By IAN WILSON
It’s back. Spring training for Major League Baseball (MLB) teams has cranked up again and college baseball south of the border is in full swing. It feels really good to type those words!
With that in mind, welcome to Box Score Beauties, a roundup of the achievements of pitchers and batters from our neck of the woods. This feature is not intended to be all-encompassing – it doesn’t include every hit or each inning pitched, but it does provide some highlights. If you notice a strong performance that we missed, please feel free to email us at AlbertaDugoutStories@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to spotlight deserving players moving forward.
Let’s go around the horn now and see what’s been happening over the last couple of weeks.
WE HAVE LIFTOFF
It didn’t take long for ‘Berta batters to start launching baseballs out of the ballpark.
Okotoks Dawgs Academy product Soren Graversen, of Calgary, has jumped out to a blistering hot start for the William Penn Statesmen of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Through seven games and 23 at bats for the Iowa school, Graversen has five home runs, 16 runs batted in (RBI), nine runs, a .565 batting average and a 1.348 slugging percentage. “Graversen has been on fire at the plate,” said head coach Mike Laird.
Fellow Dawgs grad Ryan Humeniuk, a teammate of Graversen’s at Indian Hills Community College, is also off to a solid start at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM). The senior outfielder is batting .353 through four games, with one long ball and one stolen base for the Warhawks, who play in the Sun Belt Conference of NCAA’s Division I.
Playing in the Horizon League – another Division I athletic conference – Jayden Wakeham of Northern Kentucky University (NKU) wasted no time putting runs on the board. The Dawgs Academy product has one homer, four RBI, four runs and a .385 batting average in four games.
Tristan Peters, the MVP of the 2019 Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) championship Okotoks Dawgs, picked up his first Division I home run as a member of the Southern Illinois Salukis of the Missouri Valley Conference. Peters has suited up in seven games and is batting .367 with eight runs, five RBI and two stolen bases.
Another Division I athlete with some sting in his bat is Martin Vincelli-Simard. Originally from Quebec, the Vauxhall Academy alum has blasted a trio of bombs for the Sacramento State Hornets. The infielder also has six RBI, four runs, a .357 batting average and a .500 on-base percentage in seven Big Sky Conference games.
You can put a pair of long flies on the board for Wetaskiwin’s Matt Coutney, as well. The Old Dominion University first baseman has eight RBI, six runs and a .381 batting average in the first six games of his junior year in Conference USA (C-USA).
Max Hewitt, a WCBL All-Star with the Fort McMurray Giants in 2019, has one home run, five RBI and three runs in six matchups with Oklahoma State University in the Big 12 Conference.
Over in the Pac-12 Conference, sweet-swinging Cesar Valero Sanchez collected the first homer of his Division I career, a three-run blast to centre field against New Mexico on Feb. 20th. The Dawgs graduate has a number of familiar faces from Okotoks with him at Oregon State, including Micah McDowell, Gavin Logan, Richie Mascarenas, Jacob Melton and Brock Townsend.
Sherwood Park’s Clayton Loranger also swatted his first round tripper at the Div-1 level. Playing with the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks of the Southland Conference, Loranger went yard in a win over Oklahoma on Feb. 23rd at Globe Life Field, the home ballpark of MLB’s Texas Rangers.
Brooks Bombers fans may remember Spencer Rankin from his time in southern Alberta. Now catching for Missouri Valley College in the NAIA, Rankin has two homers, four RBI and five runs in eight games and 24 at bats.
First baseman Riley Baasch, a regular with the Okotoks Dawgs in 2019, has eight runs, four RBI and a pair of long flies in 11 games with the NAIA’s Bellevue Bruins.
Middle infielder Tyler Scott is also earning respect in the NAIA, where the Vauxhall graduate from Calgary is batting .396 with 15 runs, 12 RBI and six doubles in 16 games for Tennessee’s Bryan College. Scott also has three home runs, none bigger than this walk-off blast against Lindsey Wilson College:
Another former Vauxhall Jets player experiencing success is Shawn Grandmont, who has played eight games for the Northwest Nazarene University Nighthawks. The Grandy Man is feasting on NCAA Division II pitching to the tune of a .382 batting average, 14 RBI, 10 runs, and a pair of bombs. The Lethbridge native is also 9-for-10 on stolen base attempts.
Senior Dylan Borman, a former Lethbridge Bulls third baseman from Camrose, got his 2021 Division II season started with a bang. The University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) infielder has only played a couple of games, but he went deep in his first contest on Feb. 26th against Northwestern Oklahoma.
