Thursday, August 22, 2013

West Coast League hands out 2013 awards

Alex Real
The West Coast League awards have just been handed out and there is plenty of good news for the Victoria HarbourCats organization.

Although the team finished in fourth place in the North Division with a lackluster .407 winning percentage, the HarbourCats still had three players receive league honours. Alex Real was named to the All-WCL First Team, while Alex DeGoti and Bryan Conant received All-WCL Second Team honours. Real led the HarbourCats' offense in their inaugural season, posting a sparkling .339 batting average -- good enough for seventh best in the entire West Coast League. Conant was the ace of Victoria's pitching staff, and his 1.81 ERA was the fifth-best mark in the league.

The West Coast League's MVP award went to one of the few Canadians in the league -- Alex Calbick of the Bellingham Bells. The left-handed hitting slugger, who used to play for the Coquitlam Reds in the BC Premier Baseball League, won the batting title with a remarkable .384 average. The Burnaby native was a thrill to watch during Bellingham's visit to Royal Athletic Park on the final weekend of the season.

Nick Sabo of the Klamath Falls Gems was named the WCL Pitcher of the Year. He posted a 6-3 record and a 2.63 ERA in a league-leading 75 1/3 innings pitched. Although he didn't make his first appearance until June 19th and pitched fewer innings, the award could easily have gone to Andrew Olson of the Bellingham Bells. Olson had a 1.84 ERA and a miserly 0.86 WHIP, while he struck out more than seven batters for each hitter that he walked.

Brooke Knight received Coach of the Year honours for the fourth time in his career. He led the Corvallis Knights to the WCL championship after compiling a league-leading 37-17 record in the regular season. That mark was an impressive 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-best record in the league, a 31-22 season put together by the Walla Walla Sweets. Although Knight is a fine coach and a worthy recipient, I would have liked to have seen the award given out to Josh Hogan of the Medford Rogues. Hogan led the Rogues to the playoffs with a 30-24 record -- a new league record for the most wins by an expansion team. It's worth noting that Hogan accomplished the feat with only one of his players named to the All-Star team, while Corvallis had seven players named.

As for the off-field awards, HarbourCats GM Holly Jones was named WCL Executive of the Year. Under Jones' leadership, Victoria finished second in the league in average attendance with 1,437 fans per game. Only the Bend Elks (1,574 fans per game) posted a higher average attendance. The Medford Rogues, the other expansion team in the league, finished third in attendance with 1,372 fans per game.

From this vantage point, it appears that the deciding factor in awarding Executive of the Year honours to Jones was the wildly successful All-Star Game. The midsummer classic, which received rave reviews from all corners, attracted 4,210 excited fans and smashed the all-time WCL record for single-game attendance. Achieving this kind of success helped to improve the (already excellent) reputation of the West Coast League. Although their work was largely performed outside of the limelight this summer, a good amount of the credit for the All-Star Game should also go out to HarbourCats staff members Cale Reining and Nicole Post.

Congratulations to all of the award winners!

Corvallis wins WCL championship

The bloggers have been busy of late with summer vacations and (yes!) even one of us getting married, but we're back and trying to get caught up on recent news. On that note...

The Corvallis Knights defeated the Wenatchee AppleSox 1-0 on Monday night to sweep their best-of-three series 2-0 and win the WCL championship for the third time in their history. The Knights have now appeared in the championship series six of the last seven years. The AppleSox, five-time winners of the WCL championship, have made it to the finals seven times in the league's nine-year history.

Pitcher Jorge Perez was dominant in the playoffs for the Knights, winning both of his starts while posting a 1.17 ERA. In 15 1/3 innings pitched he struck out 11 and walked only one batter. His WHIP in the playoffs was an absurd 0.46.

Corvallis also swept our expansion cousins, the Medford Rogues, in the South Division final. In the North Division final, Wenatchee swept the Walla Wall Sweets two games to none.

Congratulations to all of the playoff teams for a great season!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunny Sunday victory ends season on a high note

HarbourCats pre-game pep talk...
In a true feel-good afternoon at the park, the Victoria HarbourCats pulled off a come from behind victory to send their faithful fans home with smiles on their faces and promises of next year.

It was family day, and that meant taking time to honour and thank the many families who give up their homes and their free time to billet the players. I was surprised to learn many families take in more than one player, showing a true commitment to the team, and to baseball in Victoria. All managed by Austin and Ty's mother Karen Russell, everyone involved deserves a big hand.

