At Least One More Game Remains
By John Short

Down to what could have been the last out of the season, a Tennessee infielder stroked the single that kept the Edmonton Prospects alive for at least one more Western Canadian Baseball League game.

The 10th-inning hero was third baseman Tyler Maskill, who steered a two-out ground ball through the middle and into the outfield for two runs and a 5-4 victory over the Okotoks Dawgs to square the best-of-three Western Division series 1-1. The decisive game goes tonight in Okotoks, where the Dawgs staged an eighth-inning rally to earn a 7-2 victory on Thursday.

Maskill’s timely single, key blow in a three-run rally, scored Javier Ramirez and pinch-runner Davis Pratt, who had replaced Beaux Guilbeau as soon as he reached second base – and possible scoring position – with two out.

For 2,121 spectators at RE/MAX Field, the decisive inning was obviously a thrill. But it was not a classical rally. The single by Maskill came after relief pitcher Galen Manhard plunked Pierce Blohowiak and Ramirez, back to back, with one out. Soon, with Brandon Desjardins now on the mound, they staged a double steal that put both in scoring position. A sacrifice fly by Travis Hunt was the second out and drove Blohowiak home with the first run. Then Guilbeau and Jake Gehri coaxed bases on balls from Desjardins, loading the bases and setting the stage for Maskill’s well-placed hit.

All of this drama was made possible by winning pitcher Hunter Boyd. All he did was throw an estimated 150 pitches in a complete game. Head coach Jordan Blundell and pitching coach Austin Guzzo made a couple of signs that they wanted to relieve the gritty Boyd. The ultimate decision to leave him in was tied in many ways to the marathon stretch of six games in three days. Edmonton won all six – otherwise, no playoff berth – but exhausted almost their entire relief staff in order to do so.

Because no relievers did more than warm up lightly as Boyd struggled in late innings, it’s reasonable to suggest Taran Oulton, the scheduled Game 3 starter for Edmonton, will have some pitching allies available if needed.

Boyd’s weariness showed in both the eighth and 10th innings. Tristan Peters and Davis Todosichuk scored in the eighth after reaching base with none out. A Prospects double-play – third of the game engineered by Boyd’s pitches – ended that burst.

In the 10th, Jacob Melton led off with a double and Jaxon Valcke moved up with a bunt single. Gavin Logan’s single left two on with none but Boyd dug deep into his supply of talent and character to retire the next three Okotoks hitters in a row.

Edmonton had a 2-0 lead after six innings, thanks to Guilbeau’s RBI single in the first and a run-scoring triple by Jake MacDonald in the eighth.

Lefty starter Justin Hammergren pitched well but left with two out and his team trailing in the seventh inning. Manhard retired the next 11 Prospects, almost without incident. Then came the two hit batsmen, a whole new game and a whole new playoff series. The survivor will meet either the Lethbridge Bulls or Medicine Hat Mavericks, who also split the first two games of their series.

Weary Pitchers Pay The Price
By John Short

The weary relief staff of the Edmonton Prospects performed nobly and well for seven innings in their Western Canadian Baseball League playoff opener with the potent Okotoks Dawgs Thursday night, but the well of energy ran dry in the eighth inning.

As a result, the Dawgs collected five runs in the eighth to create a 7-2 victory in the opener of a best-of-three series. Game two goes tonight at RE/MAX Field in Edmonton.

A fielding error by second baseman Zach Thomas and a single by Jaxon Valcke were followed by a sacrifice bunt that loaded the bases against Matt Erikson, who entered in the third inning and held Okotoks scoreless until he was relieved after this breakthrough. David Wylie, used as the last-gasp late-inning option almost day after day recently, took over again. His weariness showed: singles by Ricardo Sanchez and Liam Rihela turned what had been a close game to a comfortable Okotoks victory.

Dane Tofteland’s single and a similar safety by Sanchez caused a second-inning threat for starter Austin Herrington. After Rihela drove in Tofteland, a  terrific relay from right fielder Pierce Blohowiak to shortstop Javier Ramirez was needed for a vital out  at third base to end the inning.

Ultimately, four of the Dawgs runs were classed as unearned. They performed without an error on defence.

Hitting against all-star righthander Nolan Ruff, third baseman Tyler Maskill whacked a double in the fifth inning and scored the tying run on a wild pitch. One inning later, Ramirez doubled and came around on a single by Beaux Guilbeau to give the Prospects a 2-1 lead.

Unfortunately for Edmonton fans, it didn’t last. After Ruff kept the Prospects under control until the eighth inning, Brandon Desjardins took the mound for a perfect five-inning relief performance. 

Prospects Win, So They're In!
By John Short

A magnificent pitching performance by reliever Zac Harrington and an extension of their recent offensive firepower has carried the Edmonton Prospects to the Western Canadian Baseball League Playoffs.

Edmonton whipped the Brooks Bombers 12-7 at RE/MAX Field to clinch the vital berth – fourth place and the final playoff spot in the Western Division -- but the game was much closer and more intense than the score might indicate.

Edmonton needed the win because the Fort McMurray Giants could have created a tie for fourth place by sweeping their final series with the Yorkton Cardinals. Had a tie developed, the Giants would have qualified because of their edge in head-to-head play this year.

The Prospects found themselves with a 4-2 deficit in the first inning but rebounded to grab the lead on Pierce Blohowiak’s double to conclude a three-run second inning. Two more runs in the fourth stretched the Prospects’ lead to 7-4 and right-hander Harrington controlled the Bombers with a collection of well-placed curve balls and changes of pace from then until he was finally replaced in the eighth inning.

