Where do we go from here?

As the Concordia men’s basketball team walked off the court after losing in the CIS Final 8 consolation semifinal game last weekend in Halifax, it marked an end not only to the team’s season, but the end of the 2011-2012 Concordia sports season.

With the men’s loss, all Stingers teams’ seasons have officially wrapped up, leaving nothing left to do but review the year and ask where the athletics department goes from here.

The basketball program is clearly the school’s gem. The men especially are perennially dominant in the conference and expect to appear in the national championship. But as this year showed, Concordia has a long way to go to compete with top dogs like StFX and Carleton. Still, the Stingers expect to return MVP Evens Laroche and outstanding guard Kyle Desmarais. Despite the glum finish to this year, it’s not as though a drastic fall is in store for the men.

The story is largely the same for the women. The season came to a disappointing end, but the team’s best will be back for another shot. MVP Kaylah Barrett is returning and so is sharpshooting forward Natasha Raposo. The women’s disappointing close can largely be attributed to health issues (injuries hampered several players), and not lack of talent. The basketball teams will have a lot to look forward to on the hardwood next season.

The future for other teams is fuzzier.

Both men’s and women’s soccer undeniably took a step backwards this year and with historical recruiting problems, it will likely be a long time before Concordia is making noise in the province, let alone nationally.

The women’s hockey team was also in disarray this season. An extended mid-season losing streak sank Concordia and the team finished dead last in its conference, not within the same area code of a playoff spot.

As crosstown McGill runs the premier women’s hockey program in the country, top recruits view Martlets hockey as a feeder program to the Canadian national team. Concordia simply can’t compete with McGill’s reputation, facilities and budget.

As well as being at a competitive disadvantage to McGill, a certain lull and expectation of mediocrity seems to have settled over the women’s program. At many times this season, the women seemed to lack a sense of urgency to win, often seeming complacent with consistently poor on-ice results. As important as recruiting is, it seems a change in the losing culture and attitude that surrounds the team is needed to move forward.

Like their women counterparts, the men’s hockey team faces similar challenges (McGill also runs a top-notch men’s hockey program), though they were much more competitive. The Stingers were one of the highest scoring teams in the country this season, and should they return key players like George Lovatsis, Michael Stinziani and Alexandre Monahan, the team will be a force next year. A year of seasoning for the team’s three first-year goalies will also be greatly beneficial. To see the Stingers ranked in the CIS top-10 next year is not out of the cards, but far from a guarantee.

One of the biggest concerns for coach Kevin Figsby is that, like this season, sometimes the team will have recruits poached by professional clubs just before the season begins, leaving the team scrounging for replacements. Even current players have sometimes left school early to pursue their dreams in the AHL and ECHL. Figsby is always encouraging his players to finish school before playing in the low ranks of professional hockey, but understands that the idea of being a mere jump from the NHL can pull players out of the CIS.

Until Figsby knows exactly which players will be taking the ice for Concordia, it will be difficult to gauge the potential of a highly talented squad that narrowly missed the playoffs in the country’s toughest conference.

A long year has drawn to its close at Concordia and it’s time to utter perhaps the most romanticized line in sports: There’s always next year.


Stingers introduce newest members to the hive

Stingers stars, past and present, were in attendance last Friday afternoon as football coach Gerry McGrath introduced a group of young men he hopes will lead Concordia in the future.

Stingers alumni in the CFL are helping with Concordia’s recruitment difficulties. Photo by Julian Mei

Liam Mahoney of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (pictured on the right), and Cory Watson  of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (left), among other former Stingers now in the CFL were on hand to welcome the 18 newest recruits to the Concordia Stingers football program at a luncheon at the Perform Centre.

The recruits certainly have a local flavour to them; 17 of the 18 have experience playing in the CÉGEP system.

Coach McGrath believes that players coming out of CÉGEP can be more valuable than out-of-province recruits, as often times the players are ready to step into important roles immediately.

“The best players in Quebec are in the CÉGEP system,” said McGrath. “[Players from Ontario] are usually a year or two behind. You expect a kid from Ontario to have an important role in his third year, but the CÉGEP kids can come in right away.”

While the atmosphere around the event was optimistic and upbeat, McGrath did speak about some of the difficulties Concordia faces in the recruitment process, further explaining his comments from last year about the unfair financial advantage Laval has.

“We can compete, but there are obstacles that make it difficult,” he said. “As I look at my five losses from last year, two of them are to Laval and a third in the playoffs. What I’d like to see is everyone in the country have a minimum and a maximum [budget] so that every team at the top of their cycle [of players] has a chance to win a national championship. I think every great league has that type of [balance]. I think it’s important that the CIS gets to that point.”

As it presently stands, Laval gets private funding from a corporation whereas the Stingers rely solely on funding from Concordia.

Finances isn’t the only uphill battle McGrath and his staff face when recruiting. Language and the program’s reputation are also factors in the decision of recruits. McGrath, though, thinks Concordia does have some advantages over schools such as Laval and Sherbrooke.

