Russ Smithson would have preferred it not come to this, a one-game play-in game to break a tie for the last playoff spot, but since it has, there isn’t a team he’d rather play than the Okanagan Athletics.
On Wednesday afternoon in Kelowna, the White Rock Tritons will battle the A’s – who won a coin-toss for home-field advantage – for the eighth B.C. Premier Baseball League playoff seed. The two teams finished the regular season with identical 23-25 records, and in four head-to-head meetings – all played in April – each team won twice.
“We’re really fired up,” Smithson, the Tritons head coach, said. “If there’s anybody we have to play in a situation like this, we couldn’t have picked a better team – the boys will have no trouble getting up for this one.”
The two teams certainly have a history, despite playing just four times early in the year, in which the aggregate score was just 7-6 in favour of White Rock.
No, the rivalry was ramped up in early April when two Tritons, catchers Nathan Ackerman and Brandon Sonnenberg – whom Smithson expected to be big parts of the team – left the Peninsula to join the Okanagan program. At the time, Smithson refused to comment on the moves, except to say they left for “personal reasons.”
“The boys are all friends – they text each other, email, but I think you’ll see from both sides that there’s something there… I know our guys would like nothing more than to send ‘em packing,” Smithson said.
The Tritons find themselves in such a do-or-die predicament after going 2-2 in four games last weekend. The Tritons lost both ends of a rain-soaked doubleheader Saturday in Nanaimo, 5-2 and 3-1 against the first-place Pirates, before bouncing back Sunday, winning twice at home against the Victoria Eagles, by 9-3 and 11-1 scores.
The Tritons were also hurt by last week’s decision to vacate 12 wins by the Langley Blaze, who were penalized by the PBL for using two ineligible players. When the results of those 12 games were reversed, it added wins to the teams White Rock was battling with for a playoff spot.
The Tritons didn’t benefit at all from the decision – the only time White Rock played Langley during those 12 games, they won.
“It hurt us, definitely,” said Smithson.
The Tritons would have secured a playoff spot with one win over the Pirates, but were saddled with less-than-ideal conditions.
“Saturday was just awful – it was absolutely pouring out, but we decided to play the games anyway, so we wouldn’t have to take another day off work, and make another trip to the Island to make the games up,” Smithson explained.
“But the boys bounced back Sunday and played well. They were tough games though – we needed to win both, and I think the boys were pretty nervous.”
They didn’t play nervous on the field, however. Pitcher Joel Lamont went seven innings in the first game, allowing just two earned-runs while striking out six, and Evan Douglas and Josh Sigurdson had three and two runs-batted-in, respectively.
In Game 2, Josh Larsen led the way with two doubles and two RBI, and Jackson Temple also had his third triple of the season. Sigurdson also had a big day, going 2-for-3 with three stolen bases.
Smithson wouldn’t tip his hand as to which pitcher he was going to start in Wednesday’s play-in game, saying “he hadn’t even told his players that yet.”
All his pitchers are available, he said, with the exception of No. 1 Josh Larsen, who pitched six innings in Game 2 Saturday.
“He’s questionable, because he pitched Saturday, but if we need him in relief, I know he’ll be ready, and I won’t hesitate for a second to put him in,” Smithson said.
BCPBL playoffs begin this weekend, with four best-of-three series. The eighth seed – either White Rock or Okanagan – will play Nanaimo, who have locked up first-place.