It’s been a while since chants of “Lanny! Lanny! Lanny!” called out from Calgary fans in support of their sports hero.
In this case, the boosters weren’t serenading Hall-of-Fame hockey player Lanny McDonald, who won a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989.
This chorus was part of the scene on the afternoon of Monday, May 22nd as a red-clad Alex Lanigan took the mound at Spitz Stadium in Lethbridge.
The right-handed pitcher was brought in to secure the win – and a Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) World Series title – for the University of Calgary Dinos, who were trying to fend off the Victoria Collegiate Golden Tide.
Lanigan had already shut the door in 2.1 innings of relief during an 8-2 win over the Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) Dawgs earlier in the championship tournament, and he picked up a two-strikeout save in a 7-6 triumph over the Golden Tide on Sunday.
During the title game, Lanigan was entrusted with a 7-4 lead in the 8th inning. The Langley, B.C. product entered the game with runners on first and second base. A double steal, followed by a groundout, scored a run. Then a single by Jai Berezowski brought home Ryan Deagle for Victoria Collegiate. The Dinos were up by just one score. Lanigan maintained his composure and closed out the frame on a left-field flyout and another groundout.
A much-needed insurance run was produced by the University of Calgary in the bottom of the 8th when pinch runner Blake Nelson came around the bases on a triple by Zach Delaquis.
Lanigan returned in the 9th to uphold the 8-6 edge and deliver the Dinos their first CCBC championship. But the Golden Tide didn’t go down without a fight. Daniel Sawchyn opened the frame with a two-strike double. A groundout moved him to third base, before Lanigan struck out Dominic Biello for out number two. Jordan Bond then singled home Sawchyn and the lead was reduced to one again. Deagle reached on a single and Lanigan was once again faced with a crucial situation with runners on first and second.
“Lanny! Lanny! Lanny!”
Chase Thomson stepped to the plate looking to be the hero for the Golden Tide. Lanigan stepped off the mound, took a breath, and hoped to do the same for the Dinos.
The count went to 1-1, then Lanigan delivered a second strike. Both the pitcher and the batter took another breath. Lanigan stared in for the sign from the catcher. The windup started as Bond broke for third. Thomson’s bat stayed on his shoulder as the home plate umpire signaled a called third strike and, with that, the celebration was on. The backstop ripped off his mask and ran to the mound as Lanigan extended his arms skyward. The dugout poured out and a tide of red washed over the mound as the scoreboard read an 8-7 final in favour of the Dinos..
“When that last strike was called, I was on cloud nine. It’s the most relief I’ve ever felt and the happiest I’ve ever felt,” said fifth-year infielder Marcus Coderre, who scored four runs, hit two doubles and added two runs batted in (RBI) over four postseason games.
“That’s definitely something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life … it’s just a great way to go out and end my college playing career.”
Coderre referred to Lanigan as the ball club’s MVP of the tournament and the pitcher said he was grateful for the support of his teammates.
“The team puts me in these big spots, and it’s my job to perform,” Lanigan said.
“I did my job during the season, and that built up the team’s trust in me. They let me go in these big spots, and that creates opportunities for me to succeed. Knowing the boys had my back gave me all the confidence I needed.”
Head coach Cam Williams said Lanigan was an obvious choice to prevent the Golden Tide from completing the comeback.
“There’s nobody else I would want on the mound to get the final outs of the season. Honestly, it didn’t even matter what the score was, he was throwing the last outs of our season. No ifs, ands or buts. That’s how much he means to this team and this program,” said Williams.
“When that bullpen door opened and he did that little walk, jog, and the confidence he portrayed, my assistant said, ‘We’re winning a friggin’ championship today.'”
The Dinos were an unlikely contender entering CCBC World Series playoffs.
The team posted an 8-20 record in 2018, which was the last year Williams suited up for the University of Calgary as a player. They followed that up with an 8-18 record in 2019 and Williams became the head coach the year after.
The COVID-19 pandemic intervened that year and in 2021, but Williams helped steer the squad to a 17-15 record last year. This season saw the Dinos post a .500 mark of 16 wins and 16 losses.
“We played a couple stretches of good baseball, a couple stretches of less good baseball,” noted Williams.