There were plenty of other thanks to give on this day, including to the many volunteers and 'Cats staff who keep the games running smoothly. Thanks also to the many concession, security, and field workers who are there night after night keeping us fed, safe, and hydrated.

And thanks to the HarbourCats for ending the season in style - thanks to a late 3-run rally and some great relief pitching from Logan Lombana.

A bit of a scare in the ninth inning... With two out, a long fly ball to right looked like a possible game-ending fly, but it continued to slice toward the foul line, landing just inches past the outstretched glove of a diving Chris Lewis.  With the tying run on 2nd base, another line shot to center field looked like it might find grass and score the tying run before Brandon Smith hauled it in for the final out of the season.

Connor Russell had a strong start, mixed with a couple of unfortunate base hits that added runs to the board for Bellingham. He left after 5 down 3-1, giving way to Lombana who finished the game giving up only 1 hit over the final 4 innings.

Bells 3B Alex Calbick started the game and went 1-3 before being pulled in the 6th inning. He left the game hitting .384 and a one-point lead over Wenatchee's Connor Spencer for the batting title. Spencer plays later tonight in Kelowna and will have to come from behind to take the title.

GM Holly Jones took the field late in the game to announce the outstanding attendance number for the game at 2,467. A weekend total of just over 6,700 gives Victoria the highest paid total attendance in the WCL this year, and the second highest average behind only the Bend Elks.

Coach Dennis Rogers also thanked the crowd for all of their support throughout the year, and promised a winning team next season.

Plenty of post-game activity with players lining the concourse to sign autographs and chat with fans. With a few weeks left before the college year starts, there was lots of talk about fly fishing, surfing, and hitting the beach, mixed with some good old home cooking.
...and Post-game Victory line. That's Brandon Smith receiving the hugs for his game winning catch!

Victoria will miss these boys of summer, and we look forward to seeing some of them return next season.

Stay tuned to the blog over the next couple of weeks while we wrap up the season, share some insight on what happens next, and post some exclusive interviews. Thanks for reading throughout the season!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spectacular night at RAP

Oooooooh. Ahhhhhhh.
What a great crowd at Royal Athletic tonight for the last night game of the season. 2513 fans took in the action, a 4-1 loss, and stuck around for the fireworks spectacular that followed. And what a spectacular show it was - nearly 20 minutes of pyrotechnics lighting up the sky above center field to many Oooohs and Ahhhhs from the crowd, and dozens of people lining the fences of RAP outside the park.

The fireworks were apparently the largest privately organized and funded display in Victoria's history! I've seen some Canada Day sets that weren't as good...

Apart from that, there was a lot going on at the park tonight if you knew where to look...

The huge attendance number vaulted Victoria firmly into second place in league attendance, where they will finish the season.

In about the 7th inning, the Wenatchee AppleSox finished their game against the Kelowna Falcons, winning 10-2. That win eliminated Bellingham from the post season.

Alex Calbick, now hitting .385
Bells' third baseman Alex Calbick went 2-4 on the night, raising his league leading average to an incredible .385. Wenatchee's Connor Spencer went 3-5 in their lopsided win (including a first inning grand slam), and sits at .383. The batting title will come down to tomorrow's games. In case you're wondering, Calbick will have to go 6-6 tomorrow to break the single season WCL batting mark of .403 set in 2008 by Bend's Drew Heid.

John Schuknecht went 1-4 tonight, but it stayed in the park. John remains at 6 home runs on the season, still two shy of the league lead. His brother David, who sits at 5 home runs, spent his second game in a row on the bench without as much as a pinch-hit opportunity.

A couple of roster moves today. Gone is All-star pitcher Ty Provencher, signed was Lambrick Park grad Evan Willow. Willow, a catcher, has been warming up pitchers in-between innings while Alex Real gets his gear on...

One more game to go, 9 more innings of HarbourCat season coming up tomorrow. Cheer on the Cats, but throw a little love Calbick's way as well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bells' hopes still alive!

The Bellingham Bells are a step closer to making the WCL playoffs after a convincing 8-2 win over the HarbourCats Friday night. The win, coupled with a Wenatchee loss in Kelowna puts the Bells 2.5 games back of the AppleSox for second place in the North Division. If the Bells continue to win, and the Sox continue to lose, Bellingham will make the playoffs.

