Heads in the Cloud

By IAN WILSON

For Erik Sabrowski, life at Cloud County Community College has taken on a Groundhog Day feel.

While he doesn’t have to relive every 24-hour cycle in the same excruciating detail that Bill Murray’s weatherman Phil character did in the 1993 movie, he is confronted with a painful fact each day.

“Every damn day,” grumbled the sophomore.

That’s how often the Edmonton Prospects’ all star has to hear about his heartbreaking Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) loss in the 2017 championship final to the Swift Current 57’s.

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Sabrowski

It was the second straight year the Prospects lost to Swift Current in the final, with Edmonton dropping the entertaining best-of-five series 3-2.

Sabrowski had a solid series with the bat, hitting .353 with five RBI and a home run, but his performance on the mound was frustrating.

“Overall, I was happy with my year … except for the fact that I was not able to get it done in game one of the championship series,” said the two-way player of an outing that saw him yield four earned runs over just three innings during Edmonton’s 13-7 opening loss.

The lefty pitcher and righty batter might have been able to shake off the disappointment if he didn’t have to see Swift Current outfielder Matt Bondarchuk and assistant coach Eric Dorton all the time.

TOGETHER AT LAST

Bondarchuk is now teammates with Sabrowski on the T-Birds and Dorton is an assistant coach with the program. Luckily, Sabrowski has some backup in the form of Edmonton Prospect shortstop Aidan Huggins, who is also on Cloud County’s roster.

“It’s great having some more Canadians on the team,” Bondarchuk told Alberta Dugout Stories.

“And, yes, whenever the WMBL comes up, me or coach Dorton try to bring it up and joke with them.”

Despite the razzing, Huggins is relieved they’re all on the same team now.

“I could not ask for a better teammate or coach than I have in both Eric and Matt. They are two guys that everybody would want on their team and they make it extremely fun to be a part of this program,” said the 19-year-old Edmontonian.

“When it comes to this past summer, they do not hesitate to remind us of who came out on top the past two years. The rings are a topic of discussion most times, and it’s hilarious because me and Erik would do the same thing to them if we had won.”

Dorton, the Thunderbirds’ hitting and baserunning coach, is also happy to have Sabrowski and Huggins join Bondarchuk in his dugout.

“Erik seemed a little gassed on the mound in the 2017 WMBL finals. We hit him around a little bit in game one, but he’s the type of kid who wants the ball no matter how he’s feeling,” said Dorton, who played in the outfield for the Lethbridge Bulls from 2009 through 2011.

“He’s always a tough out offensively and when we missed our spots he made us pay … more times than I’d like to say.”

Dorton praised Huggins defensive play and called Bondarchuk a “grinder at the plate,” who puts in the time to be successful.

“Overall, I thought all three showed well throughout the (WMBL) season and during the championship series,” added the assistant coach, who hails from Alamogordo, New Mexico.

HITTING THE GYM

Since coming to Cloud County in the fall, the team spent much of September and October practising and competing in scrimmages, and then winter work through December focused on individual skill development and a lot of time in the weight room.

Dorton even got into the action during the team’s Black vs. Gold fall world series in October and parked a home run over the centre field wall.

“One team was short an outfielder, so I had to jump in,” said Dorton, who is in his second season with the T-Birds.

“I ended up getting a hold of one and hit a home run – always nice to show those guys I can still play a little bit.”

 

Meanwhile, Sabrowski and Bondarchuk had their own reasons to be excited in November. Both sophomores signed letters of intent with NCAA schools, along with Tauren Langley, a T-Bird third baseman who played with Bondarchuk on the Edmonton Cardinals’ 2016 Midget AAA provincial championship team. Langley signed up to play in Swift Current last summer but injuries prevented him from playing.

SIGN SAVVY

All three Prospects Baseball Academy products have signed with Division 1 schools for the 2018-19 school year – Sabrowski is going to the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM); Bondarchuk is headed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO); and Langley will study at St. Louis University (SLU).

“In committing to ULM, it was more of them recruiting me than me advertising myself to them. I don’t think that applying to schools is really the way to go about things. If you show on the field that you can play at the next level, the offers and recruitment will follow,” said the 6-foot-4 Sabrowski, who is able to throw 90 mile-per-hour heat from the bump.

“When choosing a school I held a few values above others … a winning tradition, quality coaching staff, a good group of guys who are motivated to win, and above all else, seeing myself being able to fit in and have the ability to develop to where I can reach my next goal, which is professional baseball.”

Whether he will be used as a first baseman or a pitcher at ULM is unclear, but Sabrowski expects it “will revolve around me being on the mound, hopefully as a starting pitcher.”

Before Sabrowski and his teammates move onto their next schools, they have a season at Cloud County to play.

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From left to right: Bondarchuk, Huggins, Sabrowski, Langley

Last season was a big year for the T-Birds, who recorded 28 wins – their most since 2009 – and experienced their first Region VI playoff win since 2006. The squad’s offense also set or tied 16 school records, including new highs for hits, singles and doubles.

Bondarchuk, a 5-foot-11 speedster, helped push the pace and set some school records himself. While posting a .384 batting average, the St. Francis Xavier High School alum set new single-season highs for singles (72) and total hits (84), and led the team in runs (51) and stolen bases (24).

“The kid gets after it and grinds out at bats,” said Dorton.

“Matt can fly on the bases. We’ve worked with different leads and studied what pitchers are trying to do in certain situations, but the credit goes to him. He does an unbelievable job at the in-game studying and is constantly asking questions about how we can steal off the guy that’s on the mound. He’s put in the time to become a guy that can steal 40 bases wherever he goes.”

SETTING THE TABLE

Bondarchuk credits his Swift Current and Cloud County coach with helping to make him a menace on the basepaths.

“A big part of my base stealing I owe to Coach Dort teaching me all of it,” he said, adding he’s proud of the team records, but his main focus is on team success.

“I view myself as a guy who just tries to get on base and get in scoring position so the heavy hitters can drive me in.”

Langley will be one of those heavy hitters. Another graduate of Edmonton’s St. Francis Xavier High School, the 210-pound infielder led the T-Birds in extra-base hits in 2017, belting 10 home runs and 19 doubles. He was tops on the team in slugging percentage (.599) and second in runs batted in, with 45.

Huggins, another alum of St. Francis Xavier High School and Prospects Academy, expects to serve as a “dynamic infielder” this season, while he works on becoming a consistent hitter.

Aidan Huggins
Aidan Huggins stares out from the dugout in Okotoks

“I can have an impact on the game from both sides of the ball,” said Huggins. “What I have been primarily focusing on is cleaning up my footwork … so I can get throws off quicker and more smooth.”

The shortstop is enjoying college life in Concordia, Kansas and has been impressed with the school so far.

“As a program, how we approach and cover the mental side of the game is second to none,” said Huggins.

“They build you up not only as a baseball player but as a person, and the system in place will give you what you need between your ears to be successful at anything you do.”

Bondarchuk also spoke glowingly of the college.

“I love it here. The program is awesome and I’m really looking forward to the season this year,” he said.

The T-Birds won’t have to wait long. Their season starts on Wednesday, Feb. 7th with a home opener against Midland University JV. After that, they will hit the road for back-to-back doubleheaders against Fort Scott Community College on Feb. 10th and 11th.

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