“I believe in the talent we have. Our top 25 guys are better than anybody’s, we just need to put it together for a full nine innings. We struggled to do that in the regular season but it’s a bit of a younger squad and a good senior core.”
The Dinos certainly did put it together for the playoffs.
They opened the postseason tournament by trailing the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Wolfpack until a nine-run sixth inning outburst helped catapult them to a 14-9 victory.
Their next game against the PBA Dawgs, the top team in the CCBC with a 21-11 record in the regular season. The pitching trio of Dylan Soch, Dylan McCuaig and Lanigan limited the Dawgs to just two runs during the 8-2 win for the Dinos.
“I would say after the PBA win in game two of the playoffs there it started to sink in that we had a legit chance,” recalled Williams, who set a number of records for the University of Calgary program as a player.
Coderre also saw that game as a crucial point of the tournament.
“After that win that definitely gave us a huge boost of confidence and really believing in ourselves,” said Coderre.
“We did a great job this weekend of staying up and staying positive and that helped us with the rollercoaster that can happen in these games.”
The Dinos faced adversity in their third game against the Golden Tide when a grand slam wiped out a 3-1 lead and handed it to Victoria Collegiate.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams and coached a lot of teams that, right then and there, it would’ve sunk the dugout,” said Williams.
“To our guys credit, they came in and said, ‘Hey there’s a lot of baseball left.’ They chipped away to get one the next inning and tied it a couple innings later and took the lead in the eighth … that was kind of the point with this team where there was no quit in them. We have a chance to win this whole thing.”
Trials continued into the final game when a 7-1 lead for the Dinos began evaporating, but Lanigan and company held firm, and the result was medals, a trophy and a championship banner for the University of Calgary.
“It’s unbelievable. I got pretty emotional. I’ve spent nearly a decade with this program now – this program has been and is a huge part of my life,” said Williams.
“It does set a standard. It’s a new standard for us,” he added.
“Ultimately, everybody wants to win a ring and I’m sure we’ll hang that banner somewhere where everyone can see it … it’s only on an upward swing and we’re not done yet.”
ELSEWHERE IN ALBERTA
The spoils for the Dinos meant disappointment for the other CCBC teams from Alberta.
Perhaps no team in the league felt the sting more than Prairie Baseball Academy. The Dawgs, who lost in last year’s final to the Okanagan College Coyotes, were the best team in the regular season, claiming victory in 66% of their games.
“I don’t ever want to feel that again and neither does the rest of our team,” PBA first baseman Carter Claerhout told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast of the 2022 postseason loss to the Coyotes.
“The goal is to win a championship here at PBA every year.”
Claerhout was excellent for PBA this year. After leading the league in batting average by hitting .415, the Red Deer product stayed hot in the playoffs, posting a .429 batting average with five runs and five RBI in five contests.
PBA went 3-2 in the tournament, but were eliminated following a hotly-contested 11-10 loss to the Victoria Golden Tide.
The pitching staff for the Dawgs was impressive this spring. Right-handed pitcher Max Benton led the circuit with a 1.37 earned run average (ERA) in 53.1 innings, while racking up 55 strikeouts and five wins. Aidan Newton, also a righty, had a 4-2 record, a 2.49 ERA and 54 Ks in 43.1 regular-season innings for PBA.
The Edmonton Collegiate Hawks, meanwhile, finished third in the standings with a 17-15 record during the regular season.
The offence for the Hawks was led by outfielder Rejean Bourget, who batted .327 with 11 stolen bases and 32 runs in 31 games, and infielder Brayden Morris, who hit .342 and led the league in swiped bags with 19.
On the bump, right-handed pitcher Liam Fox led the CCBC in wins, with six, and innings pitched (56), while recording a 3.70 ERA and 44 Ks. Reece Devlin (3.02 ERA, 34 Ks in 41.2 innings) and Zach Krukewich (3-1, 1.57 ERA and 22 Ks in 34.1 innings) were other regular-season standouts for Edmonton.
“This is probably the most talented ball club I’ve ever been a part of,” Edmonton Collegiate infielder Jacob Honke told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast ahead of the playoffs.
“You can just see the steps going forward and everyone is maturing. Hopefully, we can carry that into next year and continue this success.”
– with files from Darnell Wyke, Dinos Communications