“Well first of all [a team] can only dress 48 players, so you have to ask yourself [as a recruit going to a premier program] are you going to be one of those 48?” he said. “Second of all, the school plays a large role in it. Finishing school and being bilingual is a great asset for any young man.”

While Concordia has had success producing great individual talents, such as the CFL players on hand, and most recently Max Caron, winner of the defensive player of the year award, the school is hoping to take the next step: competing for national championships.

“We send as many people to the pros as any school,” said McGrath. “We now need to get to the point where we develop 40 or 50 great players so we can have the depth that Laval or Montréal has.”

A full list of the recruits can be found on the Stingers’ website.


Stingers Buzz

Women’s basketball

Concordia 70 UQAM 53

A third-quarter explosion was enough to propel the Stingers women past an overmatched UQAM team for the second time in a row. After beating the Citadins by 25 points in their last game, the Stingers moved to 5-0 with a 70-53 victory at Loyola campus on Saturday night.
Concordia took an eight-point lead into halftime before blowing the game wide open in the third quarter. The Stingers went on a 9-0 run midway through the quarter and put the game out of reach.
Concordia dominated UQAM in every statistical aspect of the game. The Stingers forced more turnovers and grabbed more rebounds, which were keys to the 17 point victory. On the offensive glass Concordia out-rebounded the Citadins 17-8, mirroring the teams’ last meeting, where the Stingers were much more successful at creating second-chance opportunities.
Stingers guard Kaylah Barrett continued her spectacular play, leading the team with 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, for her first double-double of the season. Barrett’s play so far this season is the main reason the Stingers are perfect this far into January for the first time in a decade.
It remains to be seen how long it will take for the rest of the country to notice the Stingers; as of Monday night, they were still not ranked in the CIS top 10, despite their perfect start.

Men’s hockey

Queen’s 9 Concordia 2
Concordia 6 RMC 1

It was a weekend for extremes for the men’s hockey team: extreme blow-outs, extreme weather and extreme fatigue.
The stressful and prolonged trip through the Friday night snow storm to get to Kingston to face the Queen’s Gaels must have had an affect on the team’s performance. The Stingers ended up trailing 4-0 after the first period, and goalie Nicholas Champion was pulled after the second period, having given up seven goals on 19 shots.
The Stingers arrived back in Montreal around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, only to play an afternoon game against the RMC Paladins at 2 p.m.
The Stingers, clearly fatigued, were still able to jump out to a 2-0 lead just two minutes into the game on goals from George Lovatsis and Olivier Jannard. Concordia dominated in the second period, out-shooting the Paladins 16-8 and stretching the score to 5-1.
With just nine seconds remaining, and the game out of reach, Concordia’s Adam Strumas lined up RMC’s Eric Lalonde for a hip-check as Lalonde was streaking down the wing. Lalonde felt like Strumas went too low on the hit, got up and proceeded to viciously cross-check Strumas, igniting some late game fisticuffs.
“Our guy lined him up with a clean hit that [Lalonde] obviously thought was dirty,” said coach Kevin Figsby. “But that’s still no reason to get up and start cross-checking someone in the face.”
Goalie Peter Karvouniaris stopped 39 of 40 shots, getting his fourth win of the season.
Concordia faces off against UQTR next Wednesday night at home at 8:30 p.m.

Women’s hockey

McGill 4 Concordia 0

The Christmas break and a trip to Japan wasn’t enough to rid the Concordia Stingers hockey team of its losing ways. The team was defeated again by an over powering McGill squad. The score had the potential to get really ugly if it weren’t for the play of Stingers goalie Marie-Pier Rémillard who managed to get Concordia through two periods of hockey only trailing 3-0, despite being outshot 31-7 and giving McGill seven powerplays in the first two periods.
Rémillard would end up making 40 saves in the loss. Charline Labonté made 13 saves to get the shut out in the winning effort. The loss was Concordia’s fifth in a row as they have now sunk to last place in the conference and are out of the playoffs as of now.

Stingers in the CSU?

The Concordia Student Union is considering adding an extra seat on their council just for student athletes.
The idea was proposed by CSU councillor and men’s rugby player Emran Ghasemi as an attempt to boost Stinger representation at the school. Ghasemi explained student athletes are “unfortunately not recognized for the immense amount of effort they put into their work,” citing low student attendance at games and a general lack of awareness and team spirit at Concordia, compared to other universities.
Former Stingers Women’s rugby centre Jackie Tittley also attended the meeting, speaking to councillors about the life of a student athlete at Concordia.
After a half-hour of debate, the CSU voted neither for or against Ghasemi’s motion, but instead decided to refer the idea to their Policy Committee, inviting Swarm members and Stingers players to take part in further committee discussions. While no one disagreed that student athletes deserve recognition, many councillors expressed concerns that adding a Stingers-specific seat at council is not the answer and would only result in other student groups demanding similar representation.


The journey continues in other ways after final out

For some players, the bitter pit in their stomach was more than just the feeling of a tough loss to a worthy opponent.

