Mustangs facing tough competition in their quest for third straight baseball banner

Mustangs facing tough competition in their quest for third straight baseball banner

BURLINGTON, Ont. – Will it be a third straight championship for Western? The two-time defending champions will have their work cut out for them ahead of this year's banner event, but will be making a push for the three-peat this weekend in Ajax.

Looking to dethrone the reigning champs in this year's single elimination tournament will be the likes of other recent title holders, including the Brock Badgers (2014), Laurier Golden Hawks (2013), and Toronto Varsity Blues (2012). This trio, along with the aforementioned Mustangs, makes up the top four seeds heading into the championship, with the Badgers settling in atop the standings.

Brock maintained their winning ways throughout the season, winning seven of their first eight games, including a pair of victories over Laurier and Toronto. This hot start would roll right into the final weekend, as the high-powered Badgers are the proud owners of a 13-win season. Helping to launch the St. Catharines school into the upper echelon are the likes of Noah Koffman and Justin Gideon, who will be relied upon to keep swinging a sizzling stick when the team welcomes their quarterfinal foe. Not only do the Badgers boast a capable collection of hitters, but hurlers as well. The trio of Chase Porter, Alex Nolan, and Derek Zwolinski each put forth sub-4.00 ERAs on the season, including a 1.52 and 1.38 from the latter pair, respectively. With the proven ability to beat teams in many ways, the Badgers will deservedly be considered one of the favourites at this year's event.

Right behind Brock, coming in with a 12-4 record for the season, are the Laurier Golden Hawks. The 2013 champions were a beacon of consistency this year, featuring separate win streaks of five and six games, respectively. En route to their 12-4 record, the Golden Hawks used an unyielding offensive attack, ranking among the league leaders in most offensive categories, including runs (104), average (.327), and total bases (199). Locked and loaded within this hitting-heavy lineup are the likes of Ryley Davenport, Daniel Apostoli, Robert Cant, and Dallas Taylor, each of whom topped the .400 AVG mark this season. Combine that offensive prowess with their stingy pitching (2.21 ERA, .204 AVG against, and five shutouts) led by Austin Hassani, and Laurier will enter the championships as one of the most well-rounded clubs the province has to offer.

Entering as the No. 3 seed, meanwhile, are the Mustangs. Despite notching an early four-game win streak, Western wasn't able to keep up the pace, hovering around the .500 mark the rest of the way. This record proves to be indicative of the team's overall performance this year, coming in middle of the pack across many major offensive and pitching categories. You can never count the Mustangs out; however, especially with the likes of Jeff Martin leading the offensive charge. The infielder put together a solid season, showcasing both power and speed en route to his .327 average, and will undoubtedly play a role in the team's championship showing.  Other key pieces for the Mustangs will be the pitching combo of Dustin Godden and Adam Paish, who in combining to throw nearly 50 innings this year, both own sub-4.00 ERAs.

Coming in with an identical 9-7 record are the Varsity Blues. It was an up and down season for UofT, but the club ended on a high winning six of their final nine games to help them secure the fourth seed in this weekend's championships. These late season victories included a sweep of Ryerson and a big win over Laurier; something the club will definitely be looking to build on. In the middle of most of the Varsity Blues' work offensively is their catcher, Tanner Young-Schultz. The senior is having another astounding year at the plate (.300 AVG, 3 3B, 2 HR, 16 RBI), while also serving as half of the battery with OUA-standout pitcher, Graham Tebbit.  Tebbit is truly among the conference's elite on the mound, collecting a 5-0 record this season with a sparkling 0.55 ERA and 11.73 K/9 over 33 IP. Beyond the mound, however, Toronto will need to do what they've done all season – get on base and wreak havoc once they're on – if they want to earn their first baseball title since 2012.

