Reposted from The Charlatan Oct. 31, 2019
By: Ethan Diamandas
Photo by: Laura Burnside
OTTAWA (Oct. 31. 2019) –
Against all odds, the Carleton Ravens baseball team took home the silver medal on Oct. 13 at Pan Am Field in Ajax, Ont., concluding an impressive inaugural Ontario University Athletic (OUA) season.
Carleton originally entered the finals tournament ranked dead-last, holding the 14th seed, yet despite the low ranking, they got off to a 2-0-1 start during round-robin play. The Ravens then strung together four emphatic victories before falling 12-1 to repeat champs Wilfrid Laurier in the championship game.
Their incredible run was boosted by OUA first team all-star Ryan Burnside, who mashed the ball all weekend, hitting .375 with eight RBIs and tied for the tournament lead with nine hits.
At the start of the tournament on Oct. 11, the Ravens had their first meeting with Laurier, and Carleton found themselves down 6-4 in the top of the seventh inning.
Until Burnside stepped up to the dish.
“I expected them to intentionally walk me that at-bat,” said Burnside. “Then the coach went back to the dugout and the pitcher went back on the mound and I was like, ‘man, they might actually pitch to me.’”
“I was just looking for one pitch, a pitch right down the middle, something I could do damage with,” said Burnside. “Because at that point, I knew I just wanted to hit one, and I wanted to hit one far.”
The decision to pitch to the OUA’s regular season home run leader proved costly, as Burnside took Laurier pitcher Nick Murray deep to left field, tying the game at six runs apiece.
“The second pitch was right there, and I just put a good swing on it,” Burnside said.
While that game ended in a draw, Burnside’s home run provided a spark the Ravens needed to start some legitimate momentum.
Carleton went on to defeat the Western University Mustangs 5-0 that same day, and beat the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 3-2 on Oct. 12.
Beyond Burnside’s performance, the Ravens also pushed themselves into the knockout rounds thanks in part to a phenomenal weekend performance by pitcher Nathan Van Putten. The rookie struck out a tournament-leading 19 batters while posting a miniscule 1.89 ERA.
“The adrenaline was really hyping me up,” said Van Putten. “I knew I had a good defence behind me, I just had to throw strikes and make them put the ball in play and things happened the way they did.”
The team then carried the momentum into their games on Oct. 13 as they bested the Queen’s University Gaels 4-3 in the quarterfinals before winning a gritty semi-final matchup against the Windsor University Lancers. Second-team OUA all-star pitcher Troy Clarke threw three and two-third innings to earn the save in the 7-6 victory.
Even while the Ravens ultimately lost the championship game, Carleton stunned the OUA by getting as far as they did in the tournament.
“The viewpoint for us going in was, ‘We’re getting no respect,’” said Ravens team president George Rigakos.
“The guys were really pumped up about making an impression and showing them we’re not the underdogs they thought we were,” Rigakos added. “That was one of the biggest motivators, I thought, throughout the whole tournament.”
“We got a terrible draw,” said Burnside. “We got three really tough teams in the round-robin.”
But after playing so well through the first few games of the tournament, Burnside said the club’s resilience played an important role in the wins.
“It’s really a testament to how this team has gelled, how this team has worked together and how this team has bonded in such a short time,” he added.
Although team chemistry was strong during the playoff push, that wasn’t exactly the case during the regular season.
Carleton stumbled to a disappointing 5-10 record and dealt with off-field controversy, highlighted by the removal of manager Andre Robidoux on Sept. 25.
Robidoux was replaced by former-player-turned-skipper Daylon Courchene, and the switch proved to be what the Ravens needed to turn their season around.
There was initial concern that the team, composed of 11 first-year players, might lose its focus after the coaching change, but Rigakos said the Ravens kept their composure.
“Instead of breaking apart after that, the team decided to come together, and that was their chance,” said Rigakos.
“It really caused the team to have to bond even more,” said Burnside. “And, honestly, that sort of led to this tournament and how we rattled off good game after good game.”
According to Courchene, the key was getting players to embrace the transition.
“They bought into our game plan,” said Courchene. “I think general team buy-in is one of the reasons why we were so successful at the end of the year there.”
The players responded well to Courchene’s stint as manager for many reasons, but right-fielder John Kalivas said it was best exemplified in the late innings of the championship game.
“The coaching staff kind of gave us seniors a nice little send off there in the finals,” said Kalivas.