As pitcher Matthew Jacobson, catcher Marshall Johnston, shortstop Marco Masciotra and second baseman Jason Katz watched Durham College make the final out in the CIBA semi-finals, they were also watching the final curtain close on their university baseball careers.

All four players were in their final year of eligibility with the Stingers. For them, there is no “we’ll get ‘em next year.”

“When we were down in the seventh with a couple outs left, it really hit me that it was all over, and I got pretty emotional,” said Jacobson. “Guys congratulated me on the year I’d had, but winning the tournament was what I’d wanted. It was nice to go out on a personal high with the All-Canadian Award as well as a load of memories.”

As captain of the team, Katz tried his hardest to deal with the emotional anvil the best he could before the tournament, as he worried it could affect his on-field performance.

“I tried not to let the fact that it was my last season affect my play, but as the season was coming to an end, it was unavoidable to start putting things into perspective,” he said.

Katz said analyzing everything his team accomplished helped him deal with the fact that his career was drawing to a close. This led to better focus on the field. Unlike his three graduating teammates, though, Katz admitted he will be taking a break from the sport to spend time with his fiancée and other ambitions.

Masciotra is presently weighing his options to go play professional baseball in Italy. Johnston and Jacobson are hoping to stay involved in the game other ways, whether it be coaching, or playing in competitive adult leagues.

“I will always be a part of baseball. It’s not just a sport, its a way of life,” said Johnston.

“I’ve promised myself I won’t turn to softball until my arm falls off,” added Jacobson.

Even professional athletes have attested to the fact that the most difficult part of leaving a sport is not missing the competition; it’s the loss of camaraderie and being a part of a team.

All four players said their years with Concordia were some of the most fun, and hilarious times they had on a ball diamond.

“A lot of crazy things have happened over the years, but I would have to say our team breaking into song [‘Roses’ by Outkast] in the middle of a game was [most] bizarre,” said Masciotra.

Fortunately for the players, while their time as Stingers is over, the relationships they’ve forged are not.

“I’m from B.C. and when I came here to play baseball I had nobody,” said Johnston. “[Manager Howard Schwartz] became my father away from home. We’d have team meetings that turned into family dinners at his place.”

All four players who are leaving have been involved in an epoch of tremendously successful Stingers baseball, climaxing with a 2009 national championship. It has all helped the program gain much needed notoriety.

“I’m excited to see the program grow,” said Johnston. “Baseball players around Quebec are now wanting to be a part of the program. I’m just disappointed I won’t be here for another four years.”

The memories will last in the four players’ minds forever.

It’s knowing that they won’t be on the field again as a team that hurts the most.



Stingers trounced 36-1 by Carabins in final home game

The situation on Saturday afternoon was simple for the Concordia Stingers: win and you’re in.
Unfortunately for the Stingers, they squandered the opportunity to clinch the final RSEQ playoff berth, losing to the Université de Montréal Carabins 36-1.

Kris Robertson returns a punt as he’s chased down by Mathieu Labelle. Robertson returned 11 punts for 75 yards. Photo by Navneet Pall

Concordia would have also been guaranteed a playoff berth if McGill upset Bishop’s in their game. McGill, though, couldn’t hold on, and allowed Bishop’s to score a winning touchdown with just 23 seconds left in the game. Concordia and Bishop’s now have identical 3-5 records.
Despite the deadlock, Concordia’s circumstances are much more desirable heading in to next week.
The Stingers not only hold the tiebreaker over Bishop’s, but also get to face the winless McGill Redmen, while Bishop’s must play on the road against the nationally ranked Laval Rouge et Or, who crushed Bishop’s in the teams previous meeting.
Still, the Stingers are hoping to control their own destiny.
“I think [Bishop’s] have got one foot on the grave and one on the banana peel,” said Stingers head coach Gerry McGrath. “We definitely have an advantage on them, but we’re not going to leave it to Laval to eliminate them. We’re going to play our butts off next week.”
The Stingers are confident they can beat an inferior opponent like McGill. It has been games like Saturday’s, though, that demonstrate how far the Stingers are from competing with the big dogs in the perennially competitive RSEQ.
Saturday was a tale of missed opportunities and youthful mistakes that made it impossible for Concordia to compete against such admirable foes as the Carabins.
Max Caron intercepted a pass early in the first quarter inside Carabins territory, providing Concordia with a golden opportunity to put points on the board and gain some momentum early in the game.
Keegan Treloar would eventually miss a 32-yard field goal, one of his three misses on the day. Concordia came away with nothing and wasted chances became the recurring theme of the afternoon.
“This was a tough one to explain,” said Stingers quarterback Reid Quest. “The defence held up, the offence moved the ball, but we just couldn’t capitalize when we needed to.”
Shortly after the missed field goal, Montreal would drive 64 yards in just over two and half minutes, capping the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run by quarterback Alexandre Nadeau-Piuze.
Concordia was back inside enemy territory again early in the second quarter, and once again threw their opportunity into the wind.
With the ball on the Carabins 30-yard line quarterback, Reid Quest fumbled the snap. Concordia recovered the ball, but not before it was knocked, kicked and juggled 20 yards backwards to mid-field. The Stingers went from looking at a first-and-10 to a second-and-30. The drive ended with no points and plenty of frustration.
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Quest, when asked why the Stingers offence seemed to stall anytime they were in scoring position.
Trailing 12-1 late in the second quarter, a breakdown in coverage allowed Montreal to pull ahead further.
Nadeau-Piuze hooked up with a wide open Alexandre Fortier-Labonté for a 55-yard touchdown pass. Nadeau-Piuze finished with 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Despite the missed field goal, fumble and deep touchdown pass, coach McGrath believed the real turning point of the game was early in the third quarter when Montreal put together a 68-yard drive that finished with a field goal, putting the Stingers down 22-1.
“I think the touchdown before the half hurt, but I think their long drive [in the third quarter] was the biggest turning point,” he said. “You can get over [a miscommunication on defence], but for them to come out like that when we were rejuvenated after the half took some wind out of us.”
Montreal orchestrated another long drive later in the quarter, this time finishing in the endzone, extinguishing any flicker of hope Concordia may have had.
Concordia must now head back to the drawing board as they head up the mountain to face McGill next week in the biggest game of the season.
Coach McGrath confirmed that Quest will start behind centre for the Stingers next week. In his rookie season Quest has been inconsistent, though not terrible, as he has been able to hold his own in his first CIS season. Quest completed 22 of 41 passes, for 263 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions against Montreal.
Concordia won the last meeting against McGill 39-16 on Oct. 8.

