The coaching staff may have changed, but the goal for the Team North baseball crew heading into the 2014 Ontario Summer Games remains the same: look to secure one of the top two spots in pool play, giving themselves a chance at a medal game come Sunday.
With Sudburian Jean-Gilles Larocque tied up with commitments to other Baseball Ontario programs this summer, the torch has been passed to Sault Ste. Marie's Ryan Johns, who served as a pitching coach with Larocque when the Games came to Sudbury in 2010.
Johns is working alongside both Jeff Leonard and Kyle Leonard, prepping their team for the four-day tournament that takes place in Windsor from Aug. 7 to 10.
"The focus is getting the players together and allowing them to work under one system," Johns said this week, with the squad assembling for workouts at the Terry Fox Sports Complex. "It's about taking parts from Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay, and making it into one."
True enough. The local contingent is a sizeable one, with seven Sudbury players joining a pair from Valley East to comprise more than half of the 15-man roster.
Fourteen-year-old pitcher/shortstop Vincent Bonhomme said despite the individuality inherent in baseball, there are certainly team systems that must be learned in order to be successful.
"There's different defensive positioning, different cut-offs, stuff like that," said Bonhomme. "You have to learn … to adapt to some new players, learn different styles of play."
Now competing in his sixth summer of rep baseball, Azilda native Brett Mourot provides some additional depth on the mound, though he expects to see action primarily at third and first.
"When you start so young, you really don't have a primary position," Mourot said. "But I've worked with Jean-Gilles (Larocque) at third base all winter. That's my favourite spot.
"When you play one of the corners, you're facing the hardest hit balls, so you have less time to react.”
To ready themselves for the Summer Games, which involves 11 other association rep teams from across the province, Team North competed last month in the Soo Invitational Tournament, facing some U.S. college teams in the process.
"We don't face pitching that fast," said Mourot with a smile. "It was fun to try and hit off them. They don't make mistakes like we do, mental and physical errors. They've been doing it for years."
All of which creates the need for Johns and company to accelerate the learning curve with their crew, looking to hit the ground running once play begins in Windsor. In the end, their involvement is driven by passion for the sport.
"I absolutely enjoy the fact that they (the players) are all seriously interested in the game … and that they all enjoy being here," said Johns. "The benefit for them is the learning experience that all players will take away from this."
The Team North roster for the 2014 Ontario Summer Games includes:
Ryan Barton - Sudbury
Vincent Bonhomme - Sudbury
Tyrus Cuculick - Sudbury
Darian Fuchs - Thunder Bay
Andrew Gorman - Sudbury
Bryson McLaughlin - Valley East
Brett Melanson - Sudbury
Brett Mourot - Sudbury
Noah Pearce - Sault Ste Marie
Jonathan Poulton - Valley East
Parker Savard - Sudbury
Tyler Sayers - Sault Ste Marie
Dylan Sewell - Sault Ste Marie
Braedon Whalen - Sault Ste Marie
Cole Wright - Sault Ste Marie