Last season, Shane Kraemer was forced to watch from the sidelines — he had pitched the previous game — as his team came up one game short, falling 3-1 in the Canadian senior men’s baseball national championship final.
But given the ball in Sunday’s gold medal game against Ontario’s Tecumseh Thunder, the 22-year-old left-hander was money in the bank for Langley.
Kraemer allowed just a pair of singles and two walks over seven innings in a 3-0 Blaze victory. Even more impressive than the fact he allowed just four base runners over seven innings was how Kraemer used a devastating pick-off move to nail three of them out.
“Never at this level, in this much of a pressure cooker,” he admitted on Tuesday afternoon after the team returned from St. John’s, Nfld., site of the 2014 championships. The tournament ran Aug. 21 to 24.
“This was definitely a memorable one.”
Kraemer struck out 13 batters in the final while the offence came from an RBI single in the second inning — Jesse Peters driving in Bob Foerster — and then a pair of insurance runs in the top of the fifth as Sean Hotzak and Foerster had back-to-back RBI singles scoring Clayton Howell and Bobby Wagner, respectively.
“He left nothing out there and wanted the win,” raved Blaze assistant coach Steve Petersen.
For the tournament, Langley won their pool with a 3-1 record, advancing straight to the semifinals.
And in the semifinals, they faced a tough New Brunswick squad, prevailing 1-0 in extra innings.
Peters was sensational on the mound, striking out 11 and allowing just three hits. He was one out from a complete game, before Shawn Schaefer came in to get the final out of the inning with two men on board. And in the bottom half of that inning, Foerster drove in Wagner with an RBI single.
Langley used balance — outstanding pitching and hitting — to capture the national championship.
Four players hit above .400 — led by Howell’s .571 average — as the team had a combined batting average of .279 and they tied for a tournament high with five home runs.
Foerster (.455 average) and Hotzak (.409) were both named to the tournament all-star team.
On the mound, the Blaze had a 1.47 earned run average and 53 strikeouts, both tournament bests.
Kraemer also pitched the tournament opener, a 7-3 win over another Ontario squad, the Mississauga Southwest Twins.
In that game, he gave up a pair of earned runs and struck out eight in 5.1 innings.
His performance — as it has been all season — was dominant.
At nationals, Kraemer fanned nearly half (21 of 44) the batters he faced.
He finished the 2014 season for the Blaze with a 9-0 record and an 0.64 earned run average. He struck out 83 batters in 65 innings of work.
He was just grateful to get the call in the championship final.
“I never got a crack at it (last year) so I was appreciative of the opportunity and the trust they had in me to pitch,” he said.
“It was a fun ride this year,” Kraemer said, deflecting credit for his success to his team.
“There are a lot of really smart people on my team that I was able to glean a lot of information from that helped me a lot.”
A big part of his success, both at nationals and over the summer, was Howell, his primary catcher.
“He calls pitches without a lot of fear (and) he likes to challenge hitters.
Last year’s loss was a learning experience for the team.
“It taught our guys not get too much up or too much down,” Petersen said. “(Just) stay the course.”
“Being patient against a guy like (Thunder pitcher) Zach Breault was key and to make sure to take advantage of anything that was given to us.”
As for his team’s own pitcher, Petersen called Kraemer’s efforts outstanding, as not one Thunder batter reached third base.
Victory at the national championships also helps erase the sting of losing in the provincial championship game at the start of August. The Blaze were looking for their third consecutive B.C. championship title, but they fell to Kamloops in the finals.
While Kamloops had advanced straight to the final, Langley was playing its third game of the day. The Blaze won the first two but lost 5-4 in extra innings to Kamloops in the last one. In total, the team played 29 innings that one day, which is equivalent to more than four regular games.
“We battled mentally and were there at the end (but) at the end of the day, the bodies physically couldn’t last anymore and Kamloops came through,” Petersen said.
The winning team at provincials advances to the following year’s national championships.
“That loss showed guys to take nothing for granted; you never know when the chance to play for a national championship will come again,” Petersen said.
“From the moment the plane landed in St. John’s, the guys were focused on winning and getting the job done.”
The season now over, the players all head their separate ways.
The team consists of college and university players from around the Lower Mainland who come home for the summer. This allows them to stay in shape and competitive before heading back to school.
But for Kraemer, who is from Chilliwack and played in the B.C. Premier Baseball League with the Abbotsford Cardinals, he sits and waits.
Having spent the past four years studying and playing with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, school is now over.
He is hoping to stay in the game, waiting for a chance to pitch at the professional level.
“If I get that opportunity, I will jump at it,” he said.