The Carleton Ravens men’s baseball team came up just short in its bid for a first-ever Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association (CIBA) championship Oct. 21-23, falling 8-6 to the Humber College Hawks in the national semifinal in Moncton, N.B.
Despite the tough loss, the team has gone a very long way towards rebuilding the reputation of Ravens baseball.
After racking up a string of losing seasons, the men completely turned things around under head coach Rick Young, who returned for his second stint in the dugout in mid-July.
While not a total surprise, he said the team’s performance this season exceeded expectations.
“To go into a year thinking that you’re going to be rebuilding and come away with playing in the national championship semifinals and winning your conference, I’m very satisfied,” he said.
Young also served as coach of the Ravens baseball team from 1998-2003.
“I told these guys early in the season they were the best team Carleton had ever assembled.”
Given the team’s play, it’s hard to argue with him.
The team opened the tournament with two consecutive wins during round robin play, securing a berth in the semis Oct. 23. The Ravens started out with a 4-2 victory over Moncton’s Crandall University, and followed that with a resounding 7-0 win over Toronto’s Humber College.
In the rematch against the Humber Hawks, a rough third inning was the difference between a spot in the national final, and heartbreak.
With some clutch hitting, the Hawks scored five runs in the top of the inning to jump out to a 5-0 lead. Despite the Ravens’ best efforts, the hole proved too steep to climb out of.
“It’s often said that before you learn how to win, you must learn how to lose. Getting so close to a title, I’m sure the team understands what it will take to bring home a championship,” said Blake Enzel, one of four team’s captains.
Throughout the season, Young said the strength of his club has been on the pitching mound. The Ravens boast one of the strongest pitching staffs in the nation, with three starters who will all be returning in 2012.
“When you can throw out guys like Charlie Crabb, Tyler Bray and Matt MacDonald, you’re always going to have a good chance to win,” Young said. “Any one of those three would be a number one or two starter on almost every other team in the country.”
The ace of the staff is Crabb, who is a candidate for the CIBA pitcher of the year award. The right-hander tossed a complete-game in the tournament opener against Crandall, striking out eight in the process.
“Compared to last year, this season was a blast. We only won four games last year so to make it all the way to nationals was a great accomplishment,” Crabb said. “But I was really sorry that we didn’t make it all the way to the finals and win the whole damn thing.”
Although it’s difficult to return home empty-handed, Crabb said the experience of a national tournament is something that cannot be overstated.
“Just knowing what kind of mindset and mentality you have to go into those games with, it’s going to be a huge help next year if we end up in that situation again.”
Young is hoping that his team can follow in the footsteps of Dave Smart and the men’s basketball program, who suffered disappointment of their own before capturing the ultimate prize.
“There were some jitters and nervousness, but they got it done, and that is what I want to do with our team. We didn’t win it all, but let’s use this as a positive,” he said.
With an extra bat or two in the line-up, and possibly another arm to compliment the ‘big three,’ the Ravens could be primed for another post-season appearance.
“The University of Ottawa will be hosting [nationals] next year, and I think there is a pretty good chance Carleton will be there,” Young said.
If they do go on to claim a national crown, the men will have to do it without their captain.
This was Enzel’s final season as a Raven.
“It’s bittersweet, of course,” the departing catcher said. “To say that I badly wanted a championship is a severe understatement. But I am very proud to have been a part of this team, and can’t wait to see them take the nation by storm in 2012.”
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