Sudbury 16U Voyageurs to cap off season this weekend

Jacob Lariviere, of the Sudbury Voyageurs U16 baseball team, works on his pitching during practice in Val Caron, Ont. on Tuesday August 13, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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Brodie Jeffery would describe the Sudbury 16U Voyageurs 2019 season of the Elite Baseball League of Ontario as a campaign full of ups and downs.

“We struggled early on, as the kids tried to get to know each other,” Jeffery, the team’s head coach, said. “We were OK. It was up and down. Sometimes we’d play really well and some days we’d play really poorly.”

The Voyageurs have compiled a record of 5-12, and will wrap up their season with three games versus Burlington this weekend at Terry Fox Sports Complex.

“We’ll be OK,” Jeffery said. “It’s our last go-around, last weekend of play, and I’m sure we’ll come out excited, hopeful that we can finish the season on a strong note. Burlington is coached well, and there’s a couple of guys there that I played with growing up, so it’d be cool to have them on the other side of the field. We’ll be OK. We’re matched up well for the weekend.

Tucker Belanger, of the Sudbury Voyageurs U16 baseball team, takes part in a practice in Val Caron, Ont. on Tuesday August 13, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network John Lappa / John Lappa/Sudbury Star


“They’re very similar to us. They won’t double you to death, hit a bunch of doubles and home runs. They’re more of a scrappy team like us. If we play defence well, then I think we’ll be able to keep them off the scoreboard.”

But at this level of play, the emphasis is more on player development, not so much on wins and losses.

And that player development was made a little trickier, as the Voyageurs experienced a player merger of talent from Barrie and Sudbury.

“I made sure that when they did team things, they weren’t just playing catch with Sudbury kids,” Jeffery said. “Early in the season, I made one Sudbury kid play catch with one Barrie kid. When I put them in groups for stuff, I made sure there was a mix of things. We did some team bonding stuff early in the season. The players all got along really well, seemed to have enjoyed each other’s company.”

Jeffery said one of the challenges with the merger is that the styles of coaching, from Sudbury to Barrie, are different.

“Their coaching style growing up is different than ours, because I’ve coached our kids for a couple of years now, so it was (about) adjusting to their stuff and not changing everything they have, but taking the things they have learned and quietly tweaking things here and there so they can play the style of play that I play.”

That style, Jeffery describes, is a bit of a blue-collar type of approach.

Anthony Signorile, of the Sudbury Voyageurs U16 baseball team, takes part in a practice in Val Caron, Ont. on Tuesday August 13, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network John Lappa / John Lappa/Sudbury Star


“We’re in a different situation, where we don’t have a ton of outstanding players,” Jeffery said. “We have some guys that are very raw, so we try to outwork everybody. We sprint off the field. We do things like that to beat people with our work ethic, rather than solely based on our skill level.”

Asked if he was pleased with how his players developed during the season, Jeffery said there’s always room for improvement.

“As a coach, you’re never satisfied,” Jeffery said. “But we have seen some guys really jump up.”

That includes the likes of Tucker Belanger.

“A kid like that I was excited about because he put forth the effort and the work, came to practice every day,” Jeffery said.

Pitcher Yanick Loiselle also took a leap in development.

“He was a guy who was our front runner on the mound,” Jeffery said. “He’d pitch in a big game and wouldn’t let the big stage get to him. He was our opening day starter for every tournament, and was a guy that I had to rip the ball out of his hands to switch pitchers. He never wanted to come out of a game. He did a good job for us.”

Not to be outdone is a player like Gavin Roy.

“He was our catcher, our best shortstop, our best centerfielder, our best hitter, our all-around best player,” Jeffery said. “And he was our leader on the team, very vocal, very positive, but he also led by example, as well.”

Overall, the season has provided the opportunity for these players to get ready for 18U, so that when they go to eliminations and the provincial championships to qualify for the national championship, they’ll be ready. Experience is so key.

“We use the regular season as a test run to see who can do what, who can’t do what, and we try to fit the best roster possible, so that when we do go to the U.S. for three tournaments, we try to at least compete there,” Jeffery said.

Though they struggled in an earlier tournament in West Virginia, they held their own in a pool that sent three teams to championship Sunday.

In their third tournament of the season, the Voyageurs ran out of gas, but in between the first and third tournaments, the Voyageurs’ most memorable moment of the season may have occurred in a second tournament played in Pittsburgh.

The Voyageurs made it to the finals there, where they earned a walk-off win in the semifinals – a walk-off single by Jackson Burek.

“That sparked some enjoyment for our guys,” Jeffery said. “It was the first time a Voyageurs team ever made it to the finals. And the way we did it. It was kind of surreal for the kids.”

The Voyageurs host Burlington on Saturday for games at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., then again at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Twitter: @keith_dempsey