BURLINGTON, Ont. – The defending champion Western Mustangs will head to the Ajax Sportsplex this weekend looking to become the first team since the host University of Toronto Varsity Blues to hoist the Jason Guindon Trophy in back-to-back seasons.
Last season, the Mustangs defeated the 2014 champion Brock Badgers 9-4 in the final to claim their first title since 2009 and the fifth in program history. Western finished the regular season with a 14-4 record and will enter the championship as the No. 2 seed on Friday.
The Mustangs are led by SS Nolan Anderson (London, Ont.) and 1B Jeff Martin (Ajax, Ont.), who were both recently named OUA first-team all-stars. Martin hit .429/.515/.607 to go along with a home run and 10 RBIs, while Anderson appeared in all 18 games this season for his hometown Mustangs and led the conference with 25 runs.
Western will open their title defence on Friday at noon at the Ajax Sportsplex - Diamond 5 against the No. 5 seed Waterloo Warriors. The two teams split their regular season series in Waterloo, Ont. in late September. After the Mustangs prevailed 10-7 in Game 1, the Warriors bounced back in Game 2 with a 5-4 victory.
The season almost ended last weekend for the Warriors but a pair of dramatic wins on Sunday against the Queen's Gael saved their year. Heading into the ninth down 10-5, the Warriors scored six runs in the bottom of the inning to walk-off with an 11-10 victory in Game 1 and held on in Game 2 for a tight 6-5 win.
Warriors 3B Michael Clouthier (Guelph, Ont.) is one of the most dangerous hitters in OUA and has the potential to almost singlehandedly steal a victory for Waterloo. The 2013 OUA Rookie of the Year has now been named an OUA first-team all-star for three consecutive seasons, including 2016, after he hit .371/.500/.742 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs.
Look for SP Stephen Gade (Guelph, Ont.) to potentially get the ball for the Warriors against Western after the third-year civil engineering major went 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 24 strikeouts in five games.
The Laurier Golden Hawks will enter the OUA championship as the No. 1 seed after a 15-3 regular season record as they look to hoist the Jason Guindon Trophy for the first time since 2013. And with a lineup that features both the OUA Top Hitter and OUA Top Pitcher you'd have to like their chances of winning their second championship title in program history.
Golden Hawks OF Jonathan Brouse (Port Perry, Ont.) was a forced to be reckoned with all season at the dish and shows no signs of slowing down. The Port Perry, Ont. native led the conference in both batting average (.462) and RBIs (27) and finished in the top five in both on base percentage (.507) and slugging percentage (.677).
With a double elimination format in place for the tournament it will be interesting to see who gets the ball for Laurier in Game 1. But one thing is for certain if you're the host Varsity Blues, you just hope it isn't SP Christian Hauck (Orangeville, Ont.) taking the mound on Friday morning.
In just his second year in the conference, Hauck started four games this season for the Golden Hawks and finished atop the conference ranks with a 0.67 ERA and second with 30 strikeouts in 27.0 innings.
The Golden Hawks swept the Blues in their two game series earlier this season at Bechtel Park in Waterloo, Ont. but in October baseball anything can happen.
For the No. 6 seed and host University of Toronto Varsity Blues the offence runs through second-year standout 2B Gabriel Nakonechny (Toronto, Ont.). In just his second season with his hometown club, Nacknechny was once again named an OUA all-star after he led the Blues in runs (19), hits (25), triples (3) and RBIs (14). Nacknechny swiped a league high 18 bases during the regular season and will look to use his speed to disrupt the Golden Hawks.
Catcher continues to be a position of strength for the Varsity Blues as for the third consecutive season their lineup features an OUA first-team all-star at the position with C Kyle Bowers (Toronto, Ont.) receiving the honours this season. Bowers hit .351/.457/.386 to go along with 14 runs and six stolen bases, while throwing out .400 of stolen base attempts behind the plate.
This is the second consecutive season the Golden Hawks and Varsity Blues will meet in the opening round of the playoffs. Last year at Dan Pulham Park in London, Ont. it was the Golden Hawks that got the better of the Blues in a 13-3 victory.
The No. 3 seed Brock Badgers will be looking for their fifth OUA championship in program history when they meet the No. 4 seed Guelph Gryphons on Friday. The Gryphons, who are still looking to hoist the Jason Guindon Trophy for the first time, fell 12-2 and 7-4 to the Badgers in the regular season but enter the championship as the hottest team in the conference having rattled off six consecutive wins.
DH Nick Interisano (Guelph, Ont.) has been a fixture in the middle of a potent Gryphons lineup all season long and will look to lead Guelph to an upset on Friday. Interisano hit .439/.446/.561 to go along with five doubles and 16 RBIs. In the Gryphons 10 victories this season that Interisano played in, the Guelph, Ont. native hit .515/.513/.667 compared to .333/.346/.417 in their seven losses.
It was a tough season as a whole for a Gryphons pitching staff who finished the season with a collective ERA of 5.08. However, SP Samuel Salemi (Toronto, Ont.) established himself as the ace of the staff going 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 22.0 innings for Guelph.
Brock enters the OUA championship winners of five of their six final regular season games with their only loss coming at the hands of the No. 1 seed Golden Hawks. The Badgers roster features as trio of all-stars as 1B Blake Stepien (Guelph, Ont.), OF Tyler Nakamura (Concord, Ont.) and RP Nick Subramaniam (Mississauga, Ont.) were all recently named to the second-team.
A strength this season for the Badgers was their pitching, which ranked in the top three in several statistical categories, including: earned run average (3.43) and batting average against (.226). SP Rhys Tapper (Ancaster, Ont.) finished the season with a tidy 0.66 ERA in three appearances while striking out nine.
The tournament begins on Friday at 11:00 a.m. when the host Varsity Blues take on the No. 1 seeded Laurier Golden Hawks at UTSC - Dan Lang Field. At the Ajax Sportsplex, Guelph will take on Brock, while Waterloo will take on the defending champion Mustangs. First pitch for both games is scheduled for noon.
Prior to the start of Game 4 on Friday night, there will be an on field presentation recognizing major award winners, along with OUA first-team and second-team all-stars, at Diamond 5 of the Ajax Sportsplex at 5:45 p.m.
The tournament concludes on Sunday with Championship Game 1 at 11:00 am, followed by Game 2 if necessary at 3:00 pm.