Friday night's game had a bit of everything. In a segment approved by Clint Eastwood, we give you...

The Good

Alex Calbick
  • Bells third baseman Alex Calbick goes 4-5, with a single, a double, and two rocket-shot home runs. Hard not to like Alex - he's from Coquitlam, and played on Canada's junior team. His near-perfect night leapfrogged him into first place for the WCL batting crown, passing Wenatchee's Connor Spencer who only went 2-4 on the night. Calbick sits at .382 to Spencer's .376.
  • Mr August, John Schuknecht hit his 4th home run of the month, moving himself into second place in the WCL Home Run race with 6, just 2 behind league leader and Home Run Derby Leader Cody Hough.
  • The fans were out in full force! Not sure what to expect as the team struggles down the stretch, ticket sales were exceptional, with 1700+ passing through the gate. A great crowd on a beautiful warm summer night. The crowd moves Victoria closer to the top of the WCL attendance list, less than 20 bums less per game than second place Medford. With similar crowds the rest of the weekend, Victoria should be second behind only the Bend Elks (who average almost 200 more a game than Victoria).
  • Brandon Smith, whom despite going 0-4 in the leadoff spot, still hasn't given up on a ball hit anywhere near center field this year. Yet another fantastic flat-out catch tonight to take away a sure hit.

The Bad
Mr Floatie!

  • On mascot night, all the local heroes come out to the park with a couple of notable exceptions... Turbo the Harbour Air mascot, who's been to a couple games now, was nowhere to be found. Seymour Seal (you know, he's still in town!) would have been a real treat for the throwback fans at the park. And the one mascot Victoria can claim as their own without a doubt - Mr Floatie, was left off the invite list.
  • No Russells. Not a single AB or pitch thrown by the trio tonight.

The Ugly

  • Back... back... back... gone! Victoria pitchers gave up 5 home runs tonight, raising their total given up on the season to 40. Forty home runs is 17 higher than the next closest team, and a whopping 14 over the previous league record for most dingers given up in a season.

There you have it. More good than bad if you look for it.

New-guy starter Daniel Koo, and new-new-guy reliever Emilio Foden (added to the roster just before game time) had interesting nights on the mound. Both looked composed making their first appearances in front of a sizable crowd, had good control and success against the weaker hitters, but were over-matched by the likes of Calbick and catcher Jake Bailey (who went 3-5 with a monster HR on the night).

For the rest of the series... it would be great to see BC boy Alex Calbick keep his lead and win the batting title, as it would be nice to see John Schuknecht put two or three more out to challenge for the HR title. Lots to cheer about at RAP!

Bellingham Bells - series preview

In a rare weather-assisted home-and-home series for the Cats, the Bellingham Bells comes to town for the final three games of the season this weekend. Victoria is in position to play spoiler to the Bells in their quest to make the WCL playoffs.

