All season long, the Moose Jaw All Stars have produced all kinds of offence almost at will.
Their ability to produce runs at key moments has led to a season filled with victories -- and now, it has them in contention at the Canadian Little League Regional championship.
The All Stars improved to 2-1 at the event in Calgary with a pair of impressive victories on Friday and Saturday, battling to a 7-6 victory over Atlantic’s Sydney Sooners before hammering out a 10-6 win over Alberta’s Calgary West.
As a result, Moose Jaw found themselves in a three-way tie for second place heading into their off day on Sunday.
It’s a far cry from how things went in their opener -- a 15-5 loss to B.C. on Thursday -- where the All Stars committed 10 errors in the field.
“Hopefully we’re hitting our stride,” All Stars head coach Troy Turner said during a short break from re-watching the games with his crew Sunday afternoon. “The first game, we got small-balled to death basically. I can’t say our kids were nervous, but it was more that we weren’t ready for that much small ball for that long.”
The local crew spent two-and-a-half hours on the practice field after that loss, working on defence and especially how to deal with bunts.
“The boys have been focussed and everything has been good since then,” Turner said.
Moose Jaw was far better in the field against Atlantic with only three errors, and that led to one of the most heart-stopping wins in recent Canadian Regional history for the local squad.
Moose Jaw carried a 6-5 lead into the sixth and final inning and got the first two outs quickly before disaster struck -- a Sydney single, double and single would bring home a pair of runs and send the All Stars into the bottom of the inning down a run.
Their half of the frame played out the same. Two quick outs, and a comeback looking bleak.
But a single by Trey Stanhope got things started. Dillon Flanagan reached on an error one batter later, setting up Luke Pratte to hit a line drive into right field, scoring pinch runner Zaid Guillaume and moving Flanagan to third.
That set the stage for Luke Turner, who took the first pitch he saw into centrefield to bring home Flanagan and touch off a raucous celebration.
Turner led the offence with a 3-for-4 showing that included a pair of runs.
“That was an epic game,” coach Turner said. “We were down to our last out, so to see the guys battle back there was good and it’s definitely a huge win. And it was huge for our confidence, too. Then going into the Cal West game, we just built off that.”
The contest against Calgary West? Well, that could only be termed the Zaid Guillaume show.
Guillaume got the start and allowed a single run on two hits, striking out six in 2 ⅓ innings of work. He moved into the outfield and made diving catches in back-to-back innings to stall Alberta rallies. And to top it all off, he hit a grand slam home run in the fourth inning, finishing his day at the plate 2-for-4 with two runs and four RBI.
“Oh boy, that was just an incredible performance by him,” Turner said. “What Zaid did on the mound and field and at the plate, that was something else. And Neal Kohl has been great, too, they’ve both drawn a lot of attention out here.”
Kohl hit a home run in the All Stars first game, with his flowing locks and fence-clearing power drawing a Twitter acknowledgement from the main Little League feed.
The prolific showing from Guillaume and Kohl have turned them into stars at the event, with players from other teams flocking to the duo during the skills competition Saturday night.
“All the teams were together, and all the other players wanted to meet and be friends with Zaid and Neal, they’ve seen what they’ve done out there and it’s pretty cool,” Turner said.
Aside from the games themselves, the event in general has been quite the experience for the Moose Jaw crew, from the CBC broadcasts to the quality of the Rose Diamond facility and just the entire atmosphere.
“It’s been first class, these kids have been treated like rock stars,” Turner said. “And just the facility itself has been unbelievable, the tournament committee has been awesome and I have nothing but praise for them.”
The All Stars’ take on the Ontario representatives from Ancaster (1-2) on Monday (3:30 p.m.) before facing hosts Rocky Mountain (2-1) on Tuesday (12 p.m.) and closing out the round robin against Quebec (0-2) on Wednesday (3:30 p.m.)
“One thing I’ve learned as a coach, you have to keep playing well, it ain’t over until it’s over and you have to battle right until the end,” Turner said. “We’ll keep playing hard and see what happens.”
All Canadian Little League Regional tournament games are broadcast on www.cbc.ca, and replays of all Moose Jaw games can also be found on the site.