White Rock Tritons’ baserunner Juan Paez slides into second base during a game against Nanaimo earlier this season. For the first time since 2009

White Rock Tritons’ baserunner Juan Paez slides into second base during a game against Nanaimo earlier this season. For the first time since 2009

Playoff spot a turning point for White Rock Tritons

Head coach Russ Smithson reflects on season after team's BC Premier Baseball League post-season drought ends

The White Rock Tritons’ season may have ended a little earlier than the team had hoped, but head coach Russ Smithson wasn’t letting that damper what was otherwise “a good season overall.”

The U18 BC Premier Baseball League team bowed out of playoffs in the first round – losing a best-of-three series to the Victoria Mariners in late July – but Smithson was choosing to focus on the positive.

“It feels good to be able to say we’re a playoff team,” he said.

The playoff berth was the team’s first visit to the post-season since 2009, bringing an end to a string of futility and upheaval that – at one point, a few season ago – saw the team forfeiting games due to lack of available players, which led to then-coach Brent Swanson feuding publicly with league officials.

But Smithson is confident this season – which saw the Tritons finish seventh in the regular season with a 24-24 win-loss record – has been a turning point for the organization. He was especially happy for the team’s older players, who’ve soldiered through the last few losing seasons.

“I give credit to all those guys,” said Smithson, who has coached the team since 2011.

“Through all this, they never once complained about missing the playoffs or losing. They just put their heads down and went to work.

“And for them – and the younger guys, too – to finally get a taste of the playoffs is pretty great. It’s quite an accomplishment for them.”

For much of the season, the Tritons seemed to have a top-eight playoff spot secure, routinely bouncing between fourth and sixth in the standings of the 13-team league. But things did get a little dicey late in the year, as the team became one of the streakiest in the PBL.

“We’d win five, then lose five, then win a few more. It was a really wild finish,” Smithson said.

With the PBL season now wrapped up – last weekend, the Langley Blaze won the league title with a win over the North Shore Twins – Smithson was also able to reflect on a handful of other highlights from the season, not the least of which was the hitting prowess of veteran catcher Dylan Yeager, who led the PBL with six home runs after hitting just one long ball in 2013.

“It was pretty cool, watching him hit this year,” Smithson said of his catcher who will play for Marshalltown College in Iowa next season. “By the middle of the season, he had other teams so afraid to pitch to him. We’re going to miss him next year.”

Next year’s team will also be without graduating slugger James Pavelick, leaving first baseman Tom Melenchuk – who hit three homer runs last season – as the team’s lone returnee to the middle of the batting order.

“He’ll have some big shoes to fill,” Smithson said.

Also returning next season will be outfielder Aaron Wiegert, whom Smithson praised as the “unsung hero” of this year’s squad.

“He played nearly every single game for us in centre-field, played great defence, and was one hit away from hitting .300, and in this league, that’s not always easy to do,” the coach continued.

“He’s going to be one of our key guys coming back next year.”

Next year’s team will also be reinforced, no doubt, by a handful of players from the current U16 Junior Tritons, who are one of eight playoff teams vying for a BC Junior Baseball League title this weekend at Victoria’s Lambrick Park. The junior championship runs Aug. 8-10.

“We’re having some success with the junior team, so next year, even though we’re losing some players (off the U18 roster), we should be OK,” Smithson said.

The team will return to the field after Labour Day with a 20-game exhibition schedule, Smithson said.