Concordia plays at McGill on Saturday, Oct. 29. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.


Stingers pitched out of CIBA National Championship

It would be unfair to call the Concordia Stingers baseball team’s 2011 season a disappointment. Rather, it was a very successful season that happened to come to a disappointing end.
Playing at the CIBA National Championship in Moncton, N.B., the Stingers had their Cinderella season come to a heartbreaking close in the semi-finals against the Durham College Lords.
Similar to what happened in the conference finals against Carleton, Concordia ran into a pitcher tossing the game of his life.
Shaun Slemko carried the Lords on his arm all the way to a 3-2 victory over the hard-hitting Stingers.
Slemko struck out 11 Stingers in his complete game victory. He allowed only five hits, and neither of the Stingers’ two runs were earned.
Andre Lagarde pitched a fine game as well for the Stingers, allowing just three earned runs on seven hits to go along with six strikeouts; Slemko was just better.
Lagarde allowed two runs in the bottom of the third inning, on three hits, but his teammates were there to pick him up.
Marco Masciotra reached first base on an error to lead off the top of the fourth inning for Concordia, and Martin Chambers followed with a walk. With two outs, Tim Riley singled and loaded the bases for catcher Marshall Johnston.
Johnston, playing in what would prove to be his final game with the Stingers, came through and singled in two runs, tying the game.
Durham got the run back in the fifth, though. After inducing a double-play, Lagarde gave up a two-out double. After an intentional walk, James Wakutz stepped up to the plate and delivered a dagger right into the centre of the Stingers’ hearts.
Wakutz singled in what proved to be the winning run. Concordia only managed one runner in the final three innings, and never had any one past first base.
Durham went on to defeat Humber College, 6-1, in the national championship game.
This year’s tournament was remarkably competitive. Every game the Stingers played was decided by a single run.
Concordia opened the round-robin tournament with a 4-3 comeback win over the Cape Breton Capers, after trailing 3-0 in the sixth inning.
Leading Durham 5-2 in the final inning of the second game, it was the Stingers who squandered a late lead, and eventually lost 6-5 in extra innings.
Wanting to control their own fate in the final round-robin game, Concordia gave the ball to Matthew Jacobson, hoping the big right-hander could carry Concordia into the semi-finals.
Jacobson delivered. He pitched a complete game shutout, allowing only five hits and one walk to go along with four strikeouts.
The 1-0 win propelled Concordia into the semis and the subsequent defeat.
Even though they came home without a championship pennant, Stingers players and coaches were proud of what they accomplished this year.
“I”m unbelievably proud of our guys,” said manager Howard Schwartz. “[After the loss] I just told them how proud I was of how they played all season.”
“My four seasons as a Stinger were the best years of my baseball career,” said Jacobson.
The team, by all preseason expectations, overachieved. Nonetheless, coming so close only to fall short will leave the Stingers anxious for next season, hoping to reclaim the feeling of 2009, when they reached the summit of the CIBA.
Pitcher Alex Kechayan was named Pitcher of the Year while Matthew Jacobson was named All-Canadian Tournament All-Star Pitcher.


Ravens say nevermore to Stingers’ conference title hopes

The Concordia Stingers baseball team hopes to put Sunday’s long, cold, damp and disappointing day behind them before the CIBA National Championship begins this weekend.

