Stingers Head to Nationals for the 5th Time in 7 Years
On Saturday afternoon, the Carleton Ravens baseball team arrived at Trudeau Park to face the Concordia Stingers, sporting “We’re Going To Nattys” T-shirts—“nattys” being short for nationals, where Carleton and five other universities will battle it out to be crowned the best team in the country.
With bragging rights and a higher seed at nationals on the line the Ravens, who like the Stingers qualified for the national championship by virtue of having made it to the conference finals, were nonetheless looking to make a statement with their sense of style.
But it was the Stingers who made themselves heard loud and clear, doing their talk on the diamond.
After Carleton swept the Stingers in last year’s conference semifinals, the Maroon and Gold returned the favour this year with two straight victories in their doubleheader at Trudeau Park over the weekend to claim the best-of-three Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association Northern Conference title.
Both games featured strong performances from Concordia’s pitching rotation, as well as timely hitting from their batting order. The conference championship capped off a stellar regular season for the Stingers, where the team finished with an impressive 13-3 record.
“I think they really convinced me that they can do anything they want at any time,” said team manager Howie Schwartz moments after clinching the conference title.
Game 1 of the series ended with a 4-1 scoreline, headlined by a performance to remember from Stingers pitcher Jonathan Raftus, who pitched a complete game, brought a no-hitter and helped establish a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning.
The score was 1-0 until the sixth inning, where the Stingers scored three runs, bumping the score up in their favour. The Ravens eventually got to Raftus in the seventh and scored a run, but by then it was too, little too late.
“It was one of the better performances of my year, probably of my career,” said Raftus. “I’ve never had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning like that, so that was pretty special.”
Game 2 started promisingly for the Stingers as they took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. It would be short-lived, however, with pitcher Roberto Zapata allowing four runs in the very next inning, allowing one more in the fourth before giving way to reliever Daniel Connerty.
Connerty gave up a run of his own that inning, but it would be Carleton’s last score of the game. At the bottom of the inning Concordia mounted its comeback, taking advantage of back-to-back fielding errors in the Carleton outfield to score four runs, tying the game at 6-6.
The game-winning run for Concordia came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when a Carleton outfielder caught a sacrifice fly in foul territory, allowing the Stingers to tag up and score to take the lead for good at 7-6.
The comeback was nothing new for Connerty and his teammates.
“It’s happened throughout the year,” said Connerty, who was awarded the win. “The coaching staff’s always told us: the good teams always find a way to win, regardless of the situation.”
Closer Andre Lagarde came in as a stopgap in the seventh inning for the save and, more importantly, helped ensure the team would not have to make a trip to Ottawa for a third game in the series.
“We didn’t want to go Carleton,” said Lagarde. “There’s no way we wanted to go on a bus ride [there]. No way.”
The team will still have to go on another bus ride, but the trip to Windsor, Ont. for the national championship later this week will likely be more energizing than a trip to a third conference finals game.
“[We’re] really excited,” said Lagarde. “We’re pumped!”
The team isn’t short of confidence, either.
“We’re a pretty damn good team, I would say,” said Connerty.
While the players are chomping at the bit to make a memorable run in nationals, it seems no one wants the title more than Schwartz.
“I definitely want the hardware,” he said. “Every team [I’ve coached] deserves it. I’ve loved every team I’ve coached but these guys are really special.
“I really want it for these guys,” he continued.
Perhaps what makes this squad so special is the fact it features 14 rookies on the 25-man roster—the most Schwartz, who founded the Stingers baseball club in 1999, says he’s ever had on a team. But while the experience in Windsor will be brand new to those first-year players, it’s familiar territory to Schwartz.
“We’ve [now] been to nationals five times in the last seven years; we know the good teams, we know what’s out there,” he said.
Still, knowing what to expect and winning it all are two different things. Despite all their recent trips to nationals, the team only has one national championship to its name—a win over Cape Breton in 2009.
Concordia made it back to nationals the next two seasons in a row, being bounced both times in the semifinals, before losing the conference semifinals last season.
If one thing’s for sure, it’s that Schwartz doesn’t expect to leave this year’s playoffs empty-handed.
“I don’t care who we’re playing,” he said. “I think we have enough to beat anybody, anytime.”
The 2013 CIBA National Championship will take place in Windsor, Ont. from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.