Harrington took the mound with the bases loaded and two out after starter Brendan Owens had been tattooed for six hits and the four first-inning runs. Lead-off hitter Josh McIntyre, the 10th Brooks batter of the inning, was retired on a 3-and-2 grounder to third, and Harrington extended his excellence through five innings in which he yielded only one hit, a two-out single to McIntyre in the fourth.

Trouble appeared, however, in the eighth inning. Batting as the home team because recent rains made it necessary for the Bombers to finish their season on the road, they found life again after Spencer Rankin drove a long lead-off homer beyond the left field fence. Head coach Jordan Blundell and pitching coach Austin Guzzo moved immediately to put Scott Gillespie on the mound.

He did not last long. Two walks and an error, combined with Brock Partain’s sharp single, forced another pitch and David Wylie came through with his third consecutive late-inning rescue effort.

The victory was Edmonton’s seventh in succession, a franchise record. Included in the streak were two victories over the Yorkton Cardinals on Saturday and another vs Brooks that evening in an unprecedented three-game sweep. The Cardinals were vanquished in games that started about noon and 3 p.m. In the final meeting, Brooks also was defeated.

In the six games completed Saturday through Monday, Edmonton accounted for 61 runs and surrendered 29. Two regular members of the pitching staff, Jesse Poniewozik and Austin Cannedy, were unavailable: Poniewozik is recovering after suffering a concussion when hit in the head by a line drive and Cannedy returned to his California home a day or two ago.

Coach Blundell described a move like Cannedy’s as “not really unusual at this time of year; a lot of kids go home to get ready for school again.”

Fortunately for the Prospects, who face the first-place Okotoks Dawgs in a best-of-three series that opens Thursday in the Calgary suburb, Harrington and a few others who saw limited action early in the season have been willing to stay around.

“This team has been pretty close-knit, from early on,” Blundell said. “A little more team-building developed as we came out of the All-Star break.

“For a good part of the year, our offence was inconsistent, but the hitters have buckled down and are working through a lot more good at-bats right now.”

So many innings were played in the last several games that Blundell conceded he has “no idea” who will start the Thursday opener in Okotoks. “We’ll have somebody and he’ll give us all we can ask for,” he concluded.

If no further weather complications get in the way, the second game of the series will be played at RE/MAX Field on Friday night and the clincher in Okotoks on Saturday.

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.

Prospects Control Their Own Destiny
By John Short

By sweeping one of the most confusing triple-headers imaginable on Saturday, the Edmonton Prospects settled into sole possession of fourth place in the Alberta division of the Western Canadian Baseball League and gained control of their own playoff destiny with three games remaining in the 2019 regular season.

Not only did the Prospects win three games between noon and 10 p.m., but they did it against two opponents, including a lengthy carryover of a game with the Yorkton Cardinals that was washed out by massive rains on Friday night.

Edmonton’s first victory – 11-2 over Yorkton – was no contest from the beginning. Then came a thrilling seventh-inning rally in the second game that led to a 9-8 victory also over the under-manned but gritty Cardinals. The climax was a 6-5 victory over the Brooks Bombers that ended when relief ace David Wylie protected the narrow margin in the ninth inning.

As the Prospects laboured through their hectic day, the Fort McMurray Giants rebounded from a pair of back-to-back losses against the Medicine Hat Mavericks with a 6-3 victory. Both the Giants and Prospects have three games remaining – Edmonton against Brooks and Fort McMurray against Yorkton. The Prospects boosted their record to within one game of .500 and now lead Fort McMurray by one full game.

If Edmonton increases its current four-game winning streak by going unbeaten through a Sunday doubleheader and a Holiday Monday afternoon single, the Giants will be unable to catch them.

But the stubborn performances by the opponents in games two and three Friday night left the clear possibility of a one-game playoff for the right to face the powerful, first-place Okotoks Dawgs in a best-of-three first-round playoff series.

Edmonton was not troubled in the opening game, which resumed at the bottom of the second inning with the bases loaded and nobody out. By the time the uprising ended, the Prospects had a 4-1 lead, which they expanded with three more runs in the third inning and four in the fourth.

The pitching beneficiary was Tanner Roundy, normally Edmonton’s regular centre fielder. He scattered eight hits and turned in a totally-welcome complete game on the mound. Jake Gehri, Zach Thomas and Travis Hunt contributed in a major way with two hits each.

Gehri and Hunt were even more prominent in the second game, which Yorkton led 7-2 as Edmonton came to bat in the fifth inning.

Hunt’s two-run homer provided a quick left for the Prospects and a wild stretch – two walks and a hit batsman – by reliever Mike Clapperton added a third run. A Cardinals error led to another Edmonton tally in the sixth, leaving the Prospects two runs behind in their last at-bats of the game. A walk to Thomas, a single by Greyson Barrett, another safety by Beaux Guilbeau and lengthy doubles by Hunt and Gehri chased pitcher Payton Harris and left the Prospects needing one more win for the sweep.

It also came with difficulty.

Edmonton starting pitcher Hunter Boyd was handed a three-run lead in the first inning but Brooks pecked away with a single ruin in the second inning and two in the fifth, aided by a costly error at first base. A single by Edgar Harrell and a walk to Pierce Blohowiak, plus a Bombers miscue in left field, gave the Prospects a two-run lead, which was eaten up one inning later.

A walk, two singles and an error on an attempted pick-off forced Edmonton to replace Boyd with Matt Erickson – one of three Yale Eli regulars on the team, including Blohowiak and Gehri. The impressive reliever struck out four of the next five batters – three in the eighth and earned the pitching victory when Tyler Maskill drove home Gehri with what proved the winning run in the bottom half of the frame.

Edmonton’s twin-bill with Brooks features a pair of seven-inning games, scheduled to start  at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.