McGill baseball team vies for 4th national championship in a row

The head coach, Jason Starr, said the Redmen's goal is to win it all, year after year. For three years, they've succeeded. Will they be able to do it a fourth time?

Redmen open their 2017 season tonight as reigning champs

Emerson Dohm has won two national championships with the McGill baseball team and says he's hoping to make it three this year.

From the players to the coaches, every member of McGill's baseball program knows he has a bull's-eye on his back.

But none of them mind.

"We know we're the target, and teams play like that every time they play us," said pitcher and outfielder Jack Pantalena.

"We love it."

Tonight begins the Redmen's quest for a fourth national championship in a row.
Jack Pantalena, a pitcher and outfielder for the McGill Redmen, said after winning four championships in a row, every player on the team is a target. (Josh Gordon)

Head coach Jason Starr said year after year, the team's goal is to win it all. But striving to win and winning are two different things.

"Just look at professional sports. How many dynasties are there? How many teams are there that win back to back in any sport?" Starr asked.

"There are so many things that could happen year over year that you never know, and we've just been really fortunate that we've been able to win key games down the stretch."

Last year, the team only dropped one game all season within their conference, going 15-1.

In addition to the games against their intra-conference rivals, the Redmen hit the road fairly often to play teams in the U.S. and in the Toronto area.

Their reputation as winners precedes them everywhere they go, Starr said.

"I'd rather teams want to beat us.… We want to see everyone's best."

Demanding perfection

Starr, who has been head coach for five years but part of the program for 16, said he and his staff are trying to build a clubhouse culture by recruiting players who want to win and who put in the work to do so.

"I demand perfection from my players and from the staff, and we have raised the bar."

The guys on the team spend their off-season in the gym, and they're always thinking up ways to make themselves and the team better, he said.

And playing the number of games they do in the season allows the players to face more high-leverage situations.

Members of the McGill baseball team wait for teammate Chris Stanford at home plate. Stanford hit the walk-off home run that clinched their third consecutive national championship. (Facebook/Antoine Amnotte-Dupuis)

The hope is that they become accustomed to those situations, which will help them turn in clutch performances when needed.

"Those situations really prepare us for games late in the season, when it really matters," said infielder Emerson Dohm.

Both Dohm, who's from West Vancouver, B.C., and Pantalena, from Easton, Conn., have been on the team for two years and are hungry for a third title.

Pantalena is the embodiment of a strategy Starr implemented when he became head coach — wooing American players to come north, to play for McGill.

Starr said they sell the university on its academic offering and the opportunity to play a high level of baseball.

"They leave with hopefully a few national championships … and an unbelievable experience and education."

The McGill Redmen take on the Université de Montréal Carabins in their home opener tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Gary Carter Field in Côte Saint-Luc.

With files from Jessica Rusnak