Andre Lagarde winds up to throw in Concordia’s only victory in the conference finals against Carleton. Photo by Navneet Pall

Concordia was unseated from their throne as two-time defending conference champions by the Carleton Ravens, losing the first game 4-3, winning game two 6-4, before losing the decisive third game 4-0.
The team expected to play two games Saturday, and if necessary one game Sunday, in a best-of-three series, to decide which team would be crowned CIBA Northern Conference champions. Mother Nature refused to clear her schedule for the series though, as Saturday’s game was rained out, forcing a triple-header on Sunday.
It was a lot of baseball in one day for any team to play.
“It was a long day for us,” said Stingers pitcher Matthew Jacobson, who started game three. “I mean, both teams had to play under the same circumstances, but still, it was tough.”
Despite losing the conference championship, under the new CIBA structure, both Carleton and Concordia will be playing for the national title this weekend in Moncton, N.B. Although, the Stingers were unable to win the series arguably because of the automatic berth.
“I’ve been in the game for 40 years longer than any of the players and it was tough for me to stay prepared and focused,” said Stingers manager Howard Schwartz. “So it was definitely tough for the players.”
“I don’t necessarily think it was a lack of focus, but definitely the intensity wasn’t like it normally is,” said Jacobson.
Ideally, the team didn’t want to lose their way into the championship, but neither Jacobson nor Schwartz were too concerned with the loss. “I know we’ll be ready to play [at nationals],” said Schwartz.
“Maybe it was good in a way, because it showed us we need to come ready to play or we’ll get beat,” said Jacobson.
Game one saw the Stingers carry a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning with star pitcher Alex Kechayan on the mound. Unfortunately for Concordia, though, the team decided to take a page out of the Milwaukee Brewers’ book of fielding and defence.
Three Concordia errors in the seventh handed Carleton the lead and eventually the first game of the series.
Much like he did against McGill in the previous round, Marco Masciotra used his bat to propel the Stingers to victory in game two. Masciotra hit a three-run home run in the first inning and added a two-run double in the third to put Concordia up 5-1.
Andre Lagarde was making a rare start on the mound and held the Ravens in check before running into trouble in the fourth inning. With Concordia leading 6-3, Lagarde was replaced by Brandon Berkovits who was able to close out the game, and send the series to a game three rubber match.
In game three, it appeared that no one told Ravens starting pitcher, Charlie Crabb, that his team already had a berth at nationals.

Tim Riley dives back to first base. Photo by Navneet Pall

Crabb pitched an inspired game, going the distance, striking out nine and only allowing one hit in the Ravens 4-0 victory.
“I don’t know if it was the cold or what, but I haven’t seen a guy pitch like that in a couple years,” said Schwartz.
Crabb’s impressive performance made game one even more frustrating for the Stingers in retrospect.
“If we win game one the series is ours because we wouldn’t have had to face [Crabb],” said Schwartz.

The Stingers will travel to Moncton, N.B. this weekend to play in the CIBA National Championship. Games begin on Friday. The Stingers last won a national title in 2009.


Stingers punch ticket to nationals

The Concordia Stingers will be returning to the CIBA National Championship this season, after defeating the defending champion McGill Redbirds two games to one on Sunday and Monday.
The Stingers have performed better this season than even their manager, Howard Schwartz, could have imagined after losing three starting pitchers from last year’s team.
“I figured we would be 8-8 or 7-9 this season,” said Schwartz, whose team went 13-3 this year. “When you lose three starting pitchers you never think you’re going to be able to come and have this strong of a [season]. We knew we had the best defence in the league, but our pitchers are the reason we are here.”

Mark Nadler tries to tag out a McGill runner at third base in Concordia’s game one loss on Sunday afternoon. Photo by Navneet Pall

The Stingers, though, did face a bit of turmoil in the first game of the series.
Sending their ace, Alex Kechayan, to the mound for game one of the series seemed like a safe bet for Concordia. Kechayan had not lost a single game in his entire career at Concordia and had a streak of 29 consecutive scoreless innings going.
Kechayan, though, pitched one of his worst games in a Stingers uniform getting touched up for eight hits and two walks in just 5.1 innings, allowing eight earned runs (nine total) and gave up two home runs.
“I think that brought me down to earth a bit,” said Kechayan. “I don’t know if I was feeling over-confident, but I would always just go out there thinking I needed to get a shutout.”
Kechayan’s shaky start, combined with the Stingers’ batters stranding 15 runners on base, resulted in a 9-3 McGill victory, and put the Stingers on the brink of elimination heading into the second half of the Sunday doubleheader.
“We did everything wrong,” said Schwartz. “I told the guys the season will end today unless we make some changes.”
The team answered his call.
With the season on the line the Stingers handed the ball to starting pitcher Matthew Jacobson who, like Kechayan, had not lost all season.
“I was a bit nervous before the game,” Jacobson said, “but I knew if I just pitched how I could the defence would help me out and they did.”
Jacobson would give up a run in the first inning, but the Stingers, staring elimination in the face, managed to score two runs in the bottom of the inning, off an Andre Lagarde two-run double.
With the game tied at two in the bottom of the fifth inning, the pressure was again on the Concordia bats, and again, they came through.
Lagarde had runners on second and third in a crucial moment of the game. After a wild pitch scored the runner on third, Lagarde was able to get a hit to drive in the second run and give Concordia a 4-2 lead.
Jacobson only allowed one McGill runner in the final two innings for the complete game win, as the Stingers tacked another run on the board for a 5-2 victory, and forced a decisive game three.
“I thought after game one we really had a chance to (eliminate) them,” said McGill manager Ernie Dalessandro. “The game could have gone either way, but they got a couple runs late and that was it.”
In the win-or-go-home game on Monday, Concordia’s starting pitching depth allowed the team to prevail.
Brandon Berkovits pitched the game of his life striking out nine Redbirds, while scattering just five hits over seven innings for the complete game shutout win.
The 8-0 victory was perhaps the most complete effort put forth by the Stingers all season. Every Stingers batter either had scored a run, got a hit or an RBI.
Third baseman Marco Masciotra was especially potent with the stick for Concordia in game three.
Masciotra finished the afternoon 4-4, with a walk, four RBI, and two runs. Perhaps most importantly, though, was the timeliness of his hitting. His RBI single in the first inning gave Concordia an early lead, and his RBI double in the fifth inning all but put the game out of reach for McGill.
Before the CIBA National Championship tournament, though, Concordia will face Carleton in the Quebec Conference finals. However, because the CIBA tournament has expanded to an eight team format, a team only has to reach their conference’s finals to receive a berth in the tournament. So win or lose, both teams will be contending for a national championship—something Schwartz is not fond of.
“We’re going (to nationals) no matter what, so I think that really takes something out of (the series against Carleton),” said Schwartz. “It’s going to be a challenge to stay focused, but we’re going to be playing for pride and stuff outside of just baseball.”

