Experience wins in collegiate athletics, regardless of the sport.
Talent will only get you so far. Whether it's on the diamond, the court, or the field, experience will help separate teams from one another.
For the Lambton Lions, the 2019 season marks the inaugural campaign for the men's baseball team. As they get accustomed to playing in the OCAA, the Lions will lean on their incoming veterans to help carry the team from the start.
Veteran Paul Sheeler brings with him a wealth of experience from playing in the region, most recently with the Sarnia Braves. The Braves won the AAA Ontario Championship this past season and represented the province at the National Baseball Championship in Miramichi, New Brunswick.
"It's just an amazing feeling," said Sheeler, when asked about winning the AAA Ontario Championship. "The competition out here is always really good."
"It really takes a team effort to come out there and win the tournament like we did."
The Braves' Championship win was the third in team history, and the first since 1994, ending a 25-year title drought. Winning the Championship was a testament to the work that the team put in on the field, but also to the level of talent in the local community.
"We've always had a great collection of ball players in the community," added Sheeler. "It was an amazing feeling to go out and watch all of these guys who've played for most of their lives come together and do something special for the community."
Now that the season for the Sarnia Braves has come to a close, the attention for Sheeler and several of his Braves teammates has shifted to the inaugural season for the Lions on the diamond. With three other members of the Braves team joining Sheeler on the inaugural roster for Lambton this season, plus members of the coaching staff leading the way for the Lions, Sheeler is hoping to use his experience from the region to his advantage with the newly-formed Lions team.
"We know a little bit more about what it takes to win big games," continued Sheeler. "I'm hoping that all four of us can bring in that leadership quality and help these guys out whenever we can."
For Sheeler, who is enrolled in the Chemical Production & Power Engineering Technology Program at Lambton College, he brings a level of versatility to the lineup along with his veteran presence. Sheeler plays in the outfield, but will also pitch for the Lions as the season progresses. With his ability to plat multiple positions, Head Coach James Grant will lean on him as the season gets underway.
"His ability to pitch will be key for us this year," said Grant on Sheeler's versatility.
Managing expectations for a new program is always a challenge. It will take time for Sheeler and the rest of the Lions to adapt to playing against some of the best players from across the province in the OCAA. It will take time for the team to mesh together as players find their roles within the rotation.
Sheeler knows that people will be watching them, and he wants them to know that the Lions will put in the work to succeed.
"This is our first year and we've got something to prove," said Sheeler. "Hopefully we're leaving it all out on the field every single game."
Sheeler and the rest of the Lions will look to turn some heads in the OCAA this season. With a handful of veterans leading the way, they have experienced players that they can lean on if things don't go as planned early on. With several members of the Braves playing together again this season, that level of familiarity with one another will help the team moving forwards.
As is the case most years, experience wins in collegiate athletics.
Time will tell if the experienced players for the Lions can help them shake up the OCAA.
The Lions get their 2019 season underway on Saturday, September 7th when they head out on the road to take on the Seneca Sting in a double-header. Lambton's home opener comes on Wednesday, September 11th when they host a pair of games against the St. Clair Saints.
First pitch for the Lions on their home diamond is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Stan Slack Field at Errol Russel Park.