The Castor Raiders had an up and down season from the start but it all paid off when they claimed the U15 Canadian Western Champion Title on August 18 in Strathmore, Alta.
This accomplishment stems back as far as four years ago when parents and coaches had the goal in mind to build a stacked team that stood a chance at competing.
Players came from Castor as well as Big Valley, Killam, Hanna, Erskine, Alliance, Sedgewick, Olds and Grande Prairie for the tournament.
“What we did in Castor is we had a really good core [group] of kids and we just built around it.
“We tried really hard the last couple of years to attract some really good ballplayers and some really good ball families into the area to achieve that goal,” said Head Coach Jeff Bowen.
The season started off great but by the time June and July came they were thrown some curveballs.
“We faced quite a bit of adversity. We ran into some tough teams and some really good competition. We battled through it. We had a few injuries and we battled through that. We came together as a group and found ourselves,” said Bowen.
They went to provincials sitting in third place with Olds being the team to beat.
Castor had played against them a few times throughout the season and knew their strengths and weaknesses.
“Same as us, they had been together for a few years and were working towards the same thing but every time we played them we just got a little bit better and learned from some of the mistakes we made,” said Bowen.
They met again at the semi-finals at provincials in Provost, defeating them by one run, 8 – 7.
“They gutted up, they just weren’t going to lose. They just weren’t going to be denied that opportunity,” he said. Western Finals were held from Aug. 15 – 18 in Strathmore, Alta.
The original team of 11 was able to gather four more players as they represented Team Alberta including two players from Olds, one from Sedgewick and one from Grande Prairie.
Bowen wasn’t sure what to expect when they finally arrived at the Western Finals but was pleasantly surprised by the team’s ability to show up and lead.
They played Saskatchewan first, defeating them 19 – 1.
Secondly, they played the host team from Strathmore where Castor won 5 – 0.
With two wins under their belt, they faced B.C. who was known to be a strong contender.
They were neck and neck the whole game, even taking extra innings to determine a winner.
In the end, B.C. won by hitting a grand slam in the eighth inning.
To make it to the gold medal game, the Raiders needed to win their next game against Manitoba.
It had come down to the seventh inning when the Raiders got the edge to win 7 – 6.
For the final game, Castor faced the B.C. team once again, making another tight game.
At first, they were going back and forth on points but in the third inning the energy had flipped and the Raiders were down 6 – 1.
“The boys battled back. We had some good pitching and some timely hitting and ended up defeating them in the seventh inning 8 – 7.
“It was just a real comeback all the way,” said Bowen.
For the head coach, the title still hasn’t fully sunk in.
“It’s still a little surreal,” said Bowen. “Because I’ve been such a big baseball nut my whole life, it’s so hard to even get to Westerns, so for those kids to be able to pull it off, it’s still very surreal to me. It’s a once in a lifetime achievement.”
According to Bowen, the secret to the team’s success came from a sensitive, caring place: love.
“Man our players just love each other. Our boys are best friends, they’re brothers. They would do anything for each other and I think that really is the secret.
“There are some games when we are down and games where we probably should have been down and out but if a guy was having a bad game or somebody just wasn’t themselves, the rest of the group picked them up,” continued Bowen.
Most of the team will be moving up to the Midget level which is an age bracket of 15 to 19 meaning they will be building on skills to be competitive at this level.
“The intention from most of the parents I talked to was to try to keep the group together because we just have so much fun and we have become like a family over the last couple of years.”