It might have been a small sample size, but 2020 was shaping up to be quite a year for Alberta’s baseball players plying their trade in American colleges.
Teams were lucky if they got 20 games in before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of their seasons and ground much of the world as we knew it to a halt. However, baseball fans were witness to some great performances on the field from those who call Wild Rose Country home.
Many were already on pace to record personal best seasons. Some were hitting over .400, others were discovering some additional power at the plate while pitchers were racking up strikeouts quickly.
After diving through the leaderboards and statistical breakdowns at schools and divisions across the United States, we were able to narrow down the field to a roster of Alberta-born players who could comprise an All Star Team, akin to what Canadian Baseball Network recently did for all Canadian players.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at some of the performances that turned heads in the shortened 2020 college baseball season.
Catcher – Ayden Makarus – Okotoks
Talk about making a major first impression. Ayden Makarus came into camp with Louisiana Statue University-Eunice in 2020 with some high expectations. The Dawgs Academy grad had been a force at every level he had played at and immediately went to work in doing the same for the Bengals. In 14 games, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound backstop hit .439 with three home runs, 17 runs batted in and four stolen bases. He had a memorable performance against Kellogg Community College on February 29, going 4-for-4 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs.
First Base – Matt Coutney – Wetaskiwin
After a couple of memorable seasons with Colby Community College, Matt Coutney moved up to NCAA Division 1 with the Old Dominion University Monarchs. And if it wasn’t for the pandemic, Coutney might have continued his torrid hitting pace. The 6-foot, 210-pound Wetaskiwin Composite High School product adjusted well, hitting .288 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 16 games. He had a great three-game set against Rutgers just prior to the stoppage, going 5-for-12 with three runs scored and six RBIs.
Second base – Tyler Scott – Calgary
The Bryan College Lions were set to be a major force heading into 2020 and a big piece of the puzzle was Scott. The Vauxhall Academy of Baseball product paced the Lions in batting average at .417 and was among the team leaders in home runs (four), RBIs (15) and had the team’s lone triple of the shortened season. He also showed off his speed with five stolen bases in six attempts. Scott’s best outing came against Rio Grande on January 31, where he went 3-for-4 with a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs.
Third base – Shawn Grandmont – Lethbridge
A lot of heads were finally starting to turn for Shawn Grandmont before the pandemic hit. After helping guide the Southern Idaho Golden Eagles to the JUCO World Series in 2018, 6-foot, 185-pound infielder headed to NCAA Division 2 Northwest Nazarene University. He hit a respectable .258 with two home runs, 34 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 48 games in 2019. Grandmont turned it up a notch to start 2020, as he hit .339 with six home runs, 15 RBIs and eight stolen bases in just 16 games. The Vauxhall Academy of Baseball graduate went off on Central Washington pitching for his best outing on February 29, going 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs.
Shortstop – Aidan Huggins – Edmonton
The utility infielder was a key piece to the Illinois State Redbirds offense and defence in the halted 2020 season. Huggins was second on the team in batting average (.327) and finished with seven RBIs and a stolen base in 14 games. His best performance at the plate happened February 22 against Oklahoma, where he went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Not only was he hitting second in the batting order, but the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Prospects Academy grad was flawless in the field, posting no errors to go along with 19 putouts and turning eight double plays.
Outfield – Brayden Cust – Edmonton
As a leadoff hitter, the hope is that you can get on base. And Brayden Cust got that job done and then some for the Colby Community College Trojans. On a team that put up double-digit run totals in many of their outings, Cust was a central figure in that offensive surge, hitting an amazing .468 with four triples, seven home runs, 18 RBIs and six stolen bases. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound outfielder was consistently good, with his biggest offensive outburst coming in the penultimate game of the season against Barton Community College on March 12, where the Prospects Academy product went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, two home runs and four RBIs.
Outfield – Tucker Zdunich – High River
Not to be outdone by his fellow Trojan outfielder, Tucker Zdunich wanted to find a way to improve on an impressive rookie campaign. After slashing .335 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 53 games during the 2018-2019 campaign, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound freshman was well on his way to posting career bests in those same categories before the COVID cancellations. In 19 games, the Dawgs Academy grad hit .361 with four home runs and 20 RBIs. Like Cust, Zdunich also had his best game in that March 12 matchup with Barton, as he went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs.
Outfield – Clayton Loranger – Edmonton
When comparing the statistics season-to-season for Clayton Loranger, the one thing that sticks out most is power. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound outfielder put together a solid 2018-2019 campaign, boasting a .293 batting average with no triples, no home runs, 26 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. If the goal was to bulk up during the offseason, he did exactly that, as his numbers improved dramatically to start last season. He hit .328 with two triples, three home runs and 24 RBIs in just 18 games. Hitting third in the back-end of a doubleheader against Fort Scott Community College on February 8, Loranger had his best outing, going 4-for-6 with a triple, homer, two runs scored and six RBIs.
Pitcher – Graham Brunner – Sherwood Park
Transferring from Crowder Community College proved to be quite the move for Graham Brunner. The 6-foot-2, 171 pound lefthander was nearly unhittable in his six outings with the Barton Community College Cougars. He posted a 4-0 record with a 1.78 earned-run average, striking out 47 hitters in just over 30 innings of work. And it seemed like he was just getting into a groove when the pandemic hit, as his final outing was a complete game, 7-inning gem against the Colby Trojans. He allowed just three hits (including one each to Cust and Zdunich) and he struck out 13 batters. In his previous outing, the Dawgs Academy product struck out 10 and walked one over seven innings in a 3-2 win over Hutchinson.
Pitcher – Evan Wilde – Airdrie
If only the season had continued, we might have seen a clash of the Alberta pitching titans between Brunner and Evan Wilde. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound southpaw was equally dominant in his five appearances for Cloud County, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.27 ERA. In just over 21 innings of work, Wilde struck out 24 batters. His best performance came in a 9-2 win over Marshalltown on February 21, where he allowed four hits and didn’t walk a batter while striking out nine in six innings of work.
Pitcher – Nik Cardinal – Bonnyville
If a team needs someone to eat up innings and do it effectively, Nik Cardinal is the guy to call. The Fresno State hurler led the team with nine appearances in the shortened season, which was good enough for 35th in the country. Of his nine appearances, three were starts and in his 11 innings of work, the Fort McMurray Giants product yielded just eight hits and three walks while striking out nine batters. Another Dawgs Academy product, Cardinal’s best outing was his start against Columbia on March 1, where he allowed just one hit, induced three groundouts and struck out another batter in two innings of work in what turned out to be a 12-3 victory.
Any performances stand out for you? Any that we might have missed? Make sure to let us know with a comment here or on our social media channels.