Sports

Barrie opens IBL season on Saturday afternoon against Guelph

By Stephen Sweet, Special to Postmedia Network

Jeff Cowan will be moving to second base this season with the Barrie Baycats while Branfy Arias will move from the outfield to shortstop. Gone from last year's Intercounty Baseball League championship squad are shortstop Jason Coker and second-baseman Jonathan Fernandez. POSTMEDIA NETWORK/FILE PHOTO

Jeff Cowan will be moving to second base this season with the Barrie Baycats while Branfy Arias will move from the outfield to shortstop. Gone from last year's Intercounty Baseball League championship squad are shortstop Jason Coker and second-baseman Jonathan Fernandez. POSTMEDIA NETWORK/FILE PHOTO

The defending champs are back at it.

After putting up a franchise-best 30-6 regular-season record along with playoff series wins against the Brantford Red Sox and London Majors, the Barrie Baycats enter 2015 as the Intercounty Baseball League’s title-holders.

And there’s no surprise that they’re champing at the bit to get back out there.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement,” said Baycats manager Angus Roy. “I think there’s been a lot of excitement around our organization for a few years now, because we’ve been in a position to compete for a few years, and last year, we finally got over the hump, so the excitement has increased a little bit.

“Once the weather turns and we get closer to opening day, there’s a lot of excitement that comes up.”

Barrie comes off of a year where it was downright dominant, never once losing back-to-back games and dropping less than 10 contests, including playoffs, over the entire season.

Although the Baycats do return much of the core from 2014, they’re not expecting to meet or surpass the .800 winning percentage again.

“Last year was probably a once-in-a-lifetime season,” Roy said. “You can’t expect us to come and duplicate what we did. We were one of the best overall seasons in the history in the IBL and to put that kind of expectation on a group this season would be idiotic.

“Last year was tremendous and I’ll have it in my memory bank going forward as long as I have a memory,” he added. “But we’re trying to turn a page, which we always do, and use the previous year’s experience to help us as we move on.”

Two big subtractions from last year’s team are shortstop Jason Coker and second baseman Jonathan Fernandez, who provided stellar defence from some high-risk positions.

“That was our middle infield for a couple of years, and the middle of the diamond is very important, so those two are big losses,” said Roy, who also mentioned that left-handed pitcher Dan Meyer has also left to sign a contract with the Can-Am League’s Ottawa Champions.

“But we feel we’ve got guys that can step up and we’ve brought in guys that can help us get back to where we want to be," the skipper added.

At this point, it’s expected that Branfy Arias, who was in centre field for much of the playoffs, will move to shortstop, and Jeff Cowan, who began his Baycats career at second, will return there.

“Branfy has done well for us (at shortstop) and did so for Toronto, too,” Roy said. “We’re also going to move Cowan from the outfield to second base, (which) he played all through college.”

These moves are able to happen thanks to the return of a familiar face in centre field.

Fan favourite and speedster Glenn Jackson is back in Barrie this season, after having played the last few years closer to home for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We’re adding arguably the best centre-fielder in the league,” Roy said. “He’s put up tremendous numbers in Toronto, he put up tremendous numbers here, and he’s well-respected in the league.

“He’ll make us tremendous defensively in the outfield, he plays our style of game, and he fits in well in our clubhouse.”

Once again, the Baycats are expected to be strong on the mound, although it may take a while for all of the pieces to come together.

“We’re going to have pretty much the same staff minus Dan Meyer,” said Roy, who was a pitcher on the 2005 IBL champion Baycats. “We won’t have everyone early though, because (Adam) Rowe’s got work commitments, (Chris) Kemlo’s got work commitments, but they’ll be there come crunch time. They always are.

“They’re tremendous pitchers and great guys and you can’t say enough about them,” Roy added. “(Penetanguishene’s Brad) Bissell’s back, too, as is Brett Lawson and Brodie Harkness, when he gets back from school.

“We’ve got plenty of guys who can step up (and) I feel good about our pitching staff this year.”

While the Baycats look to have the players there to repeat in 2015, Roy knows it won’t be easy.

“I think the biggest thing this year for us is that we’ll be the most targeted team,” Roy said. “Brantford’s been the targeted team for almost the past decade, but now more teams will target us as much as they targeted them.

“But I do have high expectations for this group because they’ve been through the wars, they know how to play to get over the top and how I expect them to play.”

The Baycats will play an exhibition game on Tuesday night against the Ontario Blue Jays at recently renamed Coates Stadium, and on Thursday, they’ll receive their championship rings in a ceremony taking place at Tiff’s Sports Bar on Anne Street between 5-7 p.m.

Barrie’s home opener is on Saturday, May 9, at 2 p.m., when it hosts the Guelph Royals.

Twitter.com/stephen_sweet

LEAFS BLAST CARDS IN IBL OPENER

TORONTO (STAFF) — The Toronto Maple Leafs opened the 97th Intercounty Baseball League season on Sunday afternoon with a 13-1 win over the Hamilton Cardinals.

Leafs second-baseman Dan Marra led the offensive onslaught with three singles and four RBI. Leadoff hitter and Toronto shortstop Tyler Mitchell went 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs.

Jonathan Solazzo and Brendan Keys each had two hits and two RBI for the Leafs, who host Kitchener May 10 at 2 p.m.

The Cardinals host Brantford May 10 at 2 p.m.