Axemen pass the torch to next generation
Camrose Axemen second baseman and team manager Zach Wilms reaches high to bring down a throw to second base against the Rosalind Athletics in Powerline Baseball League exhibition action in Camrose on May 9. Josh Aldrich/Camrose CanadianNetwork
As the Camrose Axemen make their return to the Powerline Baseball League they do so with a new bench boss.
Kris Kushnerik officially made the handoff to the youth movement this spring, leaving Zach Wilms in charge as the new manager. Wilms is only a couple of years removed from playing midget ball but is now tasked with steering the senior A club's ship.
"It's a lot of pressure but I think I'm ready for it," said Wilms. "I've played with all the young guys my whole life, just about. This is my third year playing with the Axemen now, so I'm getting a feel for old guys and what positions they can play. I'm excited."
The club spent much of the last couple of seasons breaking in a new wave of younger players to eventually take over from an aging core. This group has a few college players that played full time with the Axemen last season like Matt Andreassen, Zach Bailey and Spencer Burton. It is the graduated midget AAs that Kushnerik was waiting on that will be full-fledged Axemen this season, including Wilms, Kyler Kupka, Jacob Kendall, Brandon Erik, Brady Ryan, and John Robbins.
There is reason for that optimism, the group won midget A provincials three years ago and earned silver at the AA level the next year. Last year they capped another strong season with a trip back to provincials. Kushnerik has long viewed this group as the future of the Axemen.
For players like Kendall, it is just the next logical step as a group.
"It's awesome," said Kendall, who played one game with the Axemen last year. "Growing up you bike by the diamond and you'd see the Axemen playing, it's cool it has been around for this long. Now it’s us young guys coming up who get a chance to play and that's what it's all about."
The young guys are not completely on their own, there are still some veterans filling out key spots on the roster like Kushnerik who will play more of a reserve role this season and handle much of the general manager and off diamond organization. Also back is outfielder Jordan Riopel and veteran catcher Kris Johnson who will play a major part in handling a young pitching. They will also see the return of a few former players like Wes Harrison, Wes Wilson, Luc Riopel, and Gord Nadeau.
The biggest question mark about the roster is going to be pitching. Wilms says Robbins will be a big part of the staff and there are a few other potential arms like Joe Pasychynk, Bailey and Andreassen on the roster, but he is not sure how they will all fit together yet.
"We've got a lot of young guys coming up who are all one or two inning guys, so (relief) is not a concern, but starting pitching will probably be the hardest thing to find this year," said Wilms.
Still, Wilms is confident in what he has to work with on the roster and has high expectations for their return to the PBL despite going 4-12 in the senior AA North Central Alberta Baseball League last season.
"I think it will be a winning season, I'm really excited," he said. "I think we'll be a lot more competitive int his league with the smaller towns, so hopefully a playoff run and ultimately a championship."
The Axemen do have some work ahead of them, however, after dropping their season opener 11-10 in Tofield to the Braves on Saturday. The Axemen committed six errors in the sloppy contest as Braves outfield Craig Neufeld capped a late Tofield rally with a walk-off, two out single in the bottom of the seventh inning. Braves pitcher Corey Epp and Camrose's Willms both hit three-run home runs while Ray Lehman made a successful return to a PBL mound picking up a relief win. Andreassen took the loss for the Axemen.
Eight of the nine teams in the Powerline Baseball League were on the field on Saturday
Armena Royals 9, Leduc Millteers 2
Ian Sherbaniuk dominated the Milleteers to pick up a complete-game win on Opening Day for the Royals. Offensivley, everyone contributed throughout the Royals' lineup.
Rosalind Athletics 11, Sherwood Park Athletics 4
Rosalind outfielder Nic Ronsko's solo home run helped pace their blow out Sherwood Park. Rosalind’s Mark Gjesdal earned the win while Joey Poapst took the loss. Brayden Bensen went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Sheldon Pederson went 1-for-2 with two walks, a double and three stolen bases in the win.
Edmonton Expos 7, Holden Blue Jays 0
Edmonton Expos starting pitcher Gary LeBlanc held the Holden Blue Jays to two hits as the Expos easily defeated the Jays for their first regular season win in franchise history. Grayson Suprovich took the loss for the Jays as Craig Weder collected both hits for Holden, going 2-for-4.
Camrose Roadrunners 0, Holden Blue Jays 0
Jays right hander Stephen Hrabec would go the distance striking out seven and allowing only three hits for the win in Holden’s home opener. The win is the third in a row for the Jays over the Roadrunners dating back to last season and fourth win in the last five games between the two teams. The win evens the Jays record at 1-1 while the Roadrunners start the season 0-1. Blue Jays Craig Weder continues his hot start for the team going 2/3 with a double and two RBI while Zack Lang contributed with a double and a RBI in the win.
Armena Royals 13, Tofield Braves 11
Another high scoring affair for the Braves, however this time they come out with a loss to the now 2-0 Armena Royals. Tofield would have the tying run in scoring position with one out in the seventh but would fall short of their second walk off win in as many games. With Tofield up by six in the sixth inning, Armena would score seven runs to make it 12-11 and adding an insurance run in the seventh for a 13-11 win . Royals pitcher Doug Morris would earn the save by shutting down Tofield in the bottom of the seventh while Chad Nelson would take the loss for the Braves.
Edmonton Expos 3, Leduc Milleteers 2
The Expos are now 2-0 and the Milleteers are 0-2 after Tuesday night’s game in Leduc.