Facing elimination in their final five games, a resilient Okanagan College Coyotes won them all to capture their first Canadian College Baseball Conference championship on Sunday in Kamloops.
A turbulent 10-9 victory over the surprising University of the Fraser Valley Cascades in the title game capped a hectic weekend for the Coyotes, who played eight games (6-2) in the four-day event involving six teams.
A two-run one-hop double to the leftfield fence in the top of the eighth inning by Jake Fischer — a Lacombe, Alta. product — proved the difference in the yo-yo final matchup that saw the Coyotes fall behind 5-3 before scoring four runs in the fifth inning and finding themselves in an 8-8 tie after seven innings.
West Kelowna’s Trevor Mlait led off the eighth with a single, was bunted to second and stole third while Jared Frew, OC’s top RBI man, was walked intentionally to set the stage for Fischer’s heroics.
The Cascades, in their first year in the CCBC, weren’t done yet however as they got their first three batters on base in the bottom of the ninth inning against Coyotes’ reliever Wyatt Hummel. They scored once and eventually re-loaded the bases with one out, but Hummel came through with a key strikeout and forced the final UFV batter to pop up to Coyotes’ second baseman Erick Junnola for the final out.
A mentally exhausted Geoff White, head coach of the OC team since its inception 10 years ago, said the championship win was a testament to the character of his team.
“To have their backs against the wall in the final five games and find a way to win the way they did was an exceptional accomplishment, but I’m not surprised,” said White. “These guys have worked hard all season and have bought into the program so well.”
He was especially excited for his six graduating players — Frew, Zach Yandeau, Cole Parussini, Brandon Graham, Jared Dulaba and Brandon Becking.
“Those guys were really the core and foundation for us and all of them contributed so much to the program,” pointed out White. “The program has come a long way in the 10 years and the grads really epitomized where we’re heading and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Second-place finishers in the regular season with a 20-8 record, the Coyotes got off to what White admitted was a poor start at MacArthur Island Sports Complex, losing 10-0 to the Cascades in their opening round-robin game.
The Coyotes did bounce back for an encouraging 12-0 win over the seven-time defending-champion Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs from Lethbridge, but then fell 16-9 to the Vancouver Island University Mariners in their third game.
In what proved to be the turning point of the weekend for OC, the Coyotes, behind the eight-inning, four-hit pitching of Trevor Brigden, shut out the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack 3-0.
“That game was basically a do-or-die situation for us, otherwise we would have had to have some serious help from other teams to advance to the playoffs,” explained White. “But Trevor (CCBC pitcher of the year) — as he has all season — came through with an outstanding effort (season-high 14 strikeouts) and we rode the momentum the rest of the way.”
The Coyotes followed up with a 10-3 win over the last-place University of Calgary Dinos in their final round-robin game.
OC finished RR play with a 3-2 record and tied with TRU and VIU for second place, but the WolfPack were awarded a semifinal spot because of their better runs-against record.
That meant the Coyotes had to play Mariners for third place and a playoff berth in a game that started at 10 p.m. on Saturday and finished 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, with OC advancing with a 17-4 victory.
The Coyotes met TRU in the Sunday’s semifinal beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
While the WolfPack outhit the Coyotes 10-7 in the semi, OC produced the more timely smacks from their veterans on the way to a 5-2 victory and a berth in the championship game.
Kelowna’s Davis Todosichuk drove in a pair of runs with two hits while senior Dulaba added a two hits.
The Coyotes got a solid outing from starter Chris Wyslobocki who scattered eight hits over five innings and held TRU to the two runs while striking out three. Hummel pitched 1 2/3 innings of relief while Parusinni closed out the final two frames to earn OC its third game in less than 24 hours.
Even before the CCBC season began, coach White was touting his 2018 team as the best yet in his 10 years at the helm. There was no doubt in his mind after Sunday’s championship win.
“It was the best because it was the most complete we’ve had,” he said. “The depth on the mound and offensively was just outstanding. And the core of our key players were seniors who really set the tone for the team and the season in general.”