Borman’s fellow infielder on the Bulls, Ashton Roy, also went yard in his first Div-2 game of the campaign for New Mexico Highlands University. Roy has four RBI and three runs in four games played.
Yet another former hard-hitting Bulls player, Riley Jepson, has launched three home runs at the University of Texas at Tyler, while producing 17 RBI and a .333 batting average in nine games.
Meanwhile, Blake Gallagher – a Vauxhall-coached pitcher and infielder from Fredericton, New Brunswick – hit a homer in his first contest with the Minot State Beavers, as well. Through four contests, Gallagher has scored five runs, smacked a double and picked up a save on the bump.
Damiano Palmegiani has been putting as much social distance as possible between himself and baseballs. The Surrey, B.C. raised and Vauxhall Academy trained slugger leads the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) in home runs, with 10, and RBI, with 29. Through 20 games, the College of Southern Nevada (CSN) Coyotes star is also batting .393 with 30 runs and five stolen bases.
Catcher Ayden Makarus has brought a magic bat with him to Louisiana State University at Eunice (LSUE), where he has made three baseballs disappear in the distance while registering 18 RBI and 14 runs for the Bengals. The Dawgs Academy product is also batting .432 during his 11 NJCAA contests this year.
Alberta baseball fans will want to keep an eye on the Colby Trojans of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) yet again. The community college always seems to have plenty of talented players on their roster from Wild Rose Country, and this year is no exception.
Leading the Trojans in home runs early in the season is Red Deer’s Zach Olson, a Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) prodigy who has three solo blasts in just five at bats.
Edmontonian Brayden Cust has yet to pop one over the fence, but he is batting .476 with seven runs, six doubles, three RBI and three stolen bases in four games. High River’s Tucker Zdunich, a Dawgs Academy grad, has one homer and a pair of RBI, while another Dawgs product, Tyler McWillie, has one long ball and has logged three innings on the mound. Vauxhall infielder John Vulcano also has a round tripper in his two contests to start the year.
Freshman pitcher Jared Arnold, of Red Deer, looked great in two pitching appearances for Colby, striking out 10 batters in 5.2 innings, while surrendering just one earned run. Kyle Bloor, another PBA product, was solid in his first start. He struck out eight batters and allowed no runs.
The Sylvan Lake Gulls have inked several Trojans for their inaugural summer season in the WCBL, including Olson, Cust, McWillie and Arnold.
HERE’S THE PITCH
Landen Bourassa of Lethbridge had a season-opener to remember when he took the mound against UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles on Feb. 19th. The San Francisco Dons right-handed pitcher tossed five innings of two-hit, one run ball during a 6-2 upset victory over the No. 2-ranked Bruins.
“I have a lot of confidence in Landen,” said San Francisco head coach Nino Giarratano.
“When he started out tonight, he commanded the fastball, then threw the slider when he needed to. I felt like he was a little unlucky giving up the run to go down early, but the guys answered for him. He pitched fabulous for us tonight. He’s capable of giving us quality starts.”
Bourassa, who missed all of 2019 to injury, followed that up with a strong outing against California that saw him go six frames and allow three earned runs, while ringing up seven batters.
Illinois State Redbirds hurler Jordan Lussier, who learned the ropes at Dawgs Academy, made two appearances in February, racking up 10 Ks, collecting a win and registering a 3.86 ERA in seven frames of work at the NCAA Division I level.
In the NAIA, Friends University Falcons righty Zach Demchenko, of Okotoks, has turned in a perfect 4-0 record in his four starts. Two of those efforts were complete games and Demchenko has a tidy 1.71 ERA and 17 Ks through 26.1 innings.
Southpaw pitcher Graham Brunner, a familiar face at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, is picking up where he left off before the pandemic pause. Since returning to Barton Community College of the KJCCC, Brunner has made two starts, punching out 10 batters, posting a 2.35 earned run average (ERA) and recording a 1-1 record in 7.2 innings.
Another pair of Dawgs pitchers are helping Brunner’s conference foes at Pratt Community College. Ryan McFarland is 1-0 after throwing five innings of one-run baseball in his season opener, while Quinn Tocheniuk is 0-1, but he struck out five batters through five frames and only gave up one earned run in the loss.
FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA
These are just a few of the performances that have stood out to us over the last few weeks. We encourage you to keep an eye on Alberta-related players through @CollegeBaseba12 on Twitter, as well as the social media accounts of the Okotoks Dawgs, Vauxhall Academy, Prairie Baseball Academy, the WCBL and, of course, Alberta Dugout Stories.
If you spot some players who deserve the spotlight, please let us know and we’ll do our best to recognize them.