Bell's mascot "Dinger". Get it - he's a HAM-ster
Victoria dealt a huge blow to the Bells playoff hopes last night, getting a strong outing from Will Ballowe in a 3-2 victory. The Bells had plenty of opportunities to score runs but were unable to get key hits when they needed them. The Bells now need to sweep this series while Wenatchee gets swept, and knock them out based on their head-to-head record. Wenatchee is ending the season with three games in Kelowna starting tonight - if I was a betting man, I’d say Bellingham is done. Actually, they have been done for a while now... the Bells were leading the North division just two weeks ago, but have gone 1-7 since July 28th. This is a team that is in a serious slump at exactly the wrong time of the year.
Given the situation the teams find themselves in, you can expect to see a few changes and oddities happening in and around the field…
On the ‘Cats side, for perhaps the first time this season, Victoria doesn’t have their starting rotation listed for this weekend’s series - except for Friday’s game, where newcomer Daniel Koo – a Yale man (the Fraser Valley Baseball Academy one) – is scheduled to take to the mound in his WCL debut. Koo previously played in the BCJPBL with Abbotsford. Victoria also signed pitcher Gunner Swanson this week, and he pitched 7 strong innings down in Wenatchee on Tuesday but took a loss. The “Gun Show” played with Everett in the NWAACC, alongside Dylan LaVelle where they won the league championship back in May, and was the winning pitcher in the final game against Pierce, throwing a gem of a 4-hitter. Would be nice to see him with a start, if he made the trip North.
I doubt we will see Ty Provencher as he’s been all but shut down for the season with his pitch counts so far. Ryan Keller threw in relief last night (picking up the save) so he will likely stay in the pen. That may mean one more start for Bryan Conant which would be a nice way to end the season – he’s been by far Victoria’s most consistent starter. Maybe if a game gets out of hand early we’ll see Connor Russell and his mop one more time… We’ll have to wait and see what mound magic the coaching conjures up.
On the sticks, the Schuknecht brothers have found a rhythm for sure and are hurting the ball. Both are now tied with Alex Real with 5 HR each, 3 behind league leader Cody Hough. A good weekend could net one of these boys the home run title. Alex Real has dropped off considerably in his quest for league average leader, but Bellingham’s Alex Calbick currently sits at .370 – only 3 points behind the league leaders Connor Spencer from Wenatchee, and Cowlitz’ Kyle Knigge.
Flip a coin on any of these games, as either team could win all three. I really hope the HarbourCats give the fans a positive to close out the season. Victoria should be able to take 2 of 3 in the series, and end the year on a somewhat high note. Saturday’s fireworks night will bring lots of folks to the yard, and the weather promises to be outstanding for all three games. Come on down for one last Pig and Spinnakers Original at the park!

Arrivederci HarbourCats

I must apologize for my lack of posts lately, but a family vacation beckoned so I write this as I sip my cappuccino in Italia. But it is a good segue...the Italians are emotional, passionate people and so are Victoria baseball fans. I have been following the games whenever time and wifi allow and I love all the comments recently. Seems like I am missing some controversial times.

Firstly, a big THANKS to all those who leave comments. It keeps the blog lively and interesting. In fact, this quick post is really just to clarify my own thoughts on the developmental aspect of the league and how I see it.

I just reread some of my old posts and a lot of the recent comments, since it beats following my daughters around shopping. My take is this... the HarbourCats do want to, and do try to win every game. You may not agree with how they go about it, but that is what they try to do. However, the nuance is that this is a developmental league so consider this a "constraint" to putting the best team on the field. Is it a developmental league or a league where players are developed? I say both.

The WCL coaches have a tough job trying to win every game while at the same time, deal with college coaches imposing restrictions, injuries and the fact that these are 18  to 20 year old kids. I am certainly not giving the coaches amnesty for their questionable decisions (exhibit A- Connor Russell), I'm just saying when you see one of those decisions, it MAY, I repeat MAY, be because a college coach has given some input, there is some sort of injury or the kid may have been goofing around off the field. I have two kids that age and it is an understatement to say that the can have crappy attitudes or make bonehead life decisions from time to time.

So again, continue to question the coaches, but realize that there are other factors in play in this league. I don't believe it makes it any less appealing - I, for one have loved watching the ball this year - just more complicated.

My advice is to not be so quick in "throwing your toys from the pram" when you see your favourite batter hitting in a weird spot, or your favourite pitcher riding the pine. Question it, for sure, but consider that other factors may be at play.

So no playoffs this year, but lets keep that passion flowing into next year. Positive momentum. This developmental thing may end up working in our favour if we can generate some returnees from this year's freshman rich roster (exhibit B - Conant the Barbarian) as we strive to become a perennial Titan club like Wenatchee or Corvallis.

Enjoy these last fleeting days of summer, support the lads and keep those comments coming. We love it!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Connor Russell mows ‘em down

"Russ" on the mound for VIBI
With the HarbourCats trailing 8-0 to the Wenatchee AppleSox in the third inning tonight, the team made the call for Connor Russell to come out of the bullpen and try to stop the bleeding.  And stop the bleeding, he did.  Although Wenatchee is the second-best hitting club in the entire league, Russell slammed the door for the rest of the game, allowing no runs and only three hits in 5 1/3 innings on the mound. The sensational outing gave his teammates plenty of opportunities to get back into the game, but the HarbourCats could only put four on the board the rest of the way and they would eventually lose by a score of 8-4.

The lone HarbourCat who had a good night at the plate was David Schuknecht, who homered twice and knocked in three runs. He raised his average to .252 on the season and he is now tied for the team lead in homers (5) with Alex Real and his younger brother John.

