through the academy together.”

The rotation will see Matt Wilkinson, Andrew Yusypchuk and Tocheniuk as regulars with a couple other spots to be filled in what could be a by-committee approach keeping playing time and health in mind.

“I’m definitely excited to see them up against 20, 21 year old college players,” said Duda of his academy players.

“We certainly have a lot of talent and it’s going to be tested frequently so I’m excited to see how they respond to it.”

Handling the college level crowds is one aspect Duda, a star pitcher of the Dawgs three straight championship teams from 2007-09, is eager to see from his squad.

“Even though we’re opening up at one-third of capacity, whether it’s 700 in Okotoks or 300 in Lethbridge, it’s still a lot more than they’re used to playing in front of,” he said.

“I’m curious to see how they handle that, the excitement, the added adrenaline and the nerves of it all. But I think they’ll adjust quick and be able to handle it well.”

In preparation for the summer season, training sessions have placed added emphasis on team defence and situational hitting.

“There’s some things you get away with in high school where flat out talent will beat teams,” the coach added. “But the experience and the ability to handle a barrel when you need to, that goes a long way at the college level. There’s a lot more bunting, hit and runs, steal attempts all that sort of stuff.”

In a normal season, the academy teams travel extensively to high-profile tournaments in both Canada and the United States.

It’s a competitive setting the players can’t wait to jump back into this weekend.

“It’s been tough on them, the circumstances we’ve been in with the pandemic,” said Dawgs Red coach Bretton Gouthro. “But actually I’m really proud of the way they’ve taken it on, but that being said, it’s time and they’re definitely excited about it.

“I can see them right now itching to play.”

Dawgs Red will feature academy graduates along with its existing roster, based largely on those from the 2021 and 2022 graduating class.

“It’s going to be almost entirely in-house talent, which were excited to throw out onto the field,” Gouthro said. “In terms of the college guys we’ve got some good established arms in college baseball.”

The rotation will include the likes of college Dawg veteran lefty Graham Brunner, a member of the 2019 championship squad and Illinois State commit in 2021-22, along with UBC Thunderbirds hurler Branden Woods and Noah Geekie, an academy grad who brings the versatility of a pitcher and position player as a stud outfielder.

“Guys like that are always valuable,” said Gouthro of Geekie. “You look at the big leagues with a guy like Shohei Ohtani, any time you can get a guy at a higher level that can pitch and play a position, it just gives you a lot of options.”

Academy grad Peter Hutzal, on the heels of a big season at Marshall University, is back to lead the middle infield for Dawgs Red with Okotokian Kye Seitz
holding down the first-base position, Cole Tucker will man the hot-corner and Tucker Zdunich will be back in Dawgs colours providing a spark at the top of the lineup.

“With those guys mixed in with some good young academy kids we should be able to provide a pretty good product on the field,” the coach added.

For the current academy players, Gouthro termed the summer season as an amazing opportunity for the athletes.

“The transition from high school baseball to college baseball is a big one, I can remember making it myself,” he said. “No matter how much you prepare for it eventually you’ve just got to get thrown into the deep end a little bit. The only difference for these guys is it will just be happening a little bit earlier.

“If there’s any high school kids that are prepared for it mentally, I would put our guys up against anybody. They get put into a lot of pressure situations, they’ve always had to deal with big expectations so this is just another day in the park for them.”

Okotoks Black opens the season in Lethbridge on June 18 and returns to Seaman Stadium for its home opener on June 19, a 7 p.m. start against the Edmonton Prospects.

Okotoks Red begins it season in Sylvan Lake on June 19 at 7 p.m. and is home for a Father’s Day matinee against Lethbridge, a 2 p.m. start at Seaman Stadium.

The first all-Dawgs matchup is June 22 when Red meets Black at the friendly confines.

“This year, it’s a little different and we’re going to have to wait and see a little bit, we don’t really know what to expect out of the other teams with it being an all-Canadian league,” Gouthro said. “That being said, you put on a Dawgs uniform and the expectation is to win.

“We’re looking forward to being competitive with both teams and proving what we can do.”

For more information go to dawgsbaseball.ca.


Remy Greer

About the Author: Remy Greer

Remy Greer is the assistant editor and sports reporter for Okotokstoday.ca and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact rgreer@okotoks.greatwest.ca
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