Down To The End At Last
By John Short
Little more than a week ago, the Edmonton Prospects faced a difficult task.
Some, in fact, might have seen it as impossible.
All Edmonton’s Western Canadian Baseball League team had to do was bounce back from a disappointing loss at Fort McMurray, return home to spacious RE/MAX Field and sweep every remaining game to give themselves a chance to qualify for Western Conference playoffs.
To put this as simply as possible, the Prospects fulfilled the dream – six consecutive wins, three over the Brooks Bandits and three over the Yorkton Cardinals, with the additional pressure of having to win these games in three days.
First came the wins over Yorkton and, finally, a pair of nine-inning victories over Brooks by Sunday scores of 15-5 and 8-4. Criticized often to this point in the season for inconsistency, the Prospects’ offensive mainstays outscored the opposition in the last five games by a combined 49-24. It’s worth repeating that three victories took place in a 12-hour stretch that started at 12 Noon on Sunday.
But it’s vital at this point to stay with reality: with one game remaining, Edmonton may still lose out.
The Prospects hold a two-game lead over Fort McMurray for the vital fourth playoff spot. If – yes, IF – they win their final game of the season Monday afternoon against the Bombers, they cannot be rooted out of post-season play.
The only chance for Fort McMurray is to sweep its final three games with Yorkton and have the Prospects lose its one remaining effort. Edmonton head coach Jordan Blundell confirmed Sunday that, in case of a tie, Fort McMurray’s edge in regular-season play will qualify the Giants for playoffs and the right to play the dominant Okotoks Dawgs in the opening best-of-three playoff series.
Perhaps it was a surprise that Brooks posed brief but serious threats in both ends of the Sunday doubleheader. An eight-run fourth inning erased a 3-3 tie in the opening 15-5 triumph and a stretch of five runs in three innings settled the 8-4 nightcap.
Taran Oulton and Trever Berg, two of Edmonton’s best starters, both struggled with control and pitch count but came way with the wins. Oulton, a disciplined left-hander, went the distance in the opener and Berg, nursing a one-run lead in the sixth inning, handed off to Matt Erikson, who earned the save by turning in his second top-level relief effort of the five-game marathon.
Hits by Edgar Harrell, Pierce Blohowiak, Travis Hunt and Jake Gehri, along with several bases on balls and one untimely error, provided the bulk of the clinching eight-run outburst in the opener.
Defence was a major part of the second-game victory. Blohowiak’s spectacular throw for a putout at home prevented Brooks from taking a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. Utility infielder Katsu Takahashi made consecutive diving stops of hard-hit grounders to quell an earlier Brooks rally. He also chipped in the sacrifice fly that scored Harrell and put Edmonton ahead 4-3.
Then, almost immediately, the big offensive hitters went to work, knowing anything other than a victory would not be good enough
Today, weary after their incredible work load and knowing the pitching staff is barren of proven starters, the Prospects are focused on precisely the same reality. Game time is 2:05 p.m.