Kingston Ponies hope for longer playoff run

Kingston Ponies player-coach Ross Graham, second from right, talks to the players prior to a workout at Megaffin Park on Wednesday. (Ian MacAlpine/The Whig-Standard) Ian MacAlpine / Ian MacAlpine/Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

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Kingston Ponies player-coach Ross Graham would like to see another first-place finish this season for his senior baseball squad in the nine-team National Capital Baseball League.

But another first-round exit from the playoffs? Not so much.

In 2018, the Ponies finished first with a 16-6-2 won-lost-tied record in Tier 1 play but were upset 2-1 by the eighth-place Cornwall River Rats in the best-of-three first round of the playoffs.

Strong regular seasons and early playoff exits have haunted the Ponies for the last five seasons, Graham said in an interview.

“I always go into the season expecting to finish at the top,” he said. “I think we’re going to be right there again. This year my bigger concern is getting over our playoff trouble.

“Being first in the league is not important to me at this point. We’re really going to put a focus on trying to get us ready and trending in the right direction come playoff time,” said Graham, the league’s 2018 batting champion (.509 average) and co-most valuable player with Kyle Craig of the Bytown Battalion.

Kingston Ponies’ Brody Burns bunts during a workout at Megaffin Park on Wednesday (Ian MacAlpine/The Whig-Standard) Ian MacAlpine / Ian MacAlpine/Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

“We need to get over the hump. The last five years we’ve been one of the best teams in this league and we have nothing to show for it, so it’s time for us to do that, and we still have the team to do that at this point. We just need to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season.”

The Ponies are scheduled to open the 2019 regular season against the Kanata Athletics in Ottawa on Friday night, weather and field conditions permitting.

They’ll play two more road games, May 14 and 22, before their home opener at Megaffin Park on Sunday, May 26, with a doubleheader against Kanata. Games will be played at 1 and 3:30 p.m.

First baseman Graham is dealing with a foot injury and will miss the beginning of the season.

“I might be doing a little bit more coaching for the first few weeks,” he said.

Graham said most of last year’s players are returning, with a couple of possible new players in the mix who could have an impact on the team.

Graham is hoping to confirm that local NCAA baseball player Ethan Hunt will be able to join the team for the summer, as well as Matt Mills, who will be returning to the team after a two-year absence.

“(Mills) is going to help us out a lot in the outfield, and he’s a good top-of-the-order guy that get’s on base,” Graham said.

The team lost two contributing players, pitcher Will Langford and third baseman Austin O’Boyle.

“He’s definitely going to be a big loss,” Graham said of Langford. “He was our stud on the hill last year.

“(O’Boyle) was in the top three for pretty much every hitting category we had.”

Notable returning players include outfielder Jeff Skelhorne-Gross, a 2018 first-team all-star along with Graham.

“He’s pretty feared throughout the league no matter what type of season he’s having,” Graham said of the eight-year veteran.

Also back is 12-year veteran James Hornby, the team’s longest-tenured player, and second baseman Jeff Lake.

“(Lake) keeps us in ball games when we need it defensively. He’s a rock up the middle and it’s nice having a guy like that out there,” Graham said.

Kingston Ponies pitcher John Ivimey works out at Megaffin Park on Wednesday. (Ian MacAlpine/The Whig-Standard) Ian MacAlpine / Ian MacAlpine/Kingston Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

Returning pitchers include Jordan Herbison, Dexter Caughtry  and John Ivimey, who is back healthy after missing time last year with an injury.

“I think our pitching will be pretty good, despite losing Will Langford,” Graham said.

The Ponies haven’t had a chance to get on the diamond at Megaffin Park this year but hope to soon, again weather permitting.

Admission to all home games is free.

“We appreciate the support,” Graham said. “No other team in the league gets the support we do.”

imacalpine@postmedia.com

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