Sports

White Rock Tritons ‘ready to win’

North Delta Blue Jays catcher Bryan O’Hara tags out White Rock Tritons base-runner Jackson Temple during a BC Premier Baseball League preseason game at Mackie Park last month. The two teams will open the season against each other Sunday.   - Boaz Joseph photo
North Delta Blue Jays catcher Bryan O’Hara tags out White Rock Tritons base-runner Jackson Temple during a BC Premier Baseball League preseason game at Mackie Park last month. The two teams will open the season against each other Sunday.
— image credit: Boaz Joseph photo

The league is considered among the elite in North America for high school-aged players.

And three local teams are among the 13 which will begin play in the 2012 B.C. Premier Baseball League (PBL) season this weekend, all coming off disappointing years.

The White Rock Tritons visit the North Delta Blue Jays in a double header Sunday at noon, while the Whalley Chiefs start their schedule at home Saturday afternoon, also at noon.

Eleven former PBL players attended Major League Baseball spring training last month, including four who will start the season in The Show – former North Delta Blue Jay Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, pitcher Ryan Dempster (North Shore Twins) of the Chicago Cubs, outfielder Michael Saunders (Victoria Mariners) of the Seattle Mariners and third baseman Brett Lawrie (Langley Blaze) of the Toronto Blue Jays.

A preview of the Tritons, Blue Jays and Chiefs:

White Rock Tritons

The White Rock Tritons have had about enough of scratching and clawing for one of the BC Premier Baseball League’s final playoff spots.

This year, the junior baseball team is instead aiming for one of the league’s top spots, after two years on the outside looking in when the post-season rolls around. Last year, the Tritons lost to the Okanagan Athletics in a one-game playoff that determined the final playoff participant.

“We’re tired of fighting for eighth spot every year,” said Tritons head coach Russ Smithson, who enters his second season with the team and third with the organization after coaching the Junior Tritons in 2010.

“We have a lot of returning senior players – we have 11 of them – so we’ll really need their leadership, but there’s no reason we can’t finish in the top three this season.

“We’re ready to start winning.”

White Rock has already played 17 exhibition games, including a road trip to Arizona, and Smithson said he crew is ready to play games that really count.

They’ll rely heavily on their seniors, especially the trio of Alex Webb, Nathan Trueblood – both pitchers – and centre-fielder Jackson Temple.

“Alex has turned into a real beast,” said Smithson of his pitcher, who last week signed to play next season at UBC.

Trueblood won’t join the Tritons until early May, once his season at Blaine High School is competed.

Other returning players include catcher Evan Douglas, and infielders/pitchers Adam Shumka, Tanner Sandstrom and Shay Buis. In the outfield, newcomers Kevin Irving, Cam Forbes and Max Koltai will battle for playing time in right and left field, as will Connor Kenwood and Cody Didyk, both of whom will also pitch.

And while offence is sometimes hard to come by for the Tritons – “We’re still pretty inconsistent,” Smithson said – the team will likely live or die with pitching and defence.

“There might be games where we only get a couple hits, but our pitching should be at the top of the league. We have seven guys with plus-stuff, and if our pitching holds, we should win a lot of close games,” Smithson said.

The Tritons open the season on the road Sunday with two games against North Delta.

North Delta Blue Jays

Call it a new era, the Blue Jays will have a different look this season both on and off the field. General manager Bob Burkmar, part of the Blue Jays since its inception 17 years ago, has stepped down as has last year’s head coach Jason Rich.

Larry Waddell is the new general manager, bringing with him 15 years of administrative experience with Ladner Minor Baseball.

Gerry White, a coach of three provincial and one Western Canadian championship teams in the past decade while with Ladner Minor Baseball, is the new head coach. He coached the Blue Jays team in the B.C. Junior Premier League, guiding the group to a second place finish and a playoff championship.

Eight members of that Junior team are moving up to the senior squad for 2012, including Shoma Sasako of Surrey – who led his team in batting last season with a .352 average – Sodai Hoshi of North Delta (.290), Jordan Yamamoto (.288) and Bryan O’Hara (.267).

Hoshi finished sixth among Junior PBL pitchers with a 1.37 earned run average, and will join a pitching staff that includes the club’s two returning players – Shane Wlodarczak of Richmond and Seven Van Vooght of North Delta.

Wlodarczak was the Blue Jays Pitcher of the Year in 2011, with a 3.24 earned run average. His 49.2 innings pitched was the second highest among North Delta hurlers last year.

Whalley Chiefs

Only two players are back from a team that missed the playoffs by two games.

Bryon Kennedy of Penticton takes over as head coach, guiding a team with 18 players new to the PBL.

“He knows his way around,” said general manager Paul Hargreaves of his new bench boss. “He has a nice way with the kids, he gets his message across.”

Catcher Braeden Allemann, 17, and centre fielder Jordan McComb, 18, are the two veterans on the team. But the newcomers to the Chiefs aren’t a young group.

Brandan Lim, 19, of Vancouver and Coquitlam’s Brandon Chernoff, 18, will be the anchors of a pitching staff which will also include Robbie Bevacqua, 17, and Daniel Teichman, 19.

Relief pitchers include 18 year-olds Evan Rogers of Surrey and Brad Fitzsimmons of Chilliwack, and 17 year-olds Tyler Ang of Vancouver and Yuta Kikuzaki of North Delta.

The strength of this group will be our arms,” said Hargreaves. “They’re not throwers, they’re pitchers. We should be in a lot of games because of our pitching.”

Offence may be a problem early in the season, but Hargreaves is hoping Whalley batters will manufacture some runs early in the season until the hitters adjust to PBL pitching.

- with files from Rick Kupchuk

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