After an Arizona road trip on which the White Rock Tritons gave their coach a glimpse of their offensive potential, Russ Smithson is hoping the success transfers to local diamonds as the BC Premier Baseball League schedule begins this month.
“It was a really good trip,” said Smithson, whose team played 10 games last month in Tucson and Phoenix, including five against older, college competition.
“It was an eye-opening trip for some of the guys, but we absolutely played our asses off down there. In our first three games we put up 11, 12 and 13 runs – we were hitting the crap out of the ball. The problem sometimes was that we just couldn’t stop them, either.”
While most PBL teams won’t begin regular-season play until this weekend – or the one after – the Tritons and North Shore Twins got a jump on the season last weekend, playing twice Saturday in North Vancouver. The Tritons lost both games, 7-1 and 18-13.
And though the South Surrey-based under-18 team currently sits with an 0-2 record, Smithson said his group is well aware of the pitfalls that come as a result of a slow start.
Last year, the Tritons started the year with a 3-18 record before battling back into the playoff mix. They finished the season with a 16-28 record, and narrowly missed earning the eighth and final playoff spot after losing both ends of a doubleheader against Abbotsford on the final weekend of the regular season.
The playoff miss came on the heels of a 2014 season that saw the club qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2009.
“We definitely don’t want to go down that road again,” said Smithson.
“We’ve got a pretty good schedule to start the year – we’re at home most of the time, and games are a little bit spread out so it’ll give us an opportunity to throw our best (pitchers) a few games in a row, so we won’t need to get down to our fourth and fifth starter for awhile.”
The Tritons will have a great chance to move up the standings in May, with a schedule that sees them play 15 of 16 games at South Surrey Athletic Park, with the lone road game taking place in Whalley.
Injuries played a major part in last year’s poor start, and while Smithson is crossing his fingers that his team will avoid the injury bug this season, it’s already bitten one player – Grade 11 catcher Jeremy Kelleway.
Kelleway suffered a stress fracture in preseason action, and is expected to be out about five weeks, Smithson said.
“It’s tough because he was slotted in to catch every day and hit fourth for us,” the coach said. “But hopefully, we’re still able to have better results this year than we did to start last season.”
While the pitching staff is among the youngest in the PBL with just two Grade 12s, Smithson said returnee Saylor Gray will be the arm they count on most.
“He’s been outstanding for us. We’re probably going to end up putting a lot on his shoulders and we’ll see how far he can carry us,” Smithson said. “And the younger guys are working really hard to get better. I’m confident in them, but I’ve also been around long enough to know that you have to pitch in this league to have success.
“It may take them a little bit of time – a month or so – to adjust to this level, but once they do that, I think they’ll be just fine.”
Other key returning players include Jason Hill – who has made the move from second base to shortstop – Jansen Crossley and Dawson Veeneman.
Smithson was especially keen to see Hill play shortstop after years – “his entire Tritons’ career” at second.
“He’s been awesome. I think he’s going to be one of the best shortstops in the province,” Smithson said. “He’s really put in the time, and worked really hard. Two years ago he could barely throw the ball across the diamond and now he’s humming it across.”
Smithson is also excited to see the progression of newcomer Quinn Hall, a power-hitting Grade 11 outfielder from Quesnel.
On the Arizona trip, he hit two home runs, “and smashed a couple more off the wall,” Smithson said.
Some of that power was on display last weekend against the Twins. In Game 2, he went 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple, two runs scored and three runs-batted-in, while also stealing two bases.
He’s tearing it up right now, and we think he can be a real impact guy for us,” Smithson said. “He’s got some serious power.”
The Tritons aren’t taking part in PBL regular-season action this weekend, but they’ll still be on the field – they’ll head to Kamloops for the Best of the West Tournament, which features PBL teams as well as a handful from Alberta.
White Rock will return to its PBL schedule Saturday, April 16 when they host the Victoria Mariners for two games at South Surrey Athletic Park.