The Stingers will face the Carleton Ravens on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. at Trudeau Park.


Baseball facing a tough road to the CIS

You will not find many baseball fans in Montreal who recall the mid-’90s with anything but anger, despair or resentment.
This period of time is often associated with the beginning of the end for Quebec’s only Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos.
The 1994 season. 74-40. The labour dispute. The strike.
These words and numbers are enough explanation to Expos fans of what would become of their beloved team.
For a small faction, though, the mid-’90s represented not a time of contraction but instead of growth.
It was in 1995 that, for the first time, an organized baseball league was created at a Canadian university level. Given the climate of the sport in Canada at the time, the league was hardly grandeur. The league was obscure, low budget and still working out certain kinks. For example, aluminum bats were used for the first few seasons. The Laval Rouge et Or would win the first-ever championship.
Despite the hardships, this was the blossoming of Canadian university’s first organized baseball league, the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association.
The CIBA has managed to stay afloat while navigating through some choppy waters, but the landscape of the league has changed very much in the last 10 years. The league’s relationship with both universities and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport still remains a precarious one.
While the league has established itself over the past decade, funding, promotion and quality of play are still concerns.
Howard Schwartz, manager of the Concordia Stingers baseball team since 1995, has been involved in the league since its inaugural season.
“It’s day and night since 1995,” he said. “The quality of the game has gone up and I would say the integrity of the league has gone up too. I think you could almost compare (the CIBA) to watching the NHL 20 years ago. Some guys who were stars then might not even make the league now because the quality of play is so much better and things have changed so much.”
However, if the league wants to continue its growth it seems that at some point baseball will need to become a member of the CIS. If baseball is serious about becoming a CIS sport, though, many hurdles will have to be overcome.
For starters, many of the schools in the CIBA are colleges, such as John Abbott College among others, and the CIS is strictly designated to only include universities.
Also, for a sport to enter into the CIS it needs to be played coast-to-coast. Right now, due to travel expenses, there is no baseball league in western Canada as established or developed as the OUA or CIBA. Additionally, after the Laval program folded, no French schools have participated in the sport.
“It’s a fairly sophisticated process,” explained Katie Sheahan, the athletic director at Concordia. “The CIS puts out a call to national sport organizations approximately every six years and asks those organizations to respond to a questionnaire to see if there is a national interest in those sports.”
“The last time (the selections were made) Baseball Canada did submit an application but was not selected,” said Marg McGregor, the CEO of the CIS. “We use eight to 10 different criteria to see which sports would be included. Those include things like number of participants across the country, the marketing potential, the number of officials, the number of coaches, the facility requirements and the gender equity of the sport.”
For now, those like Schwartz must focus on the tasks at hand, but it is difficult to improve the league under the present conditions.
“A team like Ottawa University gets very little financial support from their school,” said Schwartz. “They have to have run baseball camps for kids and sell products to raise money. Some schools can barely afford to buy bats.”
Neither Schwartz nor Sheahan would disclose the exact financials, but both confirmed that Concordia is the best-funded school in the CIBA. Schwartz also believed that a school such as Ottawa receives about 20 per cent of what Concordia gets in funding.
“The money adds up, too,” said Schwartz. “For us to go to the National Championship for four days (this year) would cost about $20,000. Factor in hotels, a charter bus, a per diem for the players, it adds up.”
For Schwartz, the biggest benefit of being welcomed into the CIS would be the exposure and quality of play in his league. “If there is any player who is interested or talented enough to play professionally and has an opportunity to play in the NCAA, I tell them to go play down there,” he said.
With more Canadians presently playing in the Majors there is hope around the sport that the interest in baseball will grow at the grassroots level leading to more interest at a university level. But for now, like an overmatched batter facing a tough pitcher, the CIBA will have to keep fouling off financial curve balls and bureaucratic change-ups in hopes that eventually they will hit one out of the park.

