Greg Mercer, Record staff
KITCHENER — Iannick Remillard had barely finished the six-hour drive from Valleyfield, Que, to Kitchener’s Jack Couch Park when he got his first save in a Panthers uniform.
The burly reliever was called upon Sunday night in a close game against the Barrie Baycats, pitching two scoreless innings to seal the victory. He’d driven all day to get here, signed his contract, and told his new coaches he was ready to go.
“That’s what I came here for, to play baseball. They needed me in that game,” he said.
The Panthers (14-4) are already impressed with the newest addition to their bullpen, as they battle for first place in the Intercounty Baseball League. They targeted Remillard from a list of Canadian seniors in their final year of U.S. college baseball.
“He’s used to late innings pressure, he’s not going to be caught up in the moment in close games later in the season or in the playoffs,” said Scott Ballantyne, the Panthers general manager.
“He’s been around the block. He’s not afraid to take the ball in those situations.”
Remillard, who was second in the NCAA in saves this season and set a school record for saves during his career at Canisius College in Buffalo, held out hope he’d get drafted by a Major League team.
When that didn’t happen, he enrolled in chiropractor college in California, and told the Panthers he’d come to Kitchener for the summer.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking in a way, because this is my last summer playing baseball,” he said.
Remillard thinks moving from the NCAA to the IBL, with its mix of ex-pros and college players, will be a nice challenge. He’s got a fastball in the low 90s, and a good, late-breaking slider, and relishes pitching in tight situations late in games.
“My goal is just to help the team, whether it’s closing, or coming in and cleaning up trouble,” he said. “I thrive on pressure. That’s one of the best feelings, when there’s guys on base and the game is in your hands.”
The Quebec-raised hurler will get closing and setup opportunities in the absence of Phil Owen, who’s away visiting family overseas. The Panthers need all the help they can get as they duke it out with the red-hot London Majors (15-4) for first place in the IBL.
The Majors, winners of seven in a row and half a game up on Kitchener, have beaten the Panthers both times they’ve met this season, winning each time by one run. Their games have had an almost playoff-like atmosphere, not surprising given the sometimes tense rivalry between the two clubs.
“They’re a scrappy team. That’s two games now they’ve beat us by one run, so I think we owe them one in the win column,” said shortstop Mike Glinka.
Glinka, named to the league’s 2016 All-Star team, is enjoying a strong year batting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup ahead of designated hitter Sean Reilly, who slugged his record-tying 154th career homer this week.
Glinka was hitting .436 heading into Friday’s game in London — and says having Reilly on deck behind him means pitchers are forced to throw him strikes.
“It’s not easy for me to get walks, because guys come at me. They don’t want to put me on base with that big dog behind me,” he said.
“The (all-star) selection is great, but the clichéd answer is it doesn’t mean anything. We’re after a bigger prize. That’s what we’re all pulling toward as a team.”
Manager Dave teBoekhorst said he’s not watching the standings and isn’t concerned his team was bumped out of first place by the Majors.
“I don’t care. I know London is pretty pumped up to be in first place in June, but last time I checked there haven’t been any championships hoisted in June,” he said. “We’re quite confident with where we’re going, and only concerned with peaking at the right time.”
He’s also not concerned about what some fans see as snubs of a few of his players from the 2016 all-star selections. Kitchener has four players going to the all star game July 2, in Glinka, Reilly, Owen and Tanner Nivins. The third-place Barrie Baycats, whose manager Angus Roy chose the team, have six.
Justin Interisano, who’s fourth in the league in home runs and batting average and third in RBIs, was left off. So was pitcher Noelvis Entenza, who leads the league in strikeouts and wins, and lefty Ian Rendon, owner of a 2.96 earned run average and 28 strikeouts in 24 innings of work.
Then there’s Frank Camilo Morejon, easily the league’s strongest defensive catcher, hitting .366 with 16 RBI. But while fans may be raising eyebrows, teBoekhorst says his players aren’t sweating it.
They’re chasing a more pressing goal this season — their first championship since 2001.
“The true all-star team is picked at the end of the year,” he said.
Sunday night baseball
The Panthers travel to London Friday night for a game against the first-place London Majors, before hosting Burlington Sunday at 7 p.m. at Jack Couch Park.