Russell’s great work on the mound lowered his ERA to 3.24 this summer, second-best on the HarbourCats among those pitchers who qualify for the ERA title. Only the ace of the team, Bryan Conant, has a better ERA on the squad.  “Russ” now has the 19th-best ERA in the entire West Coast League, an amazing accomplishment considering the adversity he has faced this year. Well done, Connor!!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top 10 reasons to come out to RAP this weekend

The sun is setting on the season
The WCL season is winding down and entering its final days, so you might want to wander down to Royal Athletic Park this weekend to take in a HarbourCats game one last time. The Bellingham Bells will be taking on the ‘Cats in a three-game set that starts on Friday, so if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, come on down to the old ball yard and take in some of the action. 

With apologies to David Letterman, we present our Top 10 Reasons to Come Out to RAP This Weekend:

Alex Real.
He’s cooled off at the plate of late, but he’s still seventh in the league in hitting with a .342 average. This guy alone is worth the price of admission.
The weather forecast is for continued sunshine, but this glorious summer won’t last forever and the winter rains aren’t that far off. Take advantage while you can and grab one of the many sunny seats at RAP this weekend.
Alex Calbick.
I know, I know, he plays for Bellingham. But he too is worth keeping an eye on. The Burnaby, B.C. native is third in the batting race and he is within striking distance of the league leader, Wenatchee’s Connor Spencer. Although this is Bellingham's first-ever visit to town, Calbick has already played in Victoria this summer – he went two-for-three with an RBI in the WCL All-Star Game.
Seriously, who doesn’t like fireworks? On Saturday night, there will be a fabulous fireworks display following the completion of the game. The first two fireworks shows got rave reviews, so we’re expecting the third and final show to be just as good.
John Schuknecht.
The younger of the two Schuknecht brothers has been on fire at the plate recently. He became the first HarbourCat to register a five RBI game when he hit a pair of homers to left field at RAP on August 1st. Come on out and see if he can do it again.
Spinnakers Beer.
For those of drinking age, a trip to the Spinnakers kiosk during the game is a must. What goes better with baseball and sunshine than a frosty beer? OK, maybe a hot dog -- but let's not split hairs.
Bryan Conant.
We’re holding out hope that we’ll get to see Bryan Conant take to the hill one more time at RAP this year. This guy is a joy to watch pitch – he’s like a left-handed Greg Maddux.
Great Ballpark Food.
There’s the outstanding pulled pork, beef brisket and poutine at the Pig food truck and some awesome burgers at Ambrosia to choose from. Either way, the grub is top shelf.
Dave Westgeest.
Some like to come the ballpark early to watch batting practice, but I think it’s more fun to watch the pre-game antics of Dave Westgeest. He’s officially listed as the team’s Baseball Operations Coordinator, but if you’re lucky enough you’ll see him skipping rope, drinking from the hose or pretending to be in a wet T-shirt contest in the infield while he takes care of his grounds keeping duties. Classic.
Alex Real.
Seriously, you gotta see this guy play if you haven’t already. The future All American will be in the big leagues in four or five years.

See you at the ballpark!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another head-scratching decision dooms the ‘Cats

The HarbourCats let yet another one get away tonight, and this time it’s hard to point the finger at a player.

After trailing the Walla Walla Sweets 2-0 for most of the night, Victoria came through with a clutch two-out rally in the top of the 8th to take the lead. The big hits in the inning were an RBI single by David Schuknecht and a base hit by Dylan LaVelle to bring home the elder Schuknecht and Chris Lewis to give the HarbourCats a 3-2 lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, starter Tyler Rowe walked Dominic Miroglio with one out and was removed after having thrown 106 pitches on the night. So far so good. With a slim one-run lead and the team in desperate need of a win, who would be brought in? Ryan Keller (1.74 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Monday? Connor Russell (3.63 ERA), who has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, but hasn’t exactly been overused of late? Will Ballowe (5.78 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday? Scott Kuzminsky (5.26 ERA), who threw six pitches and took the loss the previous night? Nope, pitching coach Ben Jackson chose to bring in the man with the highest ERA (11.73) on the team, Cameron Cuneo. Here’s how Cuneo’s outing went: hit by pitch, walk and another walk to tie the game.