Entering championship play in the No. 5 position are the Guelph Gryphons (8-8). Despite losing a tough pair of games to Brock to close out the regular season, the Gryphons played some of their best baseball down the stretch, reeling off a five-game win streak prior to that final weekend. Helping the Gryphons make waves this weekend will be reining University of Guelph Athlete of the Week, Kyle Kinsey. Kinsey is the proud owner of a .386 AVG with a home run, 11 RBI, and four stolen bases on the year. Along with fellow .300-hitter Nick Interisano, the pair should form a dynamic duo at the plate. Looking to be equally as dynamic in the field, meanwhile, is Sam Salemi, who led the Gryphons with 22 innings pitched and a pair of wins, and Mason Copeland, who delivered strong defence at both shortstop and centre field.

The final team who will be guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals is the Queen's Gaels, who come in as the sixth seed with a 7-9 record. Four tough losses in their first five contests dug an early hole for the team, but with wins against top seeds Brock, Laurier, and UofT sprinkled in throughout the year, the Gaels could certainly be on upset patrol. One of the bright spots for Queen's this season comes in the form of pitcher Will Langford. Langford put forth a historic performance for the Gaels earlier in the year, notching the school's first ever no-hitter while striking out 13 along the way. All eyes will be on the Kinesiology major to see what kind of magic he can produce under the championship spotlight.

Looking to play their way into the quarterfinals as the No. 7 seed will be the McMaster Marauders. Despite winning their first two games of the season, things took a turn for the worse for the Marauders thereafter. Thanks in large part to an OUA-high 7.03 ERA and a middle-of-the-pack offence, the team went on to lose nine of their next 10 and all but cemented their place in the bottom half of the standings. Despite their record, McMaster's key pieces will still pose a threat to first round opponent, Windsor. The team has relied predominantly on a trio of starters, but it is reliever Quinn Finch who will may prove to be the decisive piece on the mound after collecting a sparkling 1.26 ERA across six appearances (14.1 IP). At the plate, meanwhile, the Hamilton school boasts five .300-hitters, highlighted by newcomer Jackson McIntosh, sophomore Lucas DaSilva, and veteran Michael Campagnolo, all of whom will need to contribute to help Mac overpower a tough Lancers squad.

Battling to be Brock's opponent, meanwhile, are the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds – the Ryerson Rams and Waterloo Warriors, respectively. The host Rams were able to play .500 ball through their first 10 games, but stumbled to the finish line, losing their final six contests to fall out of the OUA leaderboard. If the Rams want to earn a spot in the quarterfinals, they'll need to be strong both at the plate and on the mound. Helping with the former will be Jesse Fishbaum, who has been the offensive sparkplug at the top of the order. With a .316 AVG and .409 OBP, Fishbaum will need to use his combination of power and speed to make an impact. Backing up the offensive side, the Rams will be relying on Quinn Cumming and Caleb King, both of whom pitched deep into games this season. Cumming sits near the top of the strikeout leaderboard and will need to keep missing bats this weekend for his team to find success.

On the other side of this first round tilt is Waterloo, whose offensive struggles led to a record of 4-12 for the season. The team ranks near the bottom in many offensive categories, so if they are going to make a push for the banner, they will need to rely on their ace, Sam Goindi. Goindi proved to be an integral cog in the Warriors' pitching staff – both as a starter and coming out of the bullpen – pitching to the tune of a 2.61 ERA over 31.0 IP. Goindi made the most of his appearances this year and will need to do the same for a team that has just two hitters above the .250 mark.

The 10th and final team that will round out the championship lineup is the Windsor Lancers, who are one of the top teams in all of Canada. Windsor will prove to be a tough out for any opponent, given their offensive propensity and pitching prowess. The team combined for a miniscule 1.70 ERA on the year, including marks of just 0.32 and 0.91 from starters Jack Zimmerman and Josh Neposlan, while also boasting seven hitters above the .300 clip. Needless to say, the Lancers will be looking to translate this talented roster into an OUA championship.

The tournament begins on Friday at 11:00 am when the host Ryerson Rams take on the Waterloo Warriors at the Ajax Sportsplex (Diamond 5). The tournament will come to a close on Sunday, with the Championship game being held at 3:00 pm on Diamond 5.

To learn more about the event, check out the 2017 Baseball Championship Fan Guide.