Concordia stings defending champs in doubleheader

Photo by Navneet Pall

If there is one thing any Stinger athlete knows, it’s that the only thing better than a win is a win against McGill.
No wonder, then, the Concordia Stingers baseball team seemed so jubilant after a doubleheader sweep of the Redbirds on Saturday afternoon, after defeating McGill earlier in the week as well. “It’s always special to beat McGill,” said manager Howard Schwartz. “Concordia and McGill have a great rivalry. Sometimes it gets heated but usually it’s just great baseball like it was today.”
After defeating McGill and John Abbott College during the week, the Stingers woke up Saturday morning facing their rivals again, this time in a twin bill. The first game featured marvelous pitching on both sides by Alex Kechayan of Concordia and L.J Aguinaga for McGill. Aguinaga was able to hold the hard hitting Stingers to just three runs, scattered over 5 â…” innings of the seven inning doubleheader. Unfortunately for him, though, Kechayan was simply dominant.
Staked with a three run lead and only one inning left, it was a sort of deja vu from Kechayan’s start last weekend against the Carleton Ravens. Last week, though, Kechayan retired the first two batters before giving up two base runners, being pulled from the game and watching Carleton win in extra innings. This time Kechayan slammed the door shut.
After hitting the first batter of the seventh inning, it would have been easy for the pitcher to panic. Instead he retired the next three batters he faced, securing the complete game win. Kechayan finished with four strikeouts, allowing only two hits and three walks.
“The key was to just stay within myself,” said Kechayan. “No matter what they did, even if they got on base, I just had to keep throwing strikes and throwing my game. The last couple innings I was throwing my change-up and they just kept missing it so I think that was huge.”
Whatever momentum the Stingers had from the first game vanished by the second go around. The team seemed lackadaisical and unfocused. The shouts of encouragement coming from the Stingers dugout, that could be heard in the first game, transformed into banter on a wide range of topics, none involving the game at hand.
Chris Ames’ two-run homer off Stingers’ starter Brandon Berkovits, put McGill up 2-0 in the first inning and after the Redbirds tacked on another two in the third, Schwartz had seen about enough from his team. He gathered the team for a brief meeting outside the dugout between the top and bottom of the third inning. Whatever he was selling, the Stingers bought.
Jamal Gittens proceeded to lead the inning off, with a walk followed by three consecutive hit batsmen, Jason Katz, Marco Masciotra and Mark Nadler. The Stingers got back a run without even taking the bat off their shoulders.
After striking out Andre Lagarde, the nightmare would continue for McGill starter Conrad Hall. Tim Riley singled to left to cash in another run (one of his three RBI for the game), followed by an RBI sacrifice fly by Marc-André Fleury. Concordia would plate the go ahead runs on a two run single by Anthony De Carvalho. It was a lead the Stingers would not relinquish.
When all the damage was done, the Stingers scored five runs, batted around the order and chased Hall from the game.
“He just lost it,” said McGill manager Joe McKenzie. “He lost the plate. Lost his location. He couldn’t get his breaking balls over for strikes so he started relying on his fast ball and (Concordia) just started sitting on it.”
Concordia would continue the scoring off McGill relief pitcher, Elliott Ariganello, adding another run in the fourth inning and two more in the fifth. Pitching with the lead seemed to also calm down Berkovits who would not allow a run the rest of the game.
Berkovits especially showed great poise in the sixth inning. With Concordia leading 8-4, McGill loaded the bases with no outs and were threatening to claw their way back. Berkovits, however, would strike out Luis Argumendes, get Steven Warsh to pop out to first base and close the inning by getting Ames to ground out to the second baseman.
Concordia would win the game 9-4. Though his rallying cry seemed to be more successful than he could have imagined, Schwartz was reluctant afterwards to take credit for the comeback.
“I don’t know how much effect (the meeting) had on the outcome of the game,” said Schwartz. “I just saw in the second half of the doubleheader we weren’t very strong out of the gate. I’m not going to take credit for what happened. I just saw they weren’t focused so I got them focused.”
Team captain Jason Katz on the other hand believed the meeting was instrumental in the win. “We were definitely flat. [Schwartz] saw that and gave us a little pep talk and it got us going.”
The Stingers would go on to split another doubleheader Sunday in Ottawa against Carleton, winning 6-0 before having their six game winning streak snapped with a 7-2 loss.


Doubleheader sweep out of reach for Stingers

Alex Kechayan came one out shy of a complete game win. Photo by Navneet Pall

The old baseball saying “the third out is always the hardest” was proven true once again in the Concordia Stingers’ first game of the season Sunday afternoon.

Leading the Carleton Ravens 3-1 in the final inning of the game, Stingers starting pitcher Alex Kechayan recorded the first two outs of the inning with relative ease before it all fell apart.