Now that the lead was blown, Jackson brought in Kuzminsky, who promptly struck out John Skrbec and Scott Silva to end the threat and keep Cuneo’s ERA from climbing any higher than 11.73. But by then the damage had been done. The HarbourCats would go on to lose the game in ten innings for the second consecutive night, with Kuzminsky taking both losses.

Fans at Royal Athletic Park
The situation mirrored what happened in a game against Corvallis at Royal Athletic Park on Monday. With the ‘Cats holding a 3-1 lead in the top of the 7th inning and (as usual) being in desperate need of a win, Victoria brought a struggling Joe Record into the game. Record gave up a couple of hits and then couldn’t get out of the inning. With runners on first and second and the score at 3-2 in Victoria’s favour, Jackson brought in Cameron Cuneo, who had a 12.15 ERA at the time. Cuneo quickly issued a walk and a base hit, and suddenly Corvallis held a 4-3 lead. Cuneo was summarily removed from the game and the guy who should have started the 7th inning, Ryan Keller, was brought in. But again, the horses were out of the barn and the HarbourCats would go on to lose that game by a score of 6-5.

We aren’t bringing this up to embarrass Cameron Cuneo. We’re sure that he’ll be a fine professional pitcher someday, but right now he’s struggling. So much so that he should only be used in mop-up duty until he can regain his confidence. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other relievers who have earned the right to come into tight ballgames with a slim Victoria lead.

Some may simply dismiss this blog post as second guessing. However, we think the situation is worth pointing out, because it highlights a pattern that we have seen from the Victoria coaching staff this summer. On many occasions, opportunities have been given to players who are struggling, while those who have performed well are relegated to the bench. We understand the West Coast League is a developmental league, but the paying customers deserve better. Playing time should be at least partially dependent on a player’s performance – in this or any other league.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lack of offense wastes dominant outing by Conant

Bryan Conant
Bryan Conant was spectacular on July 14th when he threw a complete-game shutout against Klamath Falls, but he was even more impressive last night against the Walla Walla Sweets. Conant gave up only six hits in nine shutout innings, he struck out 10 and he didn’t walk a single batter. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to pick up a win, as the underachieving HarbourCats fell 1-0 to Walla Walla in 10 innings. On the plus side, at least the team had the good sense to sit Conant down after his 115-pitch masterpiece.

In his last four starts, Conant has now only given up a total of two earned runs in 33 innings. Yes, you read that correctly – TWO earned runs in his last 33 innings pitched. The season numbers for Conant “The Barbarian” continue to defy gravity, as he is currently fourth in the West Coast League with a 1.81 ERA. Opponents are hitting a paltry .198 against him and his WHIP stands at a miserly 0.93. The big lefty looks to have a bright future ahead of him, but we knew that well before he donned a HarbourCat uniform for the first time.

On Friday night, the ‘Cats did manage to push across three runs in a 3-1 victory over the Sweets. Those precious runs made a winner out of Ty Provencher, who also had what was likely his best outing of the season. “Ty Pro” threw a complete-game gem on Friday, giving up only one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out nine batters, which gives him 28 strikeouts in his last 25 1/3 innings on the hill. Provencher threw a whopping 135 pitches in the game, topping his previous high-water marks of 121 pitches on July 21st and 118 pitches on July 8th. Let’s hope that his arm really is made out of rubber and that the former short reliever remains injury-free over the remainder of his college career.

Saturday’s loss leaves the HarbourCats four games out of the last playoff spot in the North Division standings, but only the most hopelessly optimistic fan would be entertaining post-season thoughts at this point. With the team’s transmission stuck firmly in neutral, the most pertinent question remaining to be answered this summer is whether or not the HarbourCats can avoid a last-place finish. The Kelowna Falcons, made up primarily of Division II and junior college players, have managed to pull within three games of the fourth-place HarbourCats. In fact, the Falcons have been a much better team than the Victoria squad since late June. At the end of the day on the 23rd of June, the HarbourCats had a record of 10-4, while the Falcons stood at 3-12. Since that oh-so-obvious turning point of the season, Victoria has gone a shocking 10-22, while Kelowna has posted a respectable 14-17 record. If the team is to avoid finishing in the basement, a number of those sleeping bats are going to have to wake up in the dying days of the team’s inaugural season.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Long balls put an end to an even longer home stand

Local boy Ty Russell with a rare plate appearance
Fan appreciation night at RAP was made special with lots of giveaways for the fans attending the game. To help out, both teams chipped in by thanking the people living across Pembroke Street too, depositing no less than five baseballs in their front yards.

