One year after an early exit from the Ontario University Athletics playoffs, the Wilfrid Laurier University men’s baseball team is hungry to take back the title.
After a heartbreaking tournament loss to the Waterloo Warriors last season, Laurier’s defending championship squad was left with a third-place finish. The Hawks are looking to use the same veteran core to dominate for this year.
Even though they lost an exceptional pitcher in Brett Van Pelt, that may be the extent of the damage as the rest of the roster has a very similar look to it. According to fifth-year captain Jonathan Brouse, the team’s belief and talent is there.
“It’s definitely exciting, the opportunity to win another championship. We’ve had success really all four years that I’ve been here, but especially the last two years we’ve been one of the top teams in the OUA,” he said.
Brouse sported a .328 batting average in a 14-4 season a year ago and is central to the nucleus of players that make Laurier baseball so tough to play against.
Head coach Scott Ballantyne has led the team to a 28-12 record over the last two seasons, and he thinks the conclusion to last year will put a spring in the team’s step.
“[We] had our best regular season [last year] so we’re looking to continue to build on that momentum that we had. We had one bad weekend and the OUA championship where we didn’t play our best,” he said.
“We have that taste in our mouths and our veteran guys are definitely looking to be able to rebound from that,” he continued.
Brouse and Ballantyne both believe the distinguishing factor this year for the Golden Hawks lies in their experience. Ballantyne says combining team chemistry with a wealth of talent is going to be a tough combination to stop.
“What I am the most excited about is that we have a really veteran team here, a lot of guys who have been here for three or four years and even some in their fifth year, so we feel like we have a lot of experience and we will come right out of the gate and play some good baseball,” he said.
With rivals like the Brock Badgers and Waterloo having a much higher turnover than Laurier, Brouse thinks having the same guys around is more important than ever.
“We have played together for three years. I think we are pretty much going to be picking up where we left off, but it’ll be a better team,” he added.
In terms of last-minute additions, the team found a catcher in Rick Murray from the Kitchener Panthers. While he may not make an immediate impact, Ballantyne thinks he’ll be an exciting talent that can add elite offence and defence to the position that has caused the Hawks some trouble in the past.
“I know teams in the past traditionally like to run on us and to have him here is going to be definitely a big staple and behind the plate to sort of stop that, so that will be huge for us,” said Brouse.
In addition to the confidence the players have in each other, Brouse also echoed the tremendous confidence they have in their coach and the system they run.
Much the same as a season ago, the Hawks will use simple baseball as well as good pitching and defence to try to make it back to the top of the OUA and strive for another deep postseason run.
“I know that whatever game plan whatever decision he makes, come this year, come regulation, come playoffs, come whenever it is, he’s going to have an OUA championship in mind and definitely learn from every experience and bring home another one,” Brouse said.