BURLINGTON, Ont. – The Brock Badgers are looking to hoist the Jason Guindon Trophy in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history as the OUA Baseball Championship gets underway this Friday at noon from Labatt Park and Dan Pulham Park in London, Ont.
It took every game of the regular season this year to finalize the playoff bracket for the championship, but it undoubtedly sets up an action-packed weekend for OUA baseball fans.
The defending champion Brock Badgers haven't skipped a beat from last years' incredible season as they head to the postseason in first place.
The Badgers dominated the league once again this season finishing with a 16-2 record, which included head coach Jeff Lounsbury's 500th career victory with Brock. The Badgers also boast the league's top offence, which put up 160 runs this season. Brock fourth-year ace Ryan Beckett (Tiny, Ont.) led the league in ERA (0.36) and also sits tied atop the wins category with four.
Brock features arguably OUA's most dangerous hitter in right fielder Justin Gideon (Pickering, Ont.). Appearing in all 18 games for the Badgers this season, Gideon finished first in runs (30), hits (27), total bases (41) and slugging percentage (.641), to go along with three home runs and 19 RBIs.
Brock first baseman Rob Byckowski (Milton, Ont.) hit .432/.569/.545 in his rookie year and the former Canadian National Jr. Team member, who was drafted by Cincinnati Reds (22nd round 2014), appears poised to help the Badgers take another run at the Jason Guindon Trophy.
The first-place Badgers will meet up with the sixth-place Ryerson Rams, a team that snuck into playoffs with a win over McMaster on final weekend of the regular season. This is the first playoff appearance in school history for the Rams, who finished the season with a record of 7-11, just narrowly edging out the Waterloo Warriors. The Rams picked things up in October, pulling together five wins over the course of the month to push themselves into the playoff picture.
"I can't say enough about this group of guys, and it's not just because they are playing good baseball," said Rams head coach Ben Rich. "They have really taken ownership of this program to get it to where we are now and I'm tremendously proud of that."
It will be an uphill battle for the Rams, but in the double-elimination championship format, anything is possible, especially when you have workhorse starting pitcher Quinn Cumming (Toronto, Ont.) taking the mound. Cumming finished first in OUA in innings pitched (46.0), strikeouts (33) and complete games (4).
The only team that knows what it takes to win a matchup with the Badgers this season is the Guelph Gryphons, who enter playoffs in the fourth-seed with a record of 12-6. The Gryphs were the only team to hand Brock losses, narrowly topping the Badgers, 6-5 and 6-4 to start off the regular season. From there, Guelph would go 9-1 the rest of September, while Brock wouldn't lose another game all season.
In the other first-round matchups, the No. 2 seed Laurier Golden Hawks will start their playoff run taking on the fifth-ranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues, while the No. 3 seed and host Western Mustangs will match up with the previously mentioned Gryphons.
Laurier, who finished September with a record of 4-4, turned up the heat in October winning 10 straight to finish their season with a 14-4 record. The Golden Hawks beat their opponents by a combined score of 82-25 over the course of October, and will look to fifth-year outfielder Alex Kupchak (Oakville, Ont.), who led the league in RBIs with 24, to maintain that high-octane offence throughout playoffs.
The Golden Hawks walked the fewest batters in the conference this season and will rely on ace Andrew Ziedins (Toronto, Ont.) to take them back to the championship.
Starting in five games for the Golden Hawks, the fifth-year communications student-athlete went 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 26.2 innings of work. In his season debut on Sept. 20 against Queen's Gaels, Ziedins pitched a complete game shutout, allowing just five hits in seven innings of work as the Golden Hawks downed the Gaels 4-0.
Toronto comes into the playoffs on a bit of a down turn, losing four-straight games, including a double-header to their first-round foes from Laurier in the final series of the regular season. The Blues will look to bounce back in playoffs on the backs of third-year outfielder Bradley Bedford (Burlington, Ont.), who led the league in stolen bases (12), and pitcher Colin Edwards (Scarborough, Ont.) who finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first in wins with four.
The Western Mustangs enter the postseason as the third seed with a record of 13-5, and look to put a disappointing playoff performance last year behind them. Expect two-time OUA pitcher of the year Adam Paish (Mississauga, Ont.) to lead the way on the mound for the Mustangs, while at the plate designated hitter Andrew Firth (London, Ont.) led the league during the regular season with four home runs.
Guelph's line-up features 2014 OUA first-team all-star centre fielder Peter Ricciardi (Pickering, Ont.) while third-year starter Jeff Snelgrove (Brampton, Ont.) and rookie reliever Denver Carter (Mississauga, Ont.) have both anchored the Gryphons pitching staff. Snelgrove went 3-1 with a 4.22 ERA in five games this season for Guelph, while Carter hasn't allowed an earned run in relief yet this season.
The tournament begins on Friday when Laurier takes on Toronto at Dan Pulham Park, while the host Western Mustangs face off against the Guelph Gryphons at Labatt Park. First pitch for both games is scheduled for noon.
Prior to the start of each team's opening games, there will be an on field presentation recognizing major award winners, along with OUA first-team and second-team all-stars.
The tournament concludes on Sunday with Championship Game 1 at 11:00 am, followed by Game 2 if necessary at 3:00 pm.