For a league without a lot of power, it looked more like the home run derby than it did a regular season game. Alex Real hit his team-leading 5th home run - his first in 17 games, but the real power story of the night was John Schuknecht. After Brandon Smith's outstanding night at the plate last night, he was moved up to second in the order, moving Schuknecht down to ninth. The bottom of the order must agree with him - he went 3 for 3 with a walk, 2 Home Runs, and 5 RBI on the night. That's three "taters" off Gems pitching this series.

Unfortunately for the 'Cats this night, two guys putting together 6 RBI wasn't enough. Starting pitcher Joe Navilhon had his worst start of the season, giving up 9 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings including a mammoth grand slam in the 4th to C Adam Daymude, and a single home run to 3B Ryan Clark in the 6th. Change pitchers maybe? Nope, he had to give up 3 more before the 'Cats finally had mercy on the home crowd and got him out of there. Connor Russell, (who must have insulted someone's mother the way he's been skipped, pushed back, and ignored this year) came out of the pen and gave up the final two runs.

In a nice salute to the home-town fans, all three Russell boys made an appearance in the same game, as Ty Russell had a chance to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth (Austin was the DH).

The 'Cats score 23 runs against Klamath in the series, give up 24, and walk away with only one victory to show for their effort. Signs of a great offence at times, shut down by some questionable bullpen management.

So thanks to the HarbourCats for the shirts, the free ticket giveaways, the clapping hands, the button giveaways... but all we really wanted on Fan Appreciation day was some relief pitching...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Surprise starter pitches a Gem for Klamath Falls

Gems fielder, er, starting pitcher Michael Tittle
You have to think coming into the ballpark Wednesday night, that Victoria is going to have a good shot at going up 2-0 against the Klamath Falls Gems in this series. After a formidable offensive performance the night before, and noticing that the Gems starting pitcher is none other than... left fielder Michael Tittle - making his first appearance on the mound since his high school days, it looked like a sure thing.

We knew the Gems were short on pitching, but it's always a bit shocking to see a position player start a game.

No idea if it factored into the decision or not, but Victoria's expected starter Connor Russell was pushed out of his spot as well in favour of lefty Will Ballowe. Russell was charting pitches all night, so looks like his start will be tomorrow.

The night started well for Victoria, and looked like a carbon copy of the night before: Gems go down in the first and Victoria gets on the sticks early, putting two on base with no outs. This time however, there was no clutch hit, no two-out rally, no runs scored. A squandered opportunity they would repeat in the second inning.

Ballowe struggled all night to shut down batters, and like the tap in the bathroom that you can't quite turn off all the way, the 'Cats kept giving up tack-on runs to the Gems. Klamath led off the second with a home run, pushed two more over in the third, and added one more on in the 4th. Ballowe was done, he left the game at 4-2 in favour of Scott Kuzminsky who gave up one more in the 4th.

The 'Cats did finally got to Tittle in the 4th, scoring on a bases loaded walk, and yet another wild pitch. The Gems then put in an actual staff pitcher, and the rally was snuffed again, leaving the bases loaded. Tittle finished his night giving up 4 hits, 4 walks, and a wild pitch.

Kuzminsky imploded in the 7th, surrendering 4 hits and 3 key runs, and gave up one more in the 8th. The 'Cats actually scored some runs in the 7th and 8th, but could only keep pace with what they were giving up. In the end, a 9-6 loss. With any kind of pitching, this should have been an easy win for Victoria.

With a chill in the air and the threat of rain, only 885 braved the first real "pants night" in a while to sit through the mess. Fans around where I were sitting were frustrated all night, many of them commenting on the low excitement level of the game, and the lack of enthusiasm from the players.

The one exception on the night was Brandon Smith. Brandon had an outstanding game, going 4-5 at the plate, and making some hustle plays in the field. He is seeing the ball really well this week, going 8-15 since the start of the Corvalis series. An excellent turnaround from his mid-month slump that saw him go 0-20.

Alex Real continues to slump, going 0-5 at the dish - only the 4th time this season he has not reached 1st base safely in a game. His average has dropped 30 points in the last 10 games, down to .361 and sinking him to 7th place in the batting race.