MEDICINE HAT, AB – The dog days of summer are still a few months away, but the Medicine Hat High Mohawks baseball team is ready for what could be their biggest test of the season.
This week, the Mohawks are competing in sunny California for the prestigious San Diego Lions Tournament and some of the top high school programs in the United States.
For second-year veteran Tory Nelson, it’s a chance for the Mohawks to showcase their talent on the international stage.
“Exciting to go down and see some competition we haven't seen yet and see what it's like more than just in Canada,” said Nelson.
Medicine Hat is off to a 2-1 start in league play this year, but coach Cameron Rittinger said the Mohawks can’t rest on their laurels in San Diego.
“The competition down there will be stiff,” said Rittinger. “I think it's an honour to take these young men down there and they've kind of earned that themselves.”
It’s a special trip for the boys in green and white, who are the first Canadian team to compete in the 69 year history of the Lions tournament.
A tournament that’s produced multiple MLB all-stars such as Cole Hamels, Adrian Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Barry Zito, and Adam Jones.
Rookie Mohawk Jordan Hieb said it’s a feather in the cap of the Mohawks program, making Canadian history in the process.
“For just a small 60,000 population city, just going down to San Diego to play baseball, that's pretty good,” said Hieb.
Medicine Hat comes into the tournament with some experience however, playing south of the border last year in the Mingo Bay Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Experience that veterans like Nelson are looking to lean upon this week.
“It gives our team a lot of confidence,” he said. “We're thinking, ‘Hey we played this team that was really good down in the States, we're able to get this game now.’”
For first-year sluggers like Hieb though, it’s about staying patient in the batters box against elite level aces from American high schools.
“From what I've heard from Myrtle Beach, there's some pretty fast pitchers who got good demand and velocity,” he said. “So, we just got to stay positive back there and we should be fine.”
Staring down these pitchers, the Mohawks hitters will also have to adapt in a different way at the dish, with the team swapping out their aluminum bats for wooden ones.
Rittinger said he’s been getting his players ready to expect the unexpected when it comes to swinging the bat this week.
“Sometimes ones that you feel you might have squared up, they might not be going as far,” he said. “Also on the defensive side of things, not as many balls may be flying over your head, you got to play your defensive outfield alignment a little bit differently.”
Medicine Hat has qualified to compete in the 2A Division against seven other clubs looking for gold, something that Rittinger said is unquestionably the end goal for the Mohawks.
“We're not going down there expecting to lose,” he said. “We're going down there expecting to win, expecting to play hard, and win some baseball games.”
The Mohawks kick off their tournament on Monday afternoon against Linfield Christian Varsity Lions, while they face Valley Arts on Tuesday.
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