Kechayan would give up a two out walk and single before manager Howard Schwartz removed him from the game, replacing him with relief pitcher Pierre-Marc Lebel.
Lebel immediately gave up two singles allowing the tying runs to score.

“That was the bottom of their order,” Schwartz said. “They’d gone hitless on the day and they came up with some clutch hitting, so give them credit for that.”

After pitching masterfully for 6 2/3 innings, allowing only seven hits and striking out one batter (league games are only seven innings when playing doubleheaders), Kechayan was simply out of gas having thrown over 100 pitches. Though Kechayan would have liked to complete the game Schwartz just simply couldn’t leave Kechayan in any longer.

Kechayan congratulated coming out of game. Unfortunately, the Stingers couldn’t close the win. Photo by Navneet Pall

“(Kechayan) pitched a gem,” said Schwartz. “He did everything we possibly asked from him and more. He just had nothing left. He was running on fumes at that point, so guys just started waiting on his fastball because his curveball just wasn’t getting in the strike zone.”

Concordia would be retired in order in the bottom of the seventh, leaving the door open for Carleton to go ahead in extra innings.

Lebel would manage to get the first out of the inning before giving up a double, spelling the end of his afternoon.

Brian Hutchinson replaced Lebel, but didn’t fare much better. After a base hit put runners on second and third, Schwartz was once again faced with a tough decision to load the bases with an intentional walk, and hope for a double play ball.

With the bases loaded Hutchinson walked the next two batters he faced, giving Carleton a 5-3 lead, before pitching out of the inning.

Despite the undesirable consequences, Schwartz didn’t regret his decision to issue the intentional pass.

“It’s the play you’ve got to make,” said Schwartz. “With runners on second and third with one out you’ve got to give your infielders a chance to make a play. Unfortunately we walked the two batters and that made the difference. But you’ve got to give your fielders a chance.”

Concordia would manage to rally in the bottom of the inning, making the score 5-4, but with a runner on third base, Stingers rookie outfielder Tim Riley would strike out to end the game, leaving the tying run 90 feet away.

Carleton starting pitcher Charlie Crab completed the game giving up four earned runs, eight hits, striking out five and being credited with the win.

Concordia would leave nothing to chance in the second game, though. The Stingers exploded for a

Aggressive base running helped Ravens salvage game one victory. Photo by Navneet Pall

13-run third inning against Ravens’ starting pitcher Tyler Brody en route to a 13-1 victory, that was mercy ruled after five innings.

The inning was capped off by a grand slam home run by Stingers’ first baseman Andre Lagarde.

“We had control of both games,” said Schwartz. “The only difference was that we didn’t close the door on the last out (in the first game). In the second game our offence just took over and we didn’t even give them a chance.”

Lost in the offensive explosion was the impressive pitching of Stingers’ starter Brandon Berkovits.

Berkovits pitched four, nearly perfect innings, allowing no hits and striking out six batters.

The only Raven to reach base against Berkovits was a lead-off walk in the first inning; Berkovits promptly picked off the runner with what Schwartz called “a professional pick-off move.”

Concordia will face archrival and defending national champion McGill on Sept. 6. The game is at 7:30 p.m at Trudeau Park.



Baseball team gets stung by departures

Coming up just short is heartbreaking for any team in any sport, but the heartbreak is even worse when your archrivals drink in the sweet taste of victory.

This was the case last year for the Concordia baseball team who, after winning a national championship in 2009, were eliminated in the CIBA national semi-finals, falling to the Brock Badgers. Brock would eventually lose to McGill in the championship, a team Concordia had already defeated in the regional championship and in round robin play in the tournament.

If the 2011 team hopes to recapture any of the success last season they will have to do it without two key components. Mehdi Djebbar, the ace of the pitching staff last year, will be forced to miss this season due to injury and Braden Simpson, the staff’s number two pitcher last year, has elected not to return to school.

“Any team would feel that kind of blow,” said manager Howard Schwartz. “I’m relying on all 25 guys to step up and play the kind of baseball I know they can play. Great pitching wins championship so the pressure will be on the pitchers to fill the gaps and patch the gaping holes in our rotation.”

Despite the losses of Djebbar and Simpson, Schwartz believes this team has potential to do great things.

“I think offensively and defensively, this year’s squad may actually be better than last year,” he said. “I think the big question mark is pitching.”

If the pitching staff takes a positive approach to their roles, and “gels,” Schwartz thinks they could be a force to reckon with. But the team has to come together to make it work.

“This year, more than in the past two, we are going to have to work very closely together if we want to have a chance to win it all,” he added.

Schwartz will also be looking at Jason Katz to take an even bigger leadership role on the team after batting an impressive .444 last season, tops in the CIBA Northern Conference.

“(Katz) is a major student of the game,” Schwartz said. “He understands his role and based on the changes made is going to take it upon himself to be even more of a leader than he was before.”

The Stingers will begin the regular season Sept. 4 when they host the Carleton Ravens for a double-header. The game begins